Q&A with faculty mentor Nick Rolston

Posted on: March 29, 2023

Nick Rolston is an assistant professor of electrical engineering who joined the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in the spring of 2022 and first began mentoring FURI student research projects in 2023. His research group focuses on understanding the materials and mechanisms needed to manufacture the next generation of renewable energy technology.

What made you want to get involved as a FURI faculty mentor?

The reason why I became a faculty member was largely due to my own involvement in undergraduate research, and I think it can have a big impact on students.

What is your favorite part about seeing your students conduct research?

I particularly enjoy the enthusiasm and creativity of the students. They come from many different academic backgrounds and bring unique perspectives to research. They ask some of the best questions because they often see things differently and without the same level of bias as someone like myself who has been thinking about the same questions for several years. 

My FURI students have also been really successful in earning prestigious research opportunities this summer, including opportunities at the University of Valencia, Purdue University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Delaware and more that are still being decided!

How have your FURI students had an effect on your research? Have they come up with any research surprises or proposed new directions for your lab?

Yes, in many ways the students have created some new, exciting research directions. One student discovered a new material chemistry that could be used to produce high-performance solid-state batteries at the highest throughput of any technology. Another student found new processes for agrivoltaic solar panels over crops using low-cost materials. A third student used food-based additives to enable printable solar panel manufacturing.

What have you gained from being a FURI mentor? How has the experience been rewarding for you?

I think I have learned more from the students than they have from me! They become the experts in their projects and are often the ones teaching the PhD students and myself when we have discussions about what they have learned.

What advice would you give to students who might be interested in participating in FURI?

Go for it — you’ll get a chance to learn a lot in a different environment where you get to explore at the frontiers of science and ask questions that no one else has the answers to! 

Why should other faculty members become FURI mentors?

I think working with the undergraduate students has been one of if not the best part of my experience at ASU, and it has allowed our group to expand into new projects and directions that we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to explore! FURI has also provided great mentoring opportunities for our graduate students and made the lab environment much more vibrant.

Nicholas Rolston's research group.
Nick Rolston’s research group, including seven FURI students: Kayshavi Bakshi (back left, striped shirt), Adianne Alamban (front left), Carsen Cartledge (front row, second from left), Erin Burgard (front row, third from left), Gabriel Adams (middle in sweater), Hithesh Rai Purushothama (middle right in black t-shirt) and Rodrigo Estrada Torrejon (front right). Not pictured: Wenxi Isak Tang. Photo courtesy of Nick Rolston

See Rolston’s lab facilities and the researchers in action at MacroTechnology Works.

“From helping me find a project topic that aligned with my passions to giving me constructive feedback on my presentation, and answering every question in between, Dr. Rolston has been amazing. I have never met a professor more eager to help their students than Dr. Rolston. He is always easy to talk to and ensures that everyone feels welcome to ask questions. He has truly created a welcoming environment in the lab and it is a large reason why I am choosing to return to his lab this coming fall.”

Adianne AlambanMaterials science and engineering FURI student