Industrial Research and the Science of Small Things
How does a young woman passionate about art from western India, become a nanoscale engineer in the Silicon Valley? Dr. Madhulika Korde’s story is one of self-motivation, a love of technology, and an inquisitive, innovative mind that sees the impossible as a starting point and thrives on challenge.
In our conversation, Madhulika shares her passion for industrial research and her tips to help students land their dream job – straight out of college.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your unique background.
My name is Madhulika Korde, and I am originally from India. My parents, sister, and grandmother are still in India, and it is always wonderful to go back and visit them. I was born in the beautiful town of Nashik, Maharashtra, which is western India. I came to the US in 2017, for grad school.
Traveling to a different country to learn that sounds like an adventure and a challenge. What is the most notable lesson you took from this experience?
It is not necessarily a lesson, but rather an experience.
When I was young, my mother sometimes used to wear fragrant flowers in her hair. As a kid, I used to jokingly say to her that it’s a style from the Bollywood movies from the ’80s. When I moved away from my country, I missed many aspects of my culture, family habits, and festivals. I realized how wonderful some of our traditions felt, even something as simple as wearing fragrant flowers in the hair and I appreciated the fact that my mother did what she liked and was not afraid of being judged by the newer generation. In my last visit to India, my mom and I were getting ready for a family photo shoot and we jokingly mentioned that wearing flowers in the hair isn’t so bad. And you can also see in the photo how lovely the experience was.
What inspires you?
I have always been drawn to the creative arts, works of great artists, and new, innovative technological advancements. I believe that these influence the way that I think and work.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about painting, especially nature-inspired scenes. I recently visited the Chihuly Museum and the Seattle Art Museum and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.
What led you to pursue a career in Nanoscale Engineering?
Industrial research has always interested me. During my undergrad degree in my junior year, I worked on a summer project in which I increased the purity of a compound during manufacturing. I was able to successfully provide a solution which was implemented in large-scale manufacturing. This gave me the confidence to believe that I can do well working on industrial projects.
In addition, I was interested in learning more about material properties and the applications of materials research. This led me to take courses towards an online certificate while pursuing my undergrad degree.
Both these factors led me to major in Nanoscale Engineering, which provided me with the opportunity to work on industrial research as well as understand materials and their applications.
What was your biggest challenge as a college student?
During my studies, I was happy and fortunate to be able to work on a project that gave me exposure to the industry. I was also blessed with a wonderful advisor who provided me with critical direction to help me advance the project.
However, my greatest challenge was to effectively complete all my assignments when there were both quantitative and qualitative deadlines. I am grateful to have had the challenges, as they helped me learn how to multi-task. They also helped me develop the ability to learn skills that were crucial for the project, faster.
We’re asking this on behalf of all the people in the world who do not understand: Can you please explain in simple words what exactly is Nanotechnology?
Haha. Without straying away from the common answer, I would say that Nanotechnology is the science of the very small – that which cannot be seen by the naked eye or touched with your hand. It’s the scale at which materials behave in an amazing way. That’s what makes the work fascinating.
Nanotechnology is something I’m involved in every day. I am constantly focused on the measurement of device structures – typically tens to hundreds of nanometers in dimension, without physically touching them.
How does your specific academic experience integrate with the needs of Nova’s Material Metrology Division?
I have an undergrad in Chemical Engineering and my grad major was in Nanoscale Engineering. My grad project was specifically focused on the non-destructive characterization of device structures using optical and X-Ray based techniques. Having worked on that project helped me understand the work at NOVA. In fact, a lot of the skills I learned in grad school are directly translated here. I look forward to learning even more at Nova.
What is the best part about working at Nova?
So far, my experience at Nova has been amazing. It is my first job and the team members as well as other employees made sure that I felt welcome and comfortable joining the project. I also received a personalized training plan to help me get up to speed with team goals, and start working with them in the most productive way. HR has been extremely supportive during my relocation and onboarding. Also, Nova’s company culture is very pro-employee and I feel lucky to have that.
I am excited that I will soon get to work on developing application-focused metrology solutions that will eventually be used by the semiconductor industry. Since I was driven to work on industrial research, it looks like I found the perfect job for me. I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped me get here. ????
What do your team members still not know about you?
That I make awesome chicken and fish curries ????