Zachariah Hennighausen

Physics, College of Science

“I’m excited that my work researching 2D materials has both fundamental and commercial applications —that it lives in both worlds.”

Zachariah Hennighausen researches tiny but potent 2D materials. They’re one-to-several atoms thick and defy the rules of classical physics, making them intriguing to physicists like him. For example, one 2D material that Zach has studied, graphene, has the strongest tensile strength — the resistance of a material to breaking under tension — ever recorded. “By controlling the intercalation of oxygen between the layers of this two-dimensional and atomically thin material,” he explains, “We enable technologies such as micron-scale oxygen sensors, oxygen storage on a chip, and ultra high-density information storage.”

Approaching these versatile substances as an entrepreneur, he has researched their potential for many of these applications, as well as such applications as developing cheaper alternatives to traditional solar cells, or even as a bridge that restores communication between severed neurons. “In a separate project our results indicate that carbon nanotubes were able to facilitate neural signal transmission across the gap of a severed nerve,” Hennighausen explains, “Which suggests that they are a promising material for advancing solutions in neuro-medicine as well.”

Hennighausen concedes that these applications are far from commercially viable at this stage, but his work has resulted in numerous papers — including four as the sole first author and one as the last author— that he is submitting for publication. His dissertation explores ways to control how 2D materials “communicate” with each other to preserve their remarkable properties, which disappear when they touch.

Hennighausen, who grew up in Germany and the U.S., graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and served five years in the Coast Guard, part of that time as an engineer. He is passionate about increasing the representation of women and minorities in STEM fields, and was honored in 2018 with the College of Science Dean’s Award for Graduate Student Excellence in Diversity. He’s exploring jobs in academia and industry and is also considering a postdoc fellowship.

I like how we were able to discover something so complex and surprising, while at the same time advancing the technology sufficiently to get patents.”

Zachariah Hennighausen