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Andy J. Mannix

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Where were you born and raised? 

I was born in Ogden, Utah, but raised mostly in Belleville, Illinois (near St. Louis, Missouri). My parents were both in the US Air Force, so we traveled a lot as I was growing up, but they eventually settled down in Illinois.

Where did you study? 

I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for my bachelor's degree, studying Materials Science and Engineering. I moved up to Chicago for my Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, with my time split between Northwestern and Argonne National Laboratory. This was followed by a postdoc fellowship at the University of Chicago.

What led you to the engineering field?

Growing up, I was always curious about technology's inner workings and operating principles. I also loved reading science fiction and building things with Lego. When I was in high school, the news and magazines were awash with stories of emerging nanomaterials and their transformative potential. I was particularly inspired by the amazing properties of atomically thin materials like graphene, which can be stacked with other 2D materials to enhance its properties further. At the same time, I was fascinated by the images of atoms and electronic structure enabled by scanning tunneling microscopy.

What led you to Stanford and your current role?

Stanford has been -- and continues to be -- a nexus of excellence in many fields that have transformed our lives, from information technology to medicine. When I first visited Stanford, I was blown away by the intellectual energy and enthusiasm of everyone that I met. I found that people asked tough, interesting questions and projected unparalleled enthusiasm and support. 

Please describe what current research has you most excited and motivated, its importance, what you have achieved so far, and what you hope to accomplish in the future.

I work with atomically thin materials. Because they are the fundamental limit of how thin a material can be, they are a promising platform for making extremely small devices, for example, transistors with properties better than silicon at nanometer thicknesses. However, growing 2D semiconductors is challenging. This is something my lab is working to improve through new chemistries and techniques.

There is another very hot area in research with these materials: Because they do not have dangling chemical bonds on their surfaces, 2D materials can be stacked into heterostructures with arbitrary orientations. Picking a particular twist angle between two layers can generate new energy landscapes for the electrons and alter the symmetry of the crystal lattice. These are unprecedented tools for materials engineering, but right now, we can only make these materials in a very slow, artisanal fashion. My group is working to make these structures manufacturable and truly understand the structure-property relations relevant to this stacking process so that we can leverage their properties in electronic and quantum technologies.

Finally, I'm really excited about our ongoing work to combine atomically resolved scanning tunneling microscopy and atomic force microscopy with light excitation to study how light interacts with these materials at the nanometer scale. This should reveal the properties of various defects and crystal structures responsible for useful quantum phenomena (like single photon emitters).

What advice do you have for aspiring instructors?

Try to capture what inspired you about the field because that energy will be contagious. At the same time, expand your horizons and try to identify and address the issues important to students today.

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