Arun Devaraj (PhD 2011)

Arun Devaraj

Kannur, Kerala, India

Current Position:
Senior Research Scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington

Interesting Experience:
My Ph.D. research at UNT was focused on microstructural evolution in titanium alloys. Once I moved to PNNL in 2011, I was involved in many other research areas ranging from nuclear reactor structural materials, battery electrode materials, magnetic materials, catalysts, advanced microstructural characterization by Atom Probe tomography, etc., all with a focus on understanding microstructure-property relationships. Although I enjoyed all these new areas of research, deep inside I still loved my research in Titanium (Ti) alloys, and I wasn’t sure if anyone at PNNL worked in this area. Then one day, during a casual meeting in one of the labs in PNNL, one of my colleagues from another PNNL directorate mentioned that he is working on a new, low-cost Ti alloy production method with a senior scientist who had been working with industries on Ti alloys for more than 15 years. That sparked my enthusiasm, and after meeting the senior scientist, he was also excited to know that there is a PNNL researcher with background in fundamental physical metallurgy of beta Ti alloys. That discussion led to start of a small research collaboration between us, which I completed successfully and gave a clear explanation on why the alloy they made had a very high strength based on a unique microstructure it had. In 2016, I published the results in Nature Communications, which truly was one of the most enjoyable moments of my career, because I was able to make a meaningful contribution to the field in which I did my PhD. Also, that research interaction led to several research collaborations between me and that group of researchers, to an extent that now, a major portion of my research time is dedicated to developing advanced high performance light weight structural alloys with novel processing methods.

How did your time at UNT help you with your career:
Once I was at UNT doing my Ph.D., I was introduced to the fascinating world of the microstructure of metallic materials. I could study how heating and cooling an alloy to different temperatures and time leads to different types of phase transformations that influences the development of final microstructure of the alloy. Additionally, I learned the power of many advanced microscopy and diffraction methods that I can use, including electron microscopes, x-ray diffraction, atom probe tomography etc., to see how atoms get rearranged in materials when they undergo phase transformations. Also, through my Ph.D. co-advisor, I learned the power of first principle computation methods in providing complementary information to what we see using microscopy methods. Once I finished my Ph.D. and moved to this new organization, my daily work is still strongly rooted in these fundamentals I learned from my time at UNT; the only change is that I now study a much broader list of material systems, and in addition to heating and cooling materials to different times, I now also look at how radiation, electric fields, high shear stress or chemical reactions modify the microstructure of materials changing their mechanical, physical or chemical properties and then propose solutions to make materials resistant to such changes. To summarize, although my research areas have become much broader, the fundamentals I learned during my Ph.D. have been directly beneficial for every day of my career.