Army Research Laboratory Internship Later Influences Student’s Doctoral Dissertation Research

By Samantha Bertolino

MSE graduate student Cassidy Atkinson

MSE graduate student Cassidy Atkinson

Cassidy Atkinson earned her B.S. in MSE before matriculating into the UConn MSE graduate program. While still an undergraduate student, she took advantage of an outstanding opportunity to work as an atomistic modelling intern at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). This experience helped to shape both  her research interests and her career goals.

Cassidy’s experience at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) was hands-on but heavily research focused. The project she joined was already ongoing, but her contributions to it were significant. She performed density functional theory (DFT) calculations on silicon carbide (SiC) and compared predicted crystal structures with those reported in the literature. Cassidy’s research on this topic expanded over time to incorporate the recommendations of her team members, as well as her own ideas for further work. Her research on this topic continued during the following school year under a co-op project, and not long after, ARL offered to sponsor her senior design project as well.

Image of a silicon carbide sigma 3 grain boundary.

Image of a silicon carbide sigma 3 grain boundary.

Her work with ARL introduced Cassidy to computational modeling, which is now the central focus of her doctoral dissertation research. She continues to employ first principles calculations to determine the impact of dopants on the structure and properties of SiC. Cassidy is a member of Professor Alpay’s research group that specializes in functional materials and multiscale modeling of materials. She is currently conducting a systematic study to understand how a series doping elements affect the energetics and crystallography of SiC. The aim of this research is to improve the resilience of SiC as a material used in body armor.

During the execution of these investigations, Cassidy found that the facilities available to MSE students accelerated her research significantly. “The Department offers optimal access to brilliant academics and professors, as well as various high-performance computing systems. The resources provided have greatly improved my studies. Without them, I doubt I would be able to complete such high-level calculations.” 

In fact, her experiences in the MSE department as an undergraduate are what led Cassidy ultimately to return as a graduate student. In particular, she felt that her research interests were thoroughly aligned with the project opportunities offered in the program. “I have expanded my research in so many ways, and MSE has truly advanced my own personal growth.” One of the more defining aspects of her experience, though, has been working in post-Covid conditions. “The professors within MSE have made the department feel as connected virtually as it would have been in person.”

Professor Alpay shared, “I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Atkinson as her advisor in her senior design project. I am excited that she is pursuing a Ph.D. degree with us on a groundbreaking research topic that will provide the necessary knowledge and information to improve materials used in armor applications for the US Army.” 

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