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MLK materials scientist developed solder's 'holy grail'

Ainissa G. Ramirez
Ainissa G. Ramirez

Ainissa G. Ramirez is passionate about shattering stereotypes of scientists as serious and dull. Ramirez wants to show kids what she knows firsthand: Science can be fun.

Ramirez, who has recently been named an MIT Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor, created the successful and engaging Science Saturdays lecture series at Yale for school children. Ramirez, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Yale, also hosts the campus-based show, which introduces middle-school-age children to scientists--who they are, and how and why they study what they study.

According to Ramirez, a materials scientist who has developed novel materials for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) by exploring how materials thinner than a human hair behave mechanically. "Science is for everyone and those who do it come in all colors, shapes and sizes. I am committed to getting the word out so that more New Haven children can benefit from this program," she said. The scientists participating in the program are of various backgrounds, ages and disciplines, and they speak on topics such as "Why Birds Are Dinosaurs" and "What Frogs Are Telling Us."

Ramirez, who received a Ph.D. degree in materials science and engineering from Stanford University, researches the development of thin film NiTi shape memory alloys for MEMS systems. MEMS, which integrates mechanical elements, sensors, actuators and electronics on a silicon substrate, enables the development of "smart" products in which the computational ability of microelectronics is augmented with microsensors and microactuators.

Before joining the faculty at Yale in 2003, Ramirez worked as a member of the technical staff at Bell Labs' Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill, N.J., for four years. At Bell Labs, she developed an advanced solder, now being commercialized by Adhera Technologies, that can bond directly to glass and ceramics.

MIT's Technology Review, when naming Ramirez one of the world's 100 Top Young Innovators (TR100) in 2003, called her discovery a "holy grail" of metallurgy: a universal solder that can bond metals to ceramics, glass, diamonds and particularly the oxide materials used in semiconductor fabrication. Researchers have been seeking this kind of compound for decades because existing solders have failed in electronic and optical devices.

"I think I've brought excitement to unsexy materials like solder," Ramirez said

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 6, 2007 (download PDF).

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