The Storied Path to JSNN

 

Jared Averitt is a second-year Ph.D research student in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, and his path to UNCG speaks to the perseverance of the human spirit and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He started his academic career as an undergraduate student in 2008, and in spite of several obstacles including depleted funding and an ADHD and Bipolar mood disorder diagnosis, Jared graduated with dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Physics and Biology with dual minors in Mathematics and Chemistry to fulfill a long and hard-fought journey.

 

Jared Averitt

Introduction

 

“Each stage of life comes with its own set of obstacles and struggles to overcome, [and] mine have shaped me into who I am: a self-motivated individual, supportive father, and resourceful scientist,” Jared explained, and his story is the culmination of a lifetime defying all odds and expectations. 

 

Jared Averitt is a first-generation college student who grew up in a low-income household in which education was considered a luxury expense. He was homeschooled for most of his life, and he felt that he had a unique disadvantage compared to other students when he started his undergraduate career. “Fundamentals, such as the equation of a line or basic algebra, were beyond my comprehension. I was ashamed of my math deficient background and did not ask for help and did what I could to just pass the class,” he said.

 

However, after five years of undergraduate courses, he realized that his financial aid funding was rapidly depleting, and he decided to take a two-year break to determine what needed to change. During this time, Jared started his own small business that was quite successful, and he was able to save money and work on his mental health. 

 

“After benefiting from therapy and needed medications, I realized my education was worth continuing, so I re-enrolled in January 2015,” he explained, and Jared would continue his studies with four more years of classes before he found himself at the top. 

 

He graduated with his Bachelor of Science degrees, and after being accepted into multiple physics programs, he decided to enroll in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering’s Ph.D program. In reflecting on his past experiences, Jared has expressed a solid mathematical foundation, and the intersections of his background in both physics and math have shaped his interests in the field of Nanoscience; specifically, in a field that pertains to the physics of nanoscale solid materials. While neither JSNN nor UNCG offer physics courses at this level, the Inter-institutional Program with Duke University has allowed him to take courses such as quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and classical mechanics to round out his postgraduate studies.

 

Background

 

Jared worked as a teaching assistant for math and physics classes for three years, and he collaborated closely with his professors to share feedback on sessions. These discussions also led to a continuous and open dialogue about potential learning gaps and opportunities to understand different pedagogical techniques. “Education requires collaboration and people that are willing to help one another to further society in its desperate need to better educate all its members. It brings me joy to contribute to the personal growth of my fellow students,” he said.

 

In the future, Jared would love nothing more than to have the privilege of watching students progress through their education, and he hopes that his personal story of triumph can be a source of inspiration. His goals are audacious, and he hopes to become a professor, so that he can help younger students think creatively and find the right tools to solve complex problems using their own reasoning. 

 

Jared is also the recent recipient of a NSF Graduate Research fellowship, and he told the Graduate School that the award will allow him to focus on his research while he continues to take courses in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. He also expects to spend more time with his students in scientific learning and summer enrichment programs – an opportunity to encourage aspiring scientists. 

 

The fellowship will also provide flexibility in other ways as well: “This frees up time I can also spend at home with my 15 month old daughter and take additional graduate level physics courses at Duke University,” he said.

 

Research Interests

 

To make the most of his time in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, Jared also broke down his current research topics and expounded on the information concerning what he hopes to do next: “Nanoscience is a relatively new field of science and is very emergent. There are many phenomena that are still left to be discovered and described,” he said.

 

First, he talked about the application of computational, theoretical, and mathematical physics of low dimensional materials. “My plan is to further the theoretical understanding of atomic scale interactions (lattice structure, charge, orbital, and spin) found in 2D materials that give rise to exotic states of matter,” he explained.

 

For this project, Jared has identified both long-term and short-term goals: “The long-term goal of my proposed research is to develop the fundamental science of Moiré quantum materials. The short-term goal of this proposal will start with computational models that will bridge experimental data with theoretical predictions.” 

 

He also spoke about his interest in understanding various heterostructures. His work includes studying 2D lattices and super structures to examine their unique properties based on environmental influences. Depending on the material, there is opportunity to explore this research in major topic areas in science.

 

“These structures are highly tunable and [may] lead to a change in the density of states and band structure by unique combinations and twist angles that can be applied to quantum technology,” he explained.

 

The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering

 

Throughout his time in the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, Jared discussed what he enjoys the most about being a Ph.D student, including his access to knowledgeable professors and his advisors. “JSNN has a very high student to faculty ratio, so I always have plenty of contact and communication time with them,” he said,

 

For prospective students interested in the program, Jared recommended reaching out to advisors who you can work with – professors who will help you succeed with like-minded research goals. In his own experience, this has helped him in areas far beyond academia. He also mentioned the importance of handling multiple projects at once because this has allowed him to better balance his workload, including taking breaks between projects to help him stay on track.

 

“Don’t be afraid of applying to fellowships, there are a few out there, and you will never be accepted if you don’t try. What is there to lose?…It will give you experience in writing about yourself and your research, which is very helpful,” he said. 

 

For his own dissertation, UNCG’s Dr. Ignatova and Dr. Starobin are both co-chairs of his research committee. Dr. Ignatova has a physics background and extensive research experience working at the edge of low-dimensional materials. Her lab has pushed the limits of nanocharacterization and exploring nanomaterials for transdisciplinary applications such as biosensors. 

 

“Dr. Ignatova has pushed me very hard and since starting in her lab, I have co-authored a paper and that is only the beginning,” he said. “I just finished my part for a paper being submitted for publication and I am in the middle of the theoretical work behind my third paper. So she is definitely pushing me to obtain results and publish as many quality papers as possible.”

 

On the other hand, Dr. Starobin is focused on the purely theoretical and computational side of his field. His current research focuses on developing the analytical and computational solutions for improving the quality of electrophysiological data collected from nanosensors to predict cardiovascular stress, coronary artery disease, and cardiac arrhythmias. 

 

“I am using similar computational and mathematical tools, except the subject is 2D nanoscale materials,” Jared explained.

 

Beyond JSNN

 

For Jared, his research has become a life-long commitment: “I have dedicated my life to science, to help motivate others towards scientific achievement, including my own newborn daughter,” he said.

 

His daughter has also proven to be another frequent source of inspiration, especially as he focuses on helping the next generation of scientists. This will include providing younger students with access to resources, and supporting them as they explore their newfound interests. 

 

“I guess I am more interested in being a stepping stone for students in the future when they are coming up with their own research projects,” he said. “That’s not to say that I am not interested in research, but I am saying that helping others is what excites and motivates me the most.” 

 

One of his long-term goals after earning his Ph.D in Nanoscience is to prepare for a job as a professor at an undergraduate institution. He hopes to bring an interdisciplinary scientific approach to a physics department in a university setting. 

 

“Nanoscience has many unanswered questions that require an interdisciplinary approach and I want to train the future generation of scientists (especially those who are first generation college students, like myself) to be more competitive and not limit themselves creatively to solve problems,” he concluded. 

 

For more information about Jared’s research, you can check out some of his recent publications here:

 

Bioreactor for glycerol conversion into H2 by bacterium Enterobacter aerogenes – ScienceDirect 

 

Markov, S. A., Averitt, J., & Waldron, B. (2010). Bioreactor for glycerol conversion into H2 by bacterium Enterobacter aerogenes. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 36(1), 262-266. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2010.09.090

 

Recent Advances in Nanomaterial-Based Aptasensors in Medical Diagnosis and Therapy – PubMed (nih.gov)

 

Ayodele, O. O., Adesina, A. O., Pourianejad, S., Averitt, J., & Ignatova, T. (2021). Recent Advances in Nanomaterial-Based Aptasensors in Medical Diagnosis and Therapy. National Library of Medicine, 11(4), 932. doi: 10.3390/nano11040932

 

You can also check out Dr. Ignatova’s group website here

 

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