WNCG Alum Accepts UC Davis Faculty Position

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Former WNCG Postdoctoral Researcher Juan Sebastián Gómez-Díaz recently accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California Davis. At UC Davis, Prof. Gómez-Díaz will also head the Applied Micro-Nano Electromagnetics Research Laboratory.

Prof. Gómez-Díaz received his master and PhD degrees in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the Universidad Polytéchnica de Cartagena. As a Postdoctoral Fellow at WNCG, he was advised by Prof. Andrea Alú.

His main research interests span applied electromagnetics from radio-frequency and microwaves to terahertz and infrared frequencies, metamaterials and metasurfaces, novel 2D materials, nonlinear phenomena, antennas and numerical techniques, among other emerging topics in plasmonics and nanophotonics. In particular, he focuses on the control and manipulation of electromagnetic waves in unprecedented ways, aiming to overcome the limitations of current technology and communication systems.  

Prof. Gómez-Díaz sat down with WNCG to share his recent success, offer career advice to current students and reminisce about his time with WNCG.

Q: How did you originally connect with the opportunity at UC Davis?

A: After my Postdoctoral work with Prof. Alú at UT Austin, I was convinced I should pursue an academic career so I searched for opportunities in top engineering schools across the country. UC Davis has always been top of my list because it offers a great engineering program combined with amazing opportunities for multidisciplinary work and collaborations.

They have state-of-the-art nanofabrication infrastructures, world class bio-engineering and material science departments, a top medical school and endless possibilities to build a new, interdisciplinary research platform in electrical engineering.

I immediately connected with UC Davis’ vibrant campus atmosphere and culture and knew it was the right place for me to start a research group so I gladly accepted the job offer they extended.

Q: What led you to choose an academic career path instead of a corporate / industry career?

A: I love the freedom to be unbounded and able to focus my research in the direction my curiosity and intuition drive me. Simultaneously, my goal is to make a significant impact in technology and the information society in the interim that includes novel and exciting approaches.

More importantly, I look forward to mentoring and positively impacting the lives and work of my students. I was extremely lucky to interact with great advisors and mentors, and I believe I must contribute to a healthy environment that is able to challenge our intellectual limits.

Even though some industry careers can be exciting and profitable, I feel they focus on fulfilling short-term development goals, rather than long-term research goals. Although an academic career may be very challenging, demanding and time-consuming, it can also be extremely rewarding. Academia might help to unleash your own potential, but more importantly it allows you to impact other people’s lives and to contribute to something bigger than yourself. It allows you to be an active actor in the development of science and technology.

Q: What type of research will you engage in during your new faculty position?

A: I plan to contribute to both fundamental and applied aspects of micro-nano electromagnetics by combining new materials, active components, non-linear and non-reciprocal responses, and using multidisciplinary techniques to manipulate electromagnetic waves in unconventional ways.

Our group aims to provide the fundamental building blocks for tomorrow’s technologies and devices. Applications of our work will be found in future generations of mobile phones, radars, antennas, space communications, bio-sensors, optics and more.

Q: What do you look forward to most about your academic career? What do you foresee being the biggest challenge?

A: I look forward to establishing a cutting-edge research group at UC Davis and to contributing to the technological innovations currently happening in the Bay Area. I plan to attract top graduate students and to engage in collaborations with research groups in different areas such as nano-fabrication, bioengineering and communications. I also plan to reinforce my research collaborations with my colleagues at UT Austin. Finding novel and exciting research goals is a dynamic challenge I am happy to face.

From a teaching point of view, I will do my best to transmit my experience and passion for science and technology to the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The biggest challenge would be to find an adequate balance between exciting research work and technological feasibility, to convince industry to incorporate our innovations in the next generation of devices and products. We are aiming to tighten the connection between academic work and real life applications. That’s a challenge that must be overcome. From a personal point of view, my biggest challenges will be undoubtedly the need to find and bring funding to our research group – which currently is a very competitive task – and to adequately manage time.

Q: What advice from your life and career can you give to current students with similar academic aspirations?

A: I strongly advise them to never give up and to be very persistent. There will always be rejections from papers, research proposals and many times one can spend months developing an idea that leads to a dead end. This is unavoidable, but we all have to learn from our failures and grow stronger from them.

I also recommend they build a network of scientific and professional contacts and take proper care of them. Science and technology are getting increasingly complex, and it is rare that a single individual can handle them. Rather, research groups form to jointly tackle complex problems from different perspectives, combining theory, experiments and knowledge that is difficult to find in one person. This network will help you to develop yourself, both personally and professionally, and might open doors you thought were completely locked.

Q: How did your time at WNCG help prepare you for this new role?

A: Joining WNCG under the supervision of Prof. Andrea Alù was one of the best decisions of my life. I am indebted to Prof. Alù for sharing with me his vision of science and technology, and for showing me a set of valuable skills, from technical to personal – including passion, curiosity and persistence.

I would also highlight his invaluable mentoring skills, which are fundamental to successfully run a research group. The group environment was excellent, with extremely brilliant students and postdocs closely working together.

At WNCG, I was lucky to learn from one of the top research groups in the world. Given my European education, which focused more on fundamental research than practical applications, WNCG was ideal preparation to start a new interdisciplinary research group at UC Davis.

Q. What was your most memorable moment during your time with WNCG?

A: I had so many great experiences at WNCG that I can’t just mention one. There was a lot of excitement when we found some unexpected research result, but also when we went out for dinner or drinks, or when we traveled around the world to give talks at international conferences.

I would like to emphasize the diversity of the group, and how multiple cultures, races and origins complement each other and lead to a greater vision of science, but also life. My entire journey at WNCG was a great opportunity to develop myself as a scientist and to make friends with people I plan to work closely with in the coming years.