Professor Dave Field is Voiland College’s Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, and Executive Director of JCDREAM.

We recently spoke with Field to get his take on teaching at WSU, and how materials science research is playing a critical role in our environment, economy, and national security.

Q. What are “rare-earth” and “earth-abundant” materials and why are they important?
“Rare-earth” materials are materials that are not abundant in the earth or come primarily from a single source, but are very important for the economy of our state and nation as well as for our national security; for example, lithium for batteries, precious metals for catalyst materials, and titanium for transportation. Without them it would be impossible to have the cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices that we have today.

Replacing these with materials that are “earth abundant” will enable all countries to have the materials that are needed, without relying on the requisite supplies coming from a single source. Any time materials come from a single source it is impossible to ensure they are obtained in an environmentally responsible manner. Using earth-abundant materials also removes the political advantage that the supplying country could adopt to control the policies or actions of customer countries. The motivation for customer countries to forcefully obtain requisite rare materials is also removed.

Q. What is “JCDREAM?”
JCDREAM, or Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth-Abundant Materials, is a collaborative partnership between the state’s three major research institutions – Washington State University, the University of Washington, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

Created in 2015 by the Washington State Legislature, the vision of JCDREAM is to establish Washington State as a national leader in the development and commercialization of next-generation clean energy and transportation technologies with the goal of achieving national industrial supply-chain security, economic sustainability, and sound environmental stewardship.

Q. You teach graduate- and introductory level materials science courses. What do you find challenging/rewarding about teaching? What career opportunities are available for materials science students?

Dave Field and two students seated in front of computer screens.
Dave Field teaching materials science students in the lab.

Being an engineering professor here in Pullman must be one of the best jobs in the world – at least for me! The students are bright, enthusiastic, optimistic, and excited to learn new things. It’s fun to talk about how things work in a classroom setting and about why we do research on specific topics. Both the graduate and undergraduate students love to do experiments or calculations to learn new things.

Doing research in the laboratory is exciting because we don’t know the answers to the questions we ask, but we can figure it out by doing experiments or running computer programs that help us to understand how things work.

The career opportunities are all over the place for materials science students. There are the obvious choices of going to materials suppliers (metals, polymers, ceramics semiconductors, etc.), but anyone who makes things uses materials and needs to understand how they work, so materials science graduates are needed everywhere. I have a list of more than 40 companies that have hired our students in the past 15 years. Boeing is the number one employer, but Micron and dozens of others aren’t far behind.

Q. Voiland College has seen unprecedented growth in faculty and enrollment over the past seven years. Why are people choosing Voiland College as their destination to learn, teach, and conduct research?
We have a great university in a great town. We aren’t the biggest research school in the world, but we have pockets of real excellence and there are no limits to how successful you can be here. That goes for both faculty and students alike.

Q. In addition to being the executive director of JCDREAM, you lead a huge portion of WSU’s research efforts. You also mentor Voiland College’s graduate students, teach classes, and conduct research around the globe. What does Dave Field do in his spare time?
I have a wonderful family, including five children and two grandchildren, and I love spending time with them doing almost anything. I am also quite active in my church and that takes plenty of my time. If I have time just to myself, I love doing stuff outdoors – golfing, fishing, or just exploring in the summer and getting out to play in the winter.

I also enjoy pretty much any type of sport; I’m not very good, but I enjoy participating whenever possible.