Inside Seurat with Zoey Davidson, Ph.D, Soft Matter Scientist

Welcome to Inside Seurat, where we introduce you to the awesome people on our team that help us achieve our mission of transforming manufacturing for people and our planet.

 

1. Hi Zoey! Please tell us a little about yourself.


I am a soft matter physicist and engineer and am passionate about translating fundamental physics research into practical technology development.

In graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, I trained as a soft matter physicist where we developed novel approaches to characterizing soft materials including liquid crystals and colloidal materials. As a postdoctoral researcher and Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Physical Intelligence Department of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, I worked on combining fundamental soft matter physics research with applications in robotics to develop new kinds of artificial muscles. Recently as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, I have been developing new materials and methods of 3D printing and fabrication of liquid crystal elastomer actuators.

At Seurat my focus is on the discovery and development of improved materials and methods for processing liquid crystal light valve technology, device design and testing, metrology and characterization, and supporting transition to production of our current and future laser beam control technology.


2. You received your Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in the area of Physics. Tell us why you chose that career path and what is most exciting about physics to you.


It’s hard to say exactly what started me on this path, but it was definitely an interest from a young age. I was encouraged by my family, great teachers, and books like Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. I remember thinking it was weird that people cared so much about solving math problems, but I started to see the challenges like they were puzzles and how math could be applied to real world problems when I read Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman and Six Easy Pieces. Later on, I encountered great faculty and advisors in the physics department at the University of Pennsylvania who spurred me to solve problems at the forefront in several subfields, initially medical physics instrumentation and later on soft matter science. Liquid crystals in particular grabbed my attention because of the really neat combination of elegant mathematics and real world applications. The screen you’re reading this on is quite possibly a liquid crystal display and that technology has been essential to the last couple decades of mobile electronics.


Microscope image of a liquid crystal between crossed polarizers

 

Liquid crystals in particular grabbed my attention because of the really neat combination of elegant mathematics and real world applications.

 

3. You left your postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University to intern at Seurat and quickly converted to a full-time employee. Share with us your thoughts on the internship and what made Seurat attractive to you.


Seurat is a great place to learn about new challenges in liquid crystals and other important problems in materials science. I had discussed with Seurat a partnership that would continue beyond my time as an intern and would also position me for a unique set of research problems in the academic research world. Instead, the opportunity to continue that research within Seurat arose and just makes so much sense. The technology is already here and really cool; the culture, people, and tools to do the science have already resulted in impressive breakthroughs; and the vision for Seurat’s future is compelling. Staying at Seurat meant that I could do the research faster and have an impact on the ground level of the technology development.

 

The technology is already here and really cool; the culture, people, and tools to do the science have already resulted in impressive breakthroughs; and the vision for Seurat’s future is compelling.

 

4. Liquid crystals are a common component in many electronics products and semiconductor technologies and it is also a foundational component for Seurat’s Area Printing. However, most electronics and much of semiconductor manufacturing has moved abroad and there are only a handful of US-based companies manufacturing liquid crystal products here in the US. Do you have thoughts on how the US can be more competitive in this area?


Among my colleagues with whom I have discussed where they want to do research, the US is still the top choice! I am not so familiar with the business side of semiconductor manufacturing, but my understanding is that the US is still a major manufacturing center for these products and importantly the “machines that make the machines” are almost all built in the US. It is true that on all these fronts, the US may have slipped some recently. I know some researchers have moved abroad for better funding, and one-time investments in other countries have led to advances in those countries’ technology and manufacturing capabilities. This is not the same as the ecosystem of high-tech entrepreneurship that exists in the US.


I think that to keep the US as a leader in technology development and manufacturing means nurturing that ecosystem, which requires capable (legal, governmental, financial, etc…) institutions and infrastructure. Furthermore, a credible long-term commitment to R&D funding would continue to attract the best people in the world to work on the hardest and most pressing problems. And of course, we must welcome those people and not create barriers to their staying in the US.


I also want to say that I think it is a mistake to fall into a “zero sum” mindset. When Seurat brings the next generation of green manufacturing technology to a wider market, the entire world benefits from that!


5. What excites you the most about Seurat’s future?


My colleagues are solving hard problems and have already created a whole new method of additive manufacturing! The horizon for further improvements seems endless, and there’s so much cool science still to do—our product is only going to get better. I think it is also hard to comprehend right how many other applications will benefit from Area Printing because the scope of what we know is possible is so vast.


6. What advice do you have for prospective Seurat candidates?


Do your homework and think about the challenges we have solved and the future opportunities where your expertise might augment what Seurat is building. Proactive engagement like this will help you gauge your own interest and help us understand where you might fit at Seurat.


Zoey is an avid cyclist and has managed to avoid buying a car for the past 15 years. He cycles 12 miles daily to Seurat’s office. We have high hopes that Zoey will start a cycling club at Seurat and lead us all into better health. If any of this sounds exciting to you, think about joining Seurat through one of our job openings here.