Faces of Research - Meet Tequila A. L. Harris
Nov 29, 2021 — Atlanta, GA
Meet Tequila A. L. Harris, Ph.D. - Interdisciplinary Researcher and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering
What is your field of expertise and why did you choose it?
My field of expertise is manufacturing. This area of specialization was a backup plan to my original choice of major. Because I majored in physics in undergrad, at Lane College, I did not have the requisite background knowledge to easily major in the field that most intrigued me at the time, robotics. Specifically, I wanted to study how robotics could be used to support artificial prosthesis. While interviewing with a potential graduate advisor I was told, “If you cannot actuate this double inverted pendulum without assistance, this is not the group for you.” Realizing that I could not do it, I had to reflect on what I knew I could do. Manufacturing was a natural alternative, since it involved design and fabrication and no coding, as that was my weakness. Fast forward twenty years and I am still excited about manufacturing and the advancements that can be made in this field, which now overlap with robotics and artificial intelligence.
What makes Georgia Tech research institutes unique?
Each institute has its own unique areas of expertise and interest. Due to my research interest and area of expertise, I have found that I sit at the intersection of multiple IRIs, of note are GTMI and SEI. To this end, I was asked to serve as a Strategic Initiative Lead for Energy and Manufacturing as a collaborative between both IRIs, which is very exciting. As the initiative lead, I hope to bridge the gap for investigators working at the intersection of research and development for energy devices that must demonstrate scalability. To this end, a team is working to bring a state-of-the-art facility to the Georgia Tech community that will help investigators push beyond lab scale and/or bench scale demonstrations to pilot scale demonstrations. If successful, this facility will service investigators far beyond SEI and GTMI, but also many involved in IMat, IBB, RBI, and IEN, since products and devices in these areas require liquid coatings and thin film as part of their structure.
What impact is your research having on the world?
I am the Principal Investigator of the Polymer Thin Film Processing Group. Our research is centered on understanding the scalability of thin films from solution for a wide variety of areas, such as separation membranes used for energy and clean water, barrier film for food or electronic packaging, and flexible electronics to name a few. Furthermore, we develop new manufacturing tools and technology to enable the manufacture of materials that otherwise would be costly or impossible. Our work has opened pathways for manufacturing new material structures for batteries and electronic devices as well as making it more feasible to scale up materials needed for clean water, from filtration and desalination, to name a few.
What do you like to do in your spare time when you are not working on your research or teaching?
In my spare time, I enjoy volunteering and cooking/preparing food from other cultures. Currently, I am an active volunteer for Habitat for Humanity as a certified Budget Coach for aspiring homeowners. This activity gives me the greatest joy, as I am helping others realize their dream of homeownership. I was taught to cook at a very young age from my grandmother and mother. I took those skills to the next level, in my opinion, because I incorporate foods that are not traditionally thought of as American cuisine, such as East and West Indian, Japanese, North African, Middle Eastern, etc., and I am constantly trying to learn new recipes. Having a diverse group of friends, students, and postdocs has enabled me to explore this past time in a fun and enriching way.