Lili Deligianni is a Research Scientist and Principal Investigator at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Her innovative work in chemical engineering has led to cutting-edge developments in chip technology and thin film solar cells. Lili has been with ECS for many years and currently serves as the Society’s Secretary.
Five Questions for Lili Deligianni
“In order to be successful in a field, you need to persevere.”
What pulled you toward chemical engineering?
Early on in high school I had decided I was going to become either a medical doctor or an engineer. I liked math and chemistry more than physics and I was determined to study something very challenging. Medicine was not challenging enough, engineering was! Chemical engineering was the most difficult engineering discipline to get accepted in the nation. So I did get into chemical engineering.
Tell us about your work in alternative energy.
We worked on solar energy conversion. More specifically we worked on CuInGaSe2 thin film solar cells. We worked on the synthesis and scale-up of this technology making it a very low cost using electrodeposition.
What are some of the more powerful ways that nanotechnology can affect renewable energy sources?
Nanotechnology uses materials with critical dimensions less than 100nm. At these dimensions, material properties can change dramatically than bulk properties, essentially creating new capability and new function. Once we gain good understanding of the materials and their interaction at these length-scales, using nanotechnology we can engineer material properties There are so many new capabilities that can be exploited with nanotechnology, from dramatic improvements to solar conversion efficiency to battery systems with higher storage capacity and faster charging and discharging cycles to miniaturized power management systems, so we can have energy storage that can last for a long time.
There’s been a lot of headway in the past few years for women in STEM. What does the landscape for women in engineering look like right now?
There is clearly a change in attitude; women are accepted in the workplace as engineers and scientists. Even though there has been a lot of progress getting women in powerful positions and in Science and Technology careers, the numbers are still lower than what we would like to see. In the end, it is easier to develop new technologies than to change people’s behavior. Similar to technology development, the women in STEM initiative will have to be deployed at scale. For things to change dramatically, we will have to have many more women in STEM careers, many more women who climb to the top of the technical careers. We are still at the prototype stage and early deployment with this. So please encourage your daughters, mentees, friends to pursue STEM careers and push them to stay with it!
You’ve been a member of ECS for 31 years. What has your time with the Society meant to you?
The Society is my second family. I grew up professionally within the Society from my student years in Illinois. I am still learning. I have developed lifelong friendships and professional relationships. The Society has helped me stay relevant with new research topics and has provided a global network of colleagues who will support me. Knowledge is power and having a network of people that you can trust and tap their collective intelligence can exponentially enhance one’s ability to do research and acquire new knowledge.