Fujia Zhao's soaking in the 'joyful moments,' gaining 'cutting-edge knowledge' in Ph.D. program

2/3/2023 Emily Jankauski

Fujia Zhao is a MatSE doctoral student who transitioned from the master’s program in 2018. Let's catch up with the grad student in a fun Q&A.

Written by Emily Jankauski

Fujia Zhao
Fujia Zhao

Fujia Zhao is a MatSE doctoral student who transitioned from the master’s program in 2018. He holds a bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from Southeast University in Nanjing, China. Let's catch up with the grad student in a fun Q&A.




Q: What drew you to materials science and engineering?

A: “I didn’t have deep understanding of the broad content of materials science and engineering when I selected it as my major. It’s fascinating to me that materials science can facilitate the development or even evolution of industrial products in people’s daily life, like batteries and microelectronics — this is the aspect that attracts me most.”


Q: What made you choose to study at Illinois?

A: “The first reason for me is, of course, that the materials science and engineering department here at UIUC is among the topmost level. Besides, the entire Grainger College of Engineering is outstanding in America, which benefits us as materials science research can involve lots of multidisciplinary collaboration.”


Q: What made you want to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering?

A: “Materials science research on any specific area requires cutting-edge knowledge of the topic and hands-on experiences, and the Ph.D. program gives you the opportunity to obtain and accumulate that knowledge.

“MatSE at Illinois has research groups that lead the study in each of their areas and extend the frontier of materials science. Studying and working here, we’re learning from and collaborating with many outstanding researchers, professors and students.

“MatSE also provides us with lots of resources, like advanced experimental instruments and computational power and opportunities to interact with leading researchers all over America or even the world. The collaborative atmosphere at MatSE also benefits our study and research.”


Q: What research are you conducting as a Ph.D. student?

A: “My current research area focuses on the in-situ characterization of solid/liquid interface. During my time in the master’s program, I worked on the application of Raman spectroscopy on battery electrode surface. A large portion of my work still depends on Raman spectroscopy, and the electrode/electrolyte interface in batteries is still within my scope of research.”


Q: How does your research efforts impact our everyday lives?

A: “My research studies solid/liquid interface. One example is the aforementioned interface between solid electrode and liquid electrolyte in batteries.

“It also exists in our body, as biological cell membrane and our body liquid also constitutes such a solid/liquid interface system.

“The studies on these interfaces can be difficult as the entire system of focus can be on the dimension scale of a nanometer or less.

“I hope my efforts can provide researchers with better tools for these types of characterization and in sequence, helps people to gain better understandings of the solid/liquid interface. In the long run, this will benefit the development of industrial products like batteries or bio medicine.”


Fujia Zhao attends a Fighting Illini football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.
Fujia Zhao attends a Fighting Illini football game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.

Q: What are some of your fondest memories from your time at MatSE?

A: “It’s the moment when I look back at the years I spent at MatSE, and I realize how much I’ve learned and developed, which I wasn’t even aware of during the process. It tells me that I made a correct decision. Learning and growing here is a gradual process, but we also have those joyful moments.”


Q: What were some of the unique opportunities being at grad student Illinois provided you?

A: “It comes from different angles, like the opportunities to interact with some leading researchers face to face, the opportunities to meet and talk with some of the biggest companies in the industry and the opportunities for various collaborative or exchange programs.”


Q: What are your aspirations after grad school?

A: “I hope I can find a research and development position in materials science-oriented companies.”


Q: How do you hope your time at MatSE will prepare you for your career?

A: “Time at MastSE really enriches us with the specialized knowledge and skills that are going to be needed in our future careers. It also helps us develop the ability to independently solve the problems we are going to face in materials science research, as well as the ability to communicate and cooperate with other workers and even lead a research team.”


Q: What advice do you have for those considering applying to MatSE for grad school?

A: “If one really wants to pursue a career in materials science and research, it’s definitely a worthy choice for them. Think earlier, plan earlier and move earlier. 


Q: What advice do you have for current MatSE students grad students?

A: “Keep your head down and stay focused.”


Q: Why is earning a grad degree from MatSE so important?

A: “Graduating from MatSE calls for an accumulation of work, knowledge and proof of the capability we gained here. The degree is a good demonstration.”

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This story was published February 3, 2023.