This past November, the Cavs Science Club had the privilege of hosting Savannah Benbrook Eisner, a graduate student in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department of Stanford University, and a former employee of the renowned aerospace engineering company, SpaceX.
In high school, Mrs. Eisner did not feel the pull of a career in STEM until her junior year, when she was inspired by a teacher to attend a physics-based summer camp. Once that flame was lit, Mrs. Eisner decided to pursue STEM at Villanova University. At Villanova, Mrs. Eisner continued to develop her passions, pursuing undergraduate research and teaching in the Engineering for Kids program. In addition, she received valuable experience participating in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) at the University of Maryland. In this program, Mrs. Eisner was able to pursue additional research under a graduate student mentor, and for the first time, considered pursuing her PhD. In learning about these undergraduate experiences, the club gained valuable knowledge about scientific research, and how it differs from traditional classroom learning.
After graduating from Villanova University with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Mrs. Eisner interned at SpaceX as an avionics engineer, ensuring that electronics aboard the Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft were viable for trips to outer space. While explaining how she seized this opportunity, Mrs. Eisner gave tips to club members on what SpaceX and Tesla look for when hiring.
Mrs. Eisner then decided to pursue her PhD for Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, a process that she provided valuable insight on. PhD’s are attained through research, which allows individuals to demonstrate their mastery of a subject while also discovering things that humankind doesn’t yet know. Currently in her fourth year, funded by a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, Mrs. Eisner’s PhD research focus in the “XLab” of Dr. Debbie Senesky is on the development of micro- and nano-systems for operation in harsh extreme environments. More specifically, Mrs. Eisner is collaborating with the International Space Station and NASA to develop semiconductors, which are used almost ubiquitously in electronics, for rovers destined for Venus.
The surface of Venus is largely unexplored due to its extremely harsh conditions, which have caused the past landers to last only two hours. Longer missions could allow for examination of further seismology, chemistry, and more, which could aid scientists in learning about planetary evolution and the factors that determine life. To accomplish this, current rover technology requires upgrades. The rover’s silicon electronics, which can only withstand temperatures of below 250°C, failed due to the harsh conditions of Venus, which includes a high temperature (465°C), a high pressure (95 bars), and a corrosive atmosphere. This shortcoming of these electronics is due to their band-gap. Band-gap is the energy required to essentially shift up the electron of an atom to allow it to act as a charge carrier that is able to conduct an electric current. The band-gap is normally utilized to control electrical currents, but at these extremely high temperatures, the electrons always have enough thermal energy to shift up, rendering human control ineffective. The solution? Wide-bandgap semiconductors. The wide-bandgap of these Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductors makes it more difficult for the electrons to shift, allowing them to be used at high temperatures. To engineer these miniscule devices, Mrs. Eisner uses very advanced equipment for nanofabrication or microfabrication, before testing their electrical capabilities in a Venus simulation chamber and examining them with post-characterization techniques such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
While pursuing her PhD, Mrs. Eisner also was able to attain her Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering at Stanford, in addition to interning for an early-stage startup company, Akash Systems. Her personal goal for the future is for GaN electronics to be on-board a rover that goes to Venus. When asked about the most important trait for aspiring scientists, Mrs. Eisner cited perseverance, as it is important to be able to pick oneself up after the inevitable failures that come with a career in science. The Cavs Science Club is extremely grateful to Mrs. Eisner for her valuable insights, and is happy to provide the school with opportunities to gain exposure to experts in the fields of science and technology.