Meet the User: Cary Hill
The National Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology Infrastructure (NanoEarth) at Virginia Tech (VT) frequently partners with industry users to aid in their nanotechnology research. NanoSafe’s Vice President Cary Hill, Ph.D. has collaborated with NanoEarth and the National Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory (NCFL) since his time as a senior Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) student at VT in 2008.
Hill secured his internship with Luna Innovations while networking at a church retreat. As he worked on federally funded projects, he learned how to operate the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) as an independent user. Common research included characterizing fabric coatings that had hydrophobic and oleophobic properties. The internship turned into a full-time position between degrees and a part-time position during graduate studies.
During his Ph.D. at VT, Hill worked with Dan Homa, Ph.D. and Gary Pickrell, Ph.D. Research involved the creation of exotic magnetic, photovoltaic, and superconductive fibers. Hill developed a chemical etching procedure to reduce the diameter of sapphire fibers when they are being manufactured. His projects frequently used the SEM-EDS in the NCFL to image materials.
As a double Hokie in Materials Science and Engineering, Hill served as an adjunct instructor at VT, where he taught the upper-level courses Polymer Engineering and Physical Ceramics. He also helps with the NanoSafe sponsored MSE design team each year. Previous teams created universal filtration for 3-D printers, face mask seals during the pandemic, filtration systems for microplastics, and creating graphene from graphite using a top-down approach.
NanoSafe frequently partners with the NCFL to conduct Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and SEM research for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Army, and private companies. Projects have included the development of an inexpensive home test kit for lead in drinking water, characterization of particles emitted during 3-D printing, and the exposure risk presented by antibacterial nanoparticles in face masks.
Hill enjoys hiking and camping with his wife and four children. At home, he frequently plays guitar alongside his wife, who is a pianist and singer/songwriter. Most of his furniture and cabinets are handmade, as he enjoys woodworking. On blue sky days, he enjoys rides on his motorcycle along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
His advice to early career researchers is to take advantage of new learning opportunities. Learning nanotechnology procedures and instruments are valuable skill sets. This allows the investigator to learn more about their own samples and experiments. Hill advises to remember to have fun while working. In 2020, he captured a potential murder hornet and analyzed it under the SEM. It was identified as a European Hornet after taking images and collaborating with VT Entomologist Eric Day.