Nicola Helen Perry

Nicola Helen Perry
Nicola Helen Perry
Associate Professor
(217) 300-6335
268 Seitz Materials Research Lab

For More Information


  • PhD, Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University, 2009
  • BA (magna cum laude), French Studies, Rice University, 2005
  • BS (magna cum laude), Materials Science and Engineering, Rice University, 2005


Nicola H. Perry received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Northwestern University in 2009, for investigating interfacial transport behavior in nano-ionics with Thomas O. Mason. After this she joined the Energy Frontier Research Center for Inverse Design as a postdoctoral fellow developing p-type transparent conducting oxides and synthesizing missing materials. From 2012-2014 she was a postdoctoral researcher at the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER) at Kyushu University, Japan, and a visiting scholar at MIT, working with Harry L. Tuller. From 2014-2017 she served as a World Premier Initiative Assistant Professor in I2CNER and as a Research Affiliate at MIT, where her research focused on mixed ionic and electronic conducting oxides for high temperature electrochemical energy conversion and storage. She joined UIUC in January 2018, where she leads a group in tailoring and understanding point defect-mediated properties in electro-chemo-mechanically active oxides and halides. Her research has been recognized with a NSF CAREER Award, DOE Early Career Award, JSPS Kakehni Awards, UIUC Dean's Award for Excellence in Research, IUMRS Award for Encouragement of Research, J. Bruce Wagner Jr. Award from the Electrochemical Society, and the Edward C. Henry and Richard M. Fulrath Awards from the American Ceramic Society.

Research Statement

Our research seeks to understand and design dynamic behavior in a class of inorganic materials called “solid state ionics.” These materials enable carbon-neutral energy technologies including fuel/electrolysis cells and batteries, which store and convert energy between chemical and electrical forms cleanly. In order to enable widespread deployment of these technologies, the efficiencies/rates and lifetimes must be improved. Instead of trial-and-error approaches, we develop the scientific foundation that enables us to engineer key materials properties controlling energy conversion/storage efficiency and lifetime: 1) chemical expansivity, 2) ionic/electronic conductivity, and 3) interfacial reaction kinetics. These properties are governed by atomic-scale anomalies in the materials, so we uncover design principles for behavior through the lens of defect chemistry. To achieve our vision of “defects by design,” our approach comprises 5 pillars: a) precise synthesis with defect-level control, b) in situ characterization of model materials in controlled temperature, gas atmosphere, illumination, and electric fields, c) new frontiers of defect description beyond the traditional focus on dilute, bulk equilibrium, d) data-driven, high-throughput materials search and analysis, and e) coupled behavior. Our recent work has sought to uncover and leverage the operando coupling among electrical, chemical, mechanical, and optical states of solid-state-ionic materials, which is essential to tailor the key properties for improved device performance.

Our recent work has been focusing on development of design principles for high anion/cation conductivity, fast oxygen/steam surface exchange kinetics, and low chemical expansivity in ceramics that “breathe.” We measure surface oxygen and proton exchange kinetics on model thin films fabricated by pulsed laser deposition, using a novel optical transmission relaxation technique and in situ ac-impedance spectroscopy. Controlled variation of overall film defect chemistry, outermost surface chemistry, orientation, crystallinity, and microstructure has enabled a better understanding of the relative importance of each. We study chemical expansion behavior across multiple length scales using in situ X-ray and neutron diffraction, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, thermogravimetric analysis, and dilatometry, with comparison to atomistic computational simulations. Such studies have enabled identification of structural and chemical factors that can be applied to tailor chemical expansion behavior. We apply ac-impedance spectroscopy, equivalent circuit analysis, and microstructure models like the nano-Grain-Composite Model to evaluate and separate local interface/bulk ionic and electronic transport and polarization in bulk ceramic, thin film, heterostructured, and nanostructured materials. Overall, approaches to lower the chemical expansion coefficients (for durability) and increase the surface exchange kinetics and ionic/electronic transport (for efficiency) are being actively identified. Lastly, we apply high-throughput screening and combinatorial library synthesis/characterization to expedite discovery of promising materials.

Research Interests

  • Functional ceramics: oxides, halides
  • Solid state ionics for energy conversion and storage
  • Point defect-mediated properties: ionic/electronic transport, chemical expansion, catalytic activity
  • Thin film growth by pulsed laser deposition
  • Electro-chemo-mechanical coupling
  • Characterization in high temperatures & controlled gas atmospheres (electrochemical, optical, thermo-mechanical, structural)
  • Interfaces and grain boundaries

Research Areas

  • Ceramics

Research Topics

Books Edited or Co-Edited (Original Editions)

Chapters in Books

Selected Articles in Journals

Teaching Honors

  • List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (Spring 2023)
  • List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (Spring 2022)
  • List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent (Spring 2020)

Research Honors

  • Principal Investigator Development in Sustainability Award, American Chemical Society (2024)
  • Richard M. Fulrath Award, American Ceramic Society (2023)
  • Dean's Award for Excellence in Research (2023)
  • NSF CAREER Award (2020)
  • J. Bruce Wagner Jr. Award, Electrochemical Society (2019)
  • DOE Early Career Award (2018)
  • Award for Encouragement of Research, International Union of Materials Research Societies (2017)
  • Kakenhi Grant-in-Aid For Young Scientists B, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2015)
  • Kakenhi Grant-in-Aid For Young Scientists B, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2013)
  • Future Leaders Program, International Congress on Ceramics, American Ceramic Society (2012)
  • Poster Award, Materials Research Society (2010)
  • Edward C. Henry Award, American Ceramic Society (2009)
  • Graduate Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation (2006)

Recent Courses Taught

  • MSE 201 - Phases and Phase Relations
  • MSE 422 - Electrical Ceramics
  • MSE 522 (MSE 598 NP, MSE 498 NPG, MSE 498 NPU) - Solid State Ionics
  • MSE 529 - Hard Materials Seminar
  • MSE 595 - Materials Colloquium