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Nicole Benedek

Assistant Professor Nicole Benedek

The Mechanical Engineering Department welcomes new Assistant Professor Nicole Benedek to the department. Benedek began her career at The University of Texas at Austin fall semester 2012. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she received her undergraduate degree in Applied Chemistry and a her Ph.D. in Applied Physics and Applied Chemistry from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia in 2002 and 2006. Her next positions were as post-docs at Imperial College London from 2006-2009 and Cornell University (2009-2012). She is teaching ME 311, Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering, described in the Course Catalog as "Fundamental aspects of the structure, properties, and behavior of engineering materials."

Benedek's research bridges materials science, solid-state chemistry and condensed matter physics

The Benedek Group uses first-principles theoretical techniques, in combination with symmetry principles, to try to understand why materials have the structures that they have, how the structure of a material gives rise to its properties and how structure-property relationships can be exploited to create new functional materials with enhanced properties, with a particular emphasis on complex oxides and their interfaces. The ‘materials-by-design’ paradigm has been used with spectacular success to create new functional oxides with novel electronic and magnetic properties.

Undergraduate Research Presentation Graphic

Download the Undergraduate Research Presentation (11.8 MB PDF file).

Complex oxides are a fascinating and diverse class of materials that display many different properties, including superconductivity, ferroelectricity, photocatalysis, magnetism and interesting electronic and ionic transport properties. With collaborators at Cornell University, Dr Benedek recently discovered a new route to electric-field control of the magnetization (one of the 'holy grails' of functional materials research) in a class of layered perovskite oxides. She has also studied (with collaborators at Imperial College London) the structures of interfaces in complex oxides and developed a computational technique for predicting interface structure; knowledge of the link between interface structure and functional properties is crucial to the design of new, oxide-based electronics technologies. She is also interested in the ways in which theory and computation can be combined with electron microscopy and spectroscopy techniques to advance our understanding of materials.

Where is this research going?

She and her first Ph.D. student Xinyu Lu are taking this approach in several new directions: for example, establishing design rules for improved ionic transport in oxide energy materials and relating the structure, chemistry and physical properties of non-perovskite oxide interfaces to their bulk constituents.

A life journey, from Australia to Texas

A family of immigrants

Unlike many professors and engineers, Nicole Benedek and her older brother, a computer systems engineer who works as a software analyst, were the first generation in their family to go to college. Their parents immigrated to Australia from the Eastern Bloc in 1969 (the family is Hungarian). She describes theirs as a “typical immigrant story,” but it is probably truer to say a “typical immigrant story.” They were only 21 when they arrived in Australia, spoke no English and brought only a suitcase. They worked their way up and ended up being very successful in their careers as a building contractor and business manager. Fast forward to 2012, and now she’s an immigrant herself.

London, New York and Austin

As a young teenager, she became fascinated by New York City, even buying $20 copies of the New York Times, as it wasn't available on line at that time. Then she fell in love with Europe, did a lot of traveling there, and spent three years in London as a post-doc. Her position at Cornell made travel to New York City relatively easy, making her "14 year-old self very happy." She discovered Austin last March, when she visited it after attending a meeting in Dallas, and like many others, decided Austin was where she wanted to be. The vibrancy of the city, the live music scene, and the opportunity to work at a world-class university with supportive colleagues made Austin and The University of Texas at Austin her top choice.

From ballet to mountain climbing

In college, after having spent 13 years of her childhood as a ballet dancer, she became enamored by rock climbing, and has climbed peaks in several countries including the United States, Australia, Thailand, Spain and the United Kingdom. A current goal is to be able to keep climbing with all her new responsibilities.

Early career interests

As a young child she showed an unusual, early interest in the career path she would eventually follow. When she was in fifth grade the students were required to research and select two professions of interest. Her two were biochemist and physicist. Interestingly, she started college as the former and finished as the latter. She reports she “feels tremendously lucky to get to do this job.” We think the ME department is lucky, too. Welcome aboard!


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