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Kunal Mukherjee

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born in New Delhi and raised mostly in Bangalore, in India

Where did you study?

I did my primary and secondary education in India before going to the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore for my undergrad degree and finally to MIT for my Ph.D.

What led you to the engineering field?

Unfortunately, I cannot claim that engineering was a considered decision or that my childhood summers were spent tinkering with a broken radio or a car. I did none of that. Instead, I seem to have enjoyed my summers with my family traveling to see my grandparents or playing lots of street-rules cricket. Many of my friends chose to study engineering, and so had my father and brother, so I had a lot of support that I can now recognize. My mom studied the humanities and literature but encouraged me to become an engineer. It was not uncommon to see people use engineering as a stepping stone to something else later in their lives, so it felt like a safe bet. I was not even aware of materials science and engineering, as a field, in high school. I saw Matsci listed as an option in my application to study in Singapore. I remember briefly imagining what it might be (I imagined atoms) and liking the thought of it. Still, I listed it only second after electrical engineering, but above computer science. A few years into electrical engineering, I was drawn to microelectronics and semiconductors and saw where materials fit. I happily chose to do my Ph.D. in materials science and engineering.

What led you to Stanford and your current role?

Stanford is well-known in almost every field but is especially steeped in semiconductor heritage. I joined Stanford and the Materials Science and Engineering department in the summer of 2020 after a few years on the faculty at UC Santa Barbara. I felt like I came close to a second diploma just learning from the outstanding students and colleagues there. I can already feel that process starting over at Stanford, and that's awesome. The learning from both my group and my colleagues never stops! I'll add that I spent a few formative years in industry in the Bay Area, and it's been great to come back. I continue to try to find ways to engage with them.      

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

We're focused on synthesizing semiconductor crystals, not too different from what got me into materials science, but with an emphasis on defects in these crystals - more on later. I'm most excited about semiconductors that are great at emitting or detecting light in the infrared beyond what our eyes can see. We have a number of semiconductors geared for the visible spectrum. But, there's also a lot of activity in the infrared as it enables new ways of sensing and interacting with living objects and the material world. I'm specifically excited about the work my group's done over the last few years on defect-tolerant infrared semiconductors like PbSe. We would love to add to the growing knowledge of why some semiconductors can be quite disordered or defective yet yield great electronic devices. Down the road, we may make useful infrared emitters for chemical sensors and expand to the full family of chalcogenide (S,Se,Te) materials for new functionality across the spectrum. More importantly, our group graduated our first two wonderful PhDs last year, and helping students achieve their goals here will continue to be our mission.

What advice do you have for aspiring instructors? 

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