Hugh Bullen: PH.D. Commercialization Fellow

Hugh Bullen

When Hugh Bullen was in the seventh grade a hurricane hit his home and changed his life. Before Hurricane Ivan damaged more than 90% of the homes on his home island of Grenada, Bullen was generally interested in math and science but he did not have a specific focus for his interests.


After the hurricane, Bullen started to think deeply about the role energy and technology play in people’s lives. “It also made me think more about climate change,” says Bullen. “Being without electricity for five months allowed me to appreciate just what an important thing it is to have power.” Bullen had an older cousin who recommended he look into studying chemical engineering in college.


Upon graduation from high school, that is exactly what Bullen decided to do. He moved to Long Island, New York and enrolled in the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. Shortly after arriving at Stony Brook, Bullen reached out to the Lawrence Berkeley  National Laboratory and landed a spot working with John Kerr on lithium ion battery research during his first summer at school.


In his second summer he returned to Berkeley, working on research involving fuel cells. “After that,” says Bullen, “I wanted to work on something more electronic-based.” Bullen joined Charles Black’s group at the Brookhaven National lab and worked directly with Staff Scientist Chang-Yong Nam. “I learned a lot about polymers, nanoparticles, and growth techniques at Brookhaven,” says Bullen. “Chang-yong Nam was a real mentor. I got to work with him for two years. He strongly encouraged me to go to grad school.”


“Doing research at Brookhaven for two years taught me more than a lot of the classes I took,” says Bullen. “The classes were good, but being in the lab forces you to really understand what is going on.” Bullen decided that his mentor was right and he applied to graduate schools. “I had an aunt who had gone to Cornell and she introduced me to the school,” says Bullen. “I didn’t think I would come here. It’s just too cold. But then I saw the quality of the program and the faculty and I saw how many research areas were here and how many chances there would be for collaboration. Paulette Clancy (CBE Professor) called me and she really sold me on Cornell.”


Bullen arrived at Cornell in 2014 and joined the research group of Professor James Engstrom in the Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “I have been working with thin films—2D materials beyond graphene,” says Bullen. “I have been using the synchrotron (Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source—CHESS) to learn about the growth mechanism of materials called two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). I want to learn how they grow and then learn how to control how they grow.”

Controlling how 2D TMDs grow could be key to the next generation of semiconductors now that we are approaching the limits of silicon. Unlike graphene, TMDs have an intrinsic band gap that makes them useful semiconductors. “It is very difficult to grow large samples of these materials,” says Bullen. “But it is important that we figure it out.”


Something else Bullen is working to figure out is where entrepreneurship and commercialization fit into his future. He was chosen as one of six Cornell Commercialization Fellows for 2017. “I have taken some entrepreneurship classes in the Johnson School (Cornell’s School of Business),” says Bullen, “and this Commercialization Fellowship felt like a natural next step.”


During his six-month fellowship, Bullen worked with Smith School Professor Lynden Archer to study the feasibility of commercializing some of the new battery technology created in Archer’s lab at Cornell. “This was a great experience for me,” says Bullen. “I learned a lot about commercialization and what it takes. Professor Archer was open to the idea and my advisor (Professor Engstrom) was also very supportive. It was a lot of work, but very much worth it.”


Bullen has been in Ithaca for four years, but he has never come to fully appreciate the winter. Summers in Ithaca are a different story. Bullen takes advantage of the many hiking opportunities in the area. He plays soccer. He also participates in the Cayuga Lake Triathlon each summer. And when the cold weather returns Bullen pursues another of his interests—he travels. He has been to 4 continents already and plans to hit them all sooner or later.



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