Working jointly in the two labs gives me the opportunity to have a lot of say in and control over the project, and this is extremely unique for an undergraduate.

Hannah Christianson ’22

While working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Crowther Lab at Barnard College, led by assistant professor of chemistry Andrew Crowther, and at the Roy Lab at Columbia, Hannah Christianson ’22 is discovering how to modify two-dimensional materials by changing their electronic and magnetic properties.

The experience has allowed her to develop greater confidence in navigating a professional work environment and to strongly consider graduate school, where she could apply the lessons she’s learned toward a doctorate in chemistry.

Outside the lab, Christianson is passionate about ancient history, involved in peer-to-peer tutoring, and is the co-president of the Barnard Chemical Society. Additionally, she has participated in theatre on campus and Youth for Debate, the latter being a program that mentors high school students whose schools do not offer opportunities for formal debate. 

Read on to learn more about Christianson’s research at Barnard and Columbia. 

How would you describe the research you’re doing and what you’ve discovered to a lay audience?

I am taking materials that are essentially two-dimensional, which means they are only a few atoms thick but can be fairly long and wide, and I am substituting the top layer of atoms on this material with other elements. This is to change its magnetic and electronic properties and its future functionality.

What is your role in this research?

I am a research assistant in the Crowther Lab at Barnard and the Roy Lab at Columbia. Working jointly in the two labs gives me the opportunity to have a lot of say in and control over the project, and this is extremely unique for an undergraduate. During my time in these labs, I’ve worked on exfoliating the crystals we are researching down to a two-dimensional level and then modifying them. Afterwards, I analyze their properties and report my findings.

Why is it important to study this topic? 

The modification of two-dimensional materials allows for tuning of certain properties, which will make them better for future applications in electronics. These applications could allow for faster and smaller devices that need less energy. Personally, I am passionate about quantum and materials chemistry and having the opportunity to make things in a lab environment. 

Who has influenced your thinking most in this area?

The whole Barnard Chemistry Department both inspired me to continue with chemistry and made it very accessible. Professor Crowther, who helped me get this position, really made me think about bonding and materials in a new way in his Quantum Chemistry course. It was originally difficult to find a balance between having a mentorship at Barnard and working in a graduate lab at Columbia. However, having a close relationship with my Barnard professors and principal investigators allowed me to better utilize their assistance, have the confidence to navigate the space, and take more control over the project.

Where do you see this research going in the future?

As a field, two-dimensional materials are fairly young and in their early stages. This research could help in future modifications of two-dimensional materials and help them be more broadly usable.


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