Initial Publication Date: March 8, 2024

Rick Hervig, Professor, Arizona State University

Click on a topic to read Rick's answer to an individual question, or scroll down to read the entire career profile:
Work Description * Inspiration and Motivation * Graduate Experience and Professional Development * Other Advice and Media

Describe your current research or work assignment. What topics are you working on? What does a typical work day look like—what would a student expect to do if they followed your career path?

I am Director of a secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS) lab. We assist people measuring trace elements and isotopic ratios of selected elements on a lateral scale down to a few microns. Samples range from sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic, synthetic and natural, from this planet and others. Some visitors bring samples for depth profiling analysis, appropriate to quality assurance and quality control issues in semiconductor research or for determining diffusion rates of elements in geological materials.

What motivated or inspired you to pursue a career in Nanoscience?

During graduate school I was introduced to a prototype secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS), and needed to develop electron microprobe techniques to characterize minerals with detection levels below 0.02 wt. % to calibrate the SIMS. The results of analyses using the SIMS instrument impressed upon me its extremely high sensitivity. After post-doctoral work in nuclear waste disposal and experience in materials science-related calorimetry laboratory, I returned to an academic lab with a commercially-available SIMS instrument where I was encouraged to work with scientists representing a wide range of fields (materials- and geo- science), and develop/modify analytical techniques to improve their knowledge of their samples. Obtaining analyses of materials without consuming many atoms has always been an inspiration.

What graduate experiences/activities were essential for your professional development in Nanoscience? What experiences made a difference in your own career path (e.g., attended a conference, short course, had an opportunity to work in a lab, a key mentor in your life...)?

Most of my professional development occurred post-graduate. Being able to work in a laboratory for many years with a very diverse set of colleagues has been exciting, and these experiences helped develop my personal research interests. During graduate school, attending conferences and networking with other graduate students was beneficial. My graduate mentor was pretty strict about focusing on his funded topic, yet still allowed me the freedom to explore new research directions.

Any other advice to help an aspiring Nanoscience student?

If you can get the opportunity to learn how to operate a secondary ion mass spectrometer, there are many jobs available. An MS degree is sufficient, but undergraduates with limited experience can get internships in semiconductor fabrication plants which may lead to more permanent employment. The challenge for undergraduate research experiences in secondary ion mass spectrometry is that one needs to find many consecutive hours to become immersed in this very complex technique, which may not be compatible with a typical course schedule.