So You’re Thinking About Grad School, Part 2: Tips for Writing a Proposal

Pro Tip 1: Do not start your NSF proposal a week and a half before it’s due… especially when that week and a half includes needing to work with the administrative departments at three large organizations… and especially when that week and a half includes Thanksgiving break when all those administrative departments like to be home, you know, eating turkey… and especially when that week and a half includes your Fiancé flying into town for four days.

Pro Tip 2: When you ignore “Pro Tip 1,” be working with amazing people on said proposal.

Pro Tip 3: Invest in coffee.

You may have been wondering where all the updates on this blog have been. And then you used your keen eye and highly trained critical reasoning skills to read between the lines of my Pro Tip 1 and deduced: Luke has been busy.

In my defense for doing the unthinkable of pulling together an NSF Proposal in just over a week (Pro Tip 4: Allow yourself a couple months for this under normal circumstances), I was unaware of this Fellowship until about two weeks before its due date when I got the heads up from the professor I’ll end up working with on this project (if we get it). Luckily, I followed my Pro Tip 2, because between her and my other potential mentor for this project I was fortunate to be working with incredibly generous and motivated people who put in a lot of hours to make things happen for me… because the week involved a lot of this:

So what was my proposal for? Here’s the one paragraph summary:

Magnetic materials are present in many advanced devices and motors that are indispensible to modern life. Permanent magnets have the ability to enable the conversion between electrical and mechanical energy, the transmission and distribution of electrical power, and provide for the basis of our data storage systems. So-called rare-earth (RE) “supermagnets” are highly desirable because they combine the high magnetization of the transition-metal components with the very large magnetocrystalline anisotropy of the RE components. This magnetocrystalline anisotropy, which donates the high resistance to demagnetization, needs to be replaced in any magnet design that does not include REs. In this work, novel approaches to the synthesis of RE-free nanoscale magnetic materials with significant magnetocrystalline anisotropy and high magnetic energy products will be undertaken. In this manner, results from the laboratory will be more effectively transitioned into technological applications. Two RE-free systems will be created in nanoscale form using rapid solidification processing (melt-spinning, thermal plasma synthesis), thoroughly characterized, and then densified into compacts for mechanical and thermal evaluation. The two materials systems include L10-FeNi and Fe-Fe3O4 in nanocomposite form. Non-equilibrium processing of these two systems is expected to alter the defect density in the L10-FeNi material and alter the oxide cation occupancy trends in the Fe-Fe3O4 nanocomposite; both effects are anticipated to allow tailoring of the materials to achieve high energy products. This research is distinguished in its goal to attain fundamental information concerning high energy product magnetic nanomaterials and to extend these results to pilot-scale production of promising magnetic nanomaterials.

If I get it (a long shot, considering the… you know… one week timeframe of throwing this together), I’d be working with an amazing professor up at Northeastern University, as well as a great partner from the research lab of General Motors. So: hopefully it’ll work out. Without their help, and the help of many many administrators at UT, Northeastern and GM, during this process there is no way I could have got this done. We literally got the last thing uploaded three minutes before deadline! (Pro Tip 5: Don’t do that.)

Anyway, it’s an amazing opportunity, so fingers crossed! In the meantime, this research isn’t going to finish itself…


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