Katherine Cochrane

Katherine is a member of the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, a new venture into research of systems and phenomena explicitly involving quantum mechanics. 

Sarah Burke
United States

Research Topic

I use advanced scanning probe microscopy (SPM) techniques to examine organic photovoltaic systems to further understand charge transfer on the single molecule scale.

Research Description

Active organic photovoltaic devices rely on processes at interfaces occurring on the scale of 10s of nanometers. However, the relationship between structural variations and charge separation efficiency remain largely unknown. I use atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) to probe these systems on the nanoscale. These complementary techniques can simultaneously obtain geometric and electronic information with sub-molecular spatial resolution. My research focuses on two materials: the prototypical organic semiconductors PTCDA (a perylene derivative) and CuPc (copper phthalocyanine). I have examined two-dimensional nanoislands of PTCDA , providing an interface with known geometry, allowing us to examine the effect of nanoscale lateral interfaces involving just one component. In addition, I have investigated adjacent PTCDA and CuPc molecules to examine the influence of molecular geometry of a donor/acceptor pair on the single molecule level. Our results have shown that the influence of interfaces on nanoscale electronic properties cannot be ignored. Ongoing work involves probing the system with visible light corresponding to the optical gap of the molecules. This allows the direct measurement of the effect of optical excitation on level alignment. By examining these materials on the single molecule level, we can work with materials chemists to design new molecules that will ensure the optimal geometry at the interface and make better devices.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I knew I wanted to stay in Canada (to be honest I hadn't taken the GRE....) and I was choosing between McGill, U of T and UBC. I didn't really want to stay and do my PhD at McGill, where I did my undergrad. I visited UBC, loved Vancouver, and found a research group I really wanted to work with. I chose UBC over U of T partly because of the specific supervisor, and partly because of the city. I ended up working with a different group, but it all turned out well!

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

It was the research that was going on that really brought me here. I came to work with a specific professor.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I chose to go to grad school because I knew that I wanted to be a scientist. I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in science, I needed to get an advanced degree. I completely understand why this is the case. I learned a lot of information in undergraduate coursework and labs, but nothing compares to working in a lab full time.

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

Finding a job.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I ski when I can. I take advantage of the discounted Whistler student pass. I enjoy reading not related to science. Vancouver is great for the outdoors, especially in the summer.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

The start of grad school is really overwhelming. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing great and they alone are flailing. You won't know whats going on for the first couple of years. It's fine. Then you realize that no one knows what is going on. Talk to your peers. Talk to anyone who will talk to you. Get a cat. Also, get waterproof shoes and lab slippers. Soggy feet are the worst. But seriously, get a cat. Preferably two.