Author: EAG Laboratories Scientist Shares Insight into Nanotechnology Research

By Megan Andrew, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Tyler Flanagan, Nanoindentation/AFM Scientist at EAG Laboratories

Tyler Flanagan, Nanoindentation/AFM Scientist at EAG Laboratories

Nanotechnology is a rapidly expanding field that has the potential to change the way we live, work and communicate. With an increasing number of applications and products that utilize nanotechnology, the need for scientists who can develop and test these materials is growing. Nanoindentation/AFM Scientist for EAG Laboratories, Tyler Flanagan, is at the forefront of this field. In an interview, Flanagan shared insight into his work and how he became a nanotechnology scientist.

Flanagan received his PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Connecticut, where he studied under Professor Seok-Woo Lee. Lee was a great inspiration to Flanagan, and provided him with the support he needed to complete his PhD. Lee was “very supportive. PhDs are hard, very time-consuming, and most people want to quit at a certain point. I definitely considered it myself, but he kept me going, and I’m glad he did,” said Flanagan.

Before his enrollment at UConn for his graduate studies, Flanagan majored in physics. However, upon doing research into solid state materials like semiconductors, “it kind of just seemed like a natural transition from what I was doing. I really liked the research I did with dislocations and metals,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan’s expertise in nanoindentation is what led him to his current position at EAG Laboratories. EAG Laboratories is a scientific services company that provides materials testing and analysis for clients in the academic, industry, biomedical, and aerospace sectors. Flanagan runs experiments for clients and works on a wide range of projects, from computer chips to medical devices. He runs AFM and profilometry to obtain surface topographies and mechanical testing. Flanagan said, “I work on basically a new thing every day.” Due to non-disclosure agreements, he cannot discuss specifics, “but you almost definitely have some products that I’ve worked on,” he said.

Flanagan’s time at the University of Connecticut prepared him well for his work at EAG Laboratories. “They initially hired me because of my expertise in nanoindentation, which is what I did during my PhD,” said Flanagan. EAG Laboratories recently built a custom stage in-house for nanoindentation in-situ in an SEM, something that Flanagan explored heavily for his thesis. Flanagan has also found that the writing skills he developed during his PhD have come in handy in his current job, as he reviews reports daily and writes several himself.

Recollecting on the courses he remembers from five years prior, Flanagan noted Professor Rossetti’s crystal structures course as being one of his favorites. He also specified Professor Huey’s characterization course as being particularly helpful “because that gave me an overview of all the things I interact with all the time here. For example, I’m able to look at XRD data, without having run it, and interpret it.”

Flanagan’s advice to current materials science and engineering students is to “look for something that’s in line with the skills you have. I know some people spend a lot of time looking for a job, but really you kind of just target it to what you want to do, or what you are interested in doing.”

As his journey continues, Flanagan said he is hoping to move into a more managerial position. “I don’t mind running tools all day, but ideally I want to move away from the bench at a certain point,” he said.

Flanagan is a scientist who is making significant contributions to the field of nanotechnology. His expertise in nanoindentation and AFM is especially valuable to clients in the industries he serves. As the importance of the field of nanotechnology continues to grow, scientists like Flanagan will play an essential role in developing new materials and technologies that will improve our lives.

Author: Make a Positive Impact on Someone Else’s Life

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE Alumnus Jake Lampron (BS’16), Materials Engineer II at Medtronic

MSE Alumnus Jake Lampron (BS’16), Materials Engineer II at Medtronic

Jake Lampron, MSE alum (BS’16), has been a Type I Diabetic since age 7. “When I was about 12 or 13, I began using an insulin pump manufactured by Medtronic. My familiarity with the product and desire to help others lead me to applying for jobs at Medtronic and ultimately getting an offer.”
When Lampron first arrived at UConn, he didn’t even know that materials science and engineering (mse) was a major. “I was planning to major in mechanical engineering. After taking Engineering 1000 and hearing all about mse, I thought that it may be a better path for me. One reason for this was my liking for chemistry, which seemed much more prevalent in mse than in mechanical engineering. Additionally, mse seemed to be on the rise in popularity among companies and I believed the job prospects would be better upon graduation.”
There were several professors that had a lasting impact on Lampron. “Professor Daniel Goberman was so passionate and always full of energy; his enthusiasm for this field and commitment to passing that along is what I always remember. Professor Seok-Woo Lee was a great teacher and his dedication to his students is something that I really admired and appreciated. Professor Harold Brody, my advisor, was a great mentor to me during my time at UConn.”
Lampron’s current job title at Medtronic is Materials Engineer II. “In my current role, there are two focuses. First, I support the released-product engineering team to keep materials and components available to support ongoing manufacturing. In this role, I support material change products brought about by material obsolescence, failures, or regulatory compliance. The selection of materials is based upon many criteria, but the most important things I look at include material properties and biocompatibility.”
“The second focus involves sustainability and ensuring a successful future for the company,” Lampron said. “With regulations becoming even more stringent, it is important to identify and utilize materials that will not be restricted and of course are safe for use. Identifying new materials-processing technologies is another important aspect of my role. It ensures we are manufacturing our products with the highest efficiency and cost effectiveness as possible.”
As a Type I Diabetic, Lamprom knows firsthand “the importance of these devices and how they can change lives. The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that the products I help to design and provide will be important for patients all over the world. Even though I am just a small part of the entire operation, I feel a sense of happiness realizing that I had some part in providing a positive impact on someone else’s life.”
Lampron was eager to talk about the future of this technology. “My team has been looking at the new regulations being set by the regulatory bodies and regions across the globe. When we identify nonconformances, I assist in performing investigations to understand the failures and see what changes need to be made. In some instances, big changes may need to take place in terms of the material being used or the way parts are joined together. A lot of my upcoming work will look at potential alternatives and different ways of manufacturing to remain in compliance with these new regulations. I am looking forward to this, as it gives an opportunity to think outside the box and allows me to use my materials background and knowledge to make safer and better products for those who really need them.”
What Lampron wants current mse students to know is simple: “This field is still on the rise and there are so many opportunities out there. A major in mse will give great insight into materials behavior and considerations for design, which is imperative to many roles within engineering. As for a career, I believe that many employers are realizing the need for more mse majors, which opens many doors. The nice thing about mse is that with our background there are so many different industries and positions available, which means we have the opportunity to choose a job that best aligns with our interests.”

Author: Work for a Company that Works for You

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Aliya Eichacker (MSE’16), Project Development Engineer at Prysmian Group

Aliya Eichacker (MSE’16), Project Development Engineer at Prysmian Group

Aliya Eichacker (MSE’16), currently works as a product development engineer at Prysmian Group, a company that specializes in the production of specialty electrical cables.
When asked what led to her accepting this position, Eichacker said, “I chose Prysmian Group because they truly care about advancing sustainability in their products and processes, and are also committed to improving gender equality in manufacturing and a strong female presence in leadership and STEM roles.”
In high school, Eichacker knew that she loved both chemistry and physics, and wanted to study both together in a way that would make an impact on the world. Materials science and engineering (mse) gave me that opportunity; I was able to learn about chemical structures, chemical kinetics, thermodynamics – and more – to combine into a full understanding of real-life materials that can be applied to a broad range of industries.”
It was Professor Pamir Alpay, now interim Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who motivated Eichacker to attend UConn specifically, as during a campus tour he was “attentive, passionate, and inspirational.”
“There were many professors who impacted my time at UConn and who gave me the time and resources that led me down my career path,” Eichacker remembered. “Professor Bryan Huey was my academic advisor for three years and taught me a lot about project leadership and critical thinking. Professor Harold Brody [Emeritus Professor] was my academic advisor during my first year, and I continued to meet with him throughout my time at UConn as a mentor for advice and guidance on my career.”
In regards to her current job, Eichacker explained, “Prysmian Group manufactures wire and cable for almost every industry: building wire, electronics, EV cables, power distribution, nuclear plants, oil & gas rigs, optical fibers for telecommunications and so much more. I work in the Research & Development Department with people all over the world to create new products for the wire and cable industry.”
“As Product Development Engineer, I primarily work on cost-savings projects and developing new products,” Eichacker said. “I work on Prysmian’s Electronics portfolio of wire and cable – think computer cables, fire alarm cables, security alarm cables, coaxial cables, etc. There’s a big push for developing new materials to use as insulation on cables, especially products that can be more sustainable or 100% recyclable. I also support quality issues, sales team inquiries and quotes and more.”
When asked about the most rewarding part of her job, Eichacker said it’s “when I can help customers and produce a new product that is essential to the market. I like being able to help others and it is even better when we can collaborate with another team and broaden the range of markets to target with a new product or material.”
“The most difficult part of my job is timing,” Eichacker admitted. “When you’re dealing with a large manufacturing company, there are many moving parts and things can get delayed easily. It takes strong communication to be able to move projects in the right direction in a timely manner.”
Eachacker then went on to mention her excitement for the new manufacturing plant that Prysmian Group is building in Brayton Point, MA. “This plant will produce submarine cables  – cables designed to be submerged below the water, laying on top of the sea floor and buried in appropriate places – which will power new wind farms off the east coast of the US. Prysmian Group owns cable-laying vessels currently used in Europe and will bring that capability to the US as well. It’s an exciting new opportunity for green energy to be built in the next few years.”
The advice Eichacker wants to give current mse students is as follows: “Try to experience a wide range of what materials science and engineering has to offer. The great thing about this major is that you can apply it to almost every industry; I’ve worked in characterization, computational materials science, electrochemistry, metallurgy labs, and polymers – and I am still finding new things I love about materials science.”

Author: “Work Hard and Never Give Up”: An Alumna’s Advice to Current MSE Students

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant 

photo of Gabrielle Charno (MSE’17), Project Manager at Lockheed Martin

Gabrielle Charno (MSE’17), Project Manager at Lockheed Martin

When asked what advice she’d give to current materials science and engineering (mse) students, Gabrielle Charno said to “work hard and never give up. MSE classes will test you and frustrate you. You’ll have to stay up late studying and probably spend a lot of time worrying about exams and projects – but don’t let it discourage you. Engineering courses are meant to be challenging and teach you critical thinking skills. It is worth it! Keep going!”
Ever since she was little, Charno knew she wanted to go into engineering just like her dad. “I was always interested in math and science growing up. When I attended UConn’s engineering orientation, I was amazed by how many areas materials science and engineering touched. I felt it was the most diverse engineering discipline that had potential for excitement in everyday work.”
“Professor Brody was the most impactful and inspirational professor in my time at UConn,” Charno said. “He challenges you, pushes you to be a critical thinker, and helps you understand that there are many ways to solve a problem. He encourages you to work as a team and collectively brainstorm potential solutions. Professor Brody always supported my athletic commitment while on the soccer team at UConn as well.”
Charno worked at several companies before finding her current position as Program Manager at Lockheed Martin. “I started my career at Electric Boat working in the Materials and Welding Department on shipyard support and laboratory assignments. I enjoyed the hands-on nature so much that I then altered my career to focus more on manufacturing. At Nucor Steel, I was on the shop floor every day ensuring we produced the highest quality product while meeting our commercial customers’ needs and requirements. However, I did miss the defense industry, so I transitioned to my current position at Lockheed Martin working on Air Force programs within Strategic Missile Defense.”
“As a project manager, I am responsible for the execution of our program,” Charno explained. “My job consists of managing customer requirements, staying within the cost and schedule baseline, identifying risks and opportunities, and delivering our hardware on time to ensure we meet all program milestones. My favorite part of my job is the development of technology and working on products that are operated directly by our military for national defense.” 
Charno advises current mse students to utilize everything the program has to offer. “The MSE department has so many opportunities. Take an elective you think might be interesting, join a club, go after an internship, or become a researcher or TA for a professor you really admire. The network of UConn alumni in mse is extensive too. Always reach out, we like to help!”

Author: “Explore Everything Materials Science and Engineering Has to Offer”

photo of MSE alumnus Noveen Delaram (MS’17), Materials and Process Engineer at Sikorsky

MSE alumnus Noveen Delaram (MS’17), Materials and Process Engineer at Sikorsky

“Really take the time to explore everything materials science and engineering (mse) has to offer,” said Noveen Delaram, UConn MSE alumnus (MS’17), when asked what advice he has for those considering the major.
Delaram himself first realized what he wanted out of a career at fifteen years old, when he joined a team that would build electric- and solar-powered vehicles from scratch and race them. “I was the person on the team that was always in charge of all our composite work, so I would prep, layup, and work on pieces made of carbon fiber and fiberglass. From then on, I knew I wanted to be an engineer and work with composites.”
At first, Delaram committed to UConn as a chemical engineering major. He didn’t realize composites work really fell under Materials. “After attending one of the sessions in ‘ENGR 1000: Orientation to Engineering’, I saw what was said in the presentation for mse and immediately ran to the engineering office and swapped my major. I loved everything I saw.”
Delaram loved it so much that he stayed at UConn for graduate school. “I was offered a great opportunity to work with some undergraduate research my senior year, which led to me being offered a graduate program. It gave me the chance to work with some cutting-edge technology and learn a lot of key analysis techniques that have carried me through my career so far.”
The most inspiring professor Delaram had during his time at UConn was Professor Pamir Alpay, who currently serves as the interim Vice President for Research. “He was the MSE department head at the time, and worked very hard to stay well informed on the progress in our courses and who the students were in every year. He truly acted as a mentor to everyone in the department and made an effort to work with everyone who came to him.”
Currently, Delaram is a Materials & Process Engineer at Sikorsky, an aircraft manufacturer based in Stratford, Connecticut. “I consider myself very lucky to be in the position I am in now. The introduction to the company and my current group came from a friend I made during my time as an undergrad at UConn. I had a chance to speak to a member of this team outside of the normal interview, ask some questions, and learn everything the team does. Our conversation really sold me on the job and the work I would get to do.”
Delaram then went on to explain what exactly that work is. “The team I am a part of focuses on composite and raw material related work for helicopter blades. Our business group has people in many different aspects of aircraft production. We have teams that focus on failure analysis, metallurgy, and many more fields. We support production of every aspect of an aircraft.”
When asked his favorite part of his job, Delaram said it’s that no two days are the same. “Every day brings a new challenge, a new problem to get to the root cause of, and it provides a challenge every day.”
However, the most difficult aspect of the job lines up with his favorite part. “Because there are constantly new problems, there is not always a known answer to the issue at hand. This means that I must make sure any answer I give matches previous work and matches specification and drawing call outs. With a company that’s been around for 100 years, I cannot always ask the person who made a given drawing note, so making a judgment call sometimes requires gathering a lot of input.”
One upcoming project that Delaram was excited to talk about is as follows: “At the very end of 2022, the US Navy gave the green light for full rate production of the CH-53K King Stallion helicopters. That will really kick up work for us here and as one of our newest aircrafts, we get to work with a lot of newer processes and materials.”
Delaram said that students looking to pursue a career in materials science and engineering should “take the time to explore everything materials science and engineering has to offer. It has one of the most diverse workloads in all of engineering. Someone with a background in mse can find work in almost any field, but really make sure to pick an area of focus. Learn to diversify, try to learn a little bit of everything, but make sure to pick a focus and go down that route.”

Author: Discovering the Power of Materials Science at UConn: “Material is the foundation of everything.”

By Megan Andrew, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE Graduate Student Zhongyuan Li

MSE Graduate Student Zhongyuan Li

Zhongyuan Li, a fourth-year UConn MSE graduate student, has recently published “Unraveling the ultrahigh modulus of resilience of sequential-infiltrated core-shell polymer nanocomposite nanopillars” in the Materials & Design journal, a multi-disciplinary journal that seeks to bring together aspects of materials science, engineering, physics, and chemistry. In Li’s research, the resilience of the SU-8 polymer is explored in-depth. “When a material is deformed due to impact, the material can restore to its original shape if the resilience is high enough,” Li said.

The SU-8 polymer he is studying is widely used to make micro/nano electromechanical systems. Improving the resilience, in turn, improves the reliability of the overall sensors and actuating systems, for instance mass sensors, accelerometers, and even optoelectronics.

As part of Professor Seok-Woo Lee’s research group, Li delves into the development of hybrid  organic-inorganic polymer nanocomposites. His research is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Mechanics of Materials and Structure (NFS- MoMS).

When Lee was looking for graduate students who could study the mechanical properties of polymer composite materials in 2019, Zhongyuan came to UConn to join his group. “My project and his background matched perfectly! I learned a lot from him as my knowledge of polymers was lacking until now,” Lee said.

“The best way to improve the resilience of polymer materials is to make polymer composite. But making nano-size polymer composites is extremely difficult,” Li said. In his research, Li uses a unique method called vapor phase infiltration to make AlOx/SU-8 composites. After solid-state infiltration of nanoscale aluminum oxide (AlOx) particles into an SU-8 polymer matrix, the resilience of SU-8 is greatly improved, Li said.

Li does acknowledge some limits and room for improvement, due to a still relatively shallow infiltration range. The group is working towards increasing the infiltration depth so resilience can be improved even further.
Li explains that his career path in materials science and engineering (mse) stems from encouragement from his mother, who works in the chemical industry. His inspiration especially grew during his senior year of high school, when Li became interested in utopian science fiction and was enthralled with imagining the technologies that existed in books and movies. A space elevator depicted in the movie “Wandering Earth II” is one of his favorite examples.

Figure (a) Schematic illustration of the preparation of a-AlOx-infiltrated SU-8 nanopillar by vapor-phase infiltration (VPI) method. (b) SU-8 based nano-pillars fabricated by electron-beam lithography method.

Figure (a) Schematic illustration of the preparation of a-AlOx-infiltrated SU-8 nanopillar by vapor-phase infiltration (VPI) method. (b) SU-8 based nano-pillars fabricated by electron-beam lithography method.

“The only limitation for actually realizing this technology someday is the strength of material,” he said, “I think I can make some progress in this area.”
Following graduation, Li plans on further advancing research, publishing more, and ultimately creating products based on his continually-growing knowledge in the mse field.
Li received his bachelor’s degree in Polymer Science and Engineering from Sichuan University in Chengdu City, Sichuan province in China. He won the ‘Best Data Analysis/Presentation’ prize at the 2020 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition (IMECE) conference. But lately Li explains he is focused more on “science-based research, rather than engineering.”

The university’s ranking combined with the friendliness of the faculty advisor are truly what made Li choose to attend UConn for his graduate degree, he said. “I think my experience as an MSE graduate student is a mixture of loss and exhilaration.” That’s because during his first year at UConn, the pandemic occurred, and Li was forced to stay home without experiencing the hands-on work of the UConn laboratories. Fortunately, as life gradually returned to normal, “life at UConn MSE became colorful,” as his hand-on experience was finally able to flourish in the labs.

Professor Lee also remembered how the pandemic affected Li. “When the pandemic started, he quickly switched modes from experimentalist to theorist. He began studying various mathematical models of composite mechanics and creating his own calculation code to quantitatively understand why his composites exhibited both low Young’s modulus and high yield strength. Although he did not have access to laboratory equipment, I was really impressed with how he was so successful at performing numerical calculations to better understand the experimental data he fortunately obtained before the pandemic,” Lee said.

“I learned to use many high-end experimental instruments, got help from more senior group members, and developed friendships with them. I also had the chance to visit other advanced laboratories like Brookhaven national lab and the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech,” Li said.

Each week Li attends a seminar as part of the faculty mentorship program, in which each student is assigned a faculty advisor to assist them in their research journey. Li finds the seminars to be a great opportunity to ask questions and learn more about related research. He is also quick to point out “my supervisor is very friendly and cares about his students.”
“I was impressed by Li’s deep insight into polymer mechanics and his remarkable ability to pivot and do important theoretical work. I am delighted that all his efforts are finally published in one of MSE’s high-profile journals, the Journal of Materials and Design,” Lee said.

Backed by his research success and satisfaction, Li gives undergraduate students a word of advice:
“I encourage them to join different research groups to experience the experimental process firsthand, and then combine those experiences with what they learned during their undergraduate studies to make a career plan for their future,” he said.

Author: How UConn MSE Faculty Transformed Undergraduate Student Yinyu Wang Inside and Out

By Megan Andrew, Written Communication Assistant

photo of Yinyu Wang (MSE’23) studies electrospinning nanofibers contributing to clean energy research as part of  Jasna Jankovic’s research group

Yinyu Wang (MSE’23) studies electrospinning nanofibers contributing to clean energy research as part of Jasna Jankovic’s research group

While Yinyu Wang, a UConn MSE undergraduate student, initially wanted to pursue civil engineering to follow in the footsteps of his father, his acceptance to the MSE program changed his plans. “It is an interesting field of study, and it also interacts with other engineering fields, including civil engineering,” he said.
Today, Wang is participating in clean-energy research alongside graduate students in Professor Jasna Jankovic’s research group. Specifically, he is working with graduate student Sara Pedram in Jankovic’s lab on electrospinning nanofibers, which can be used in fuel cells. They are working to create and test tubular nanofibers, which are based on a cylindrical cell structure, rather than a traditionally cubic structure. He said as climate change increasingly affects the globe, “it is even more imperative for scientists and engineers to look into this area of creative materials configurations for future energy generation.”
Wang said the reason he so thoroughly enjoys UConn MSE stems from multiple aspects of the program, but “professors are the most important here, in my opinion. It is the caring, knowledgeable, and helpful professors that keep encouraging me to move forward,” he said.
Wang pointed out Jankovic as a large motivation for his research. “Her knowledge, patience, and caring nature are what drive me to move on. She would help me analyze my failures and encourage me to tackle challenges in the lab.”
Wang was granted funding during the summer of 2021 through UConn’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program to do research with Jankovic.
Wang said his experience working with Jankovic has transformed his life outside of the lab as well. “I become a more curious person both in academics and life,” he said, “I have become handier than I was before, and prefer to fix things on my own by using my own skills and online resources.”
“I remember Professor Kattamis and Professor Brody giving us insights about metallurgy, and Professor Leek providing us with hands-on experience in the lab. I’m very fond of professor Frame’s energetic class lectures too,” Wang said.
Wang especially appreciates Professor Leek‘s influence on him as a student: “I learned many valuable and important lessons from her, from paying attention to lab safety to gaining all the hands-on experiences in MSE. I was able to cast metal in her lab for the first time in my life, and to learn basic operations of an SEM machine. She is always patient with her students, and she always does her best in helping her students learn and develop in the field of MSE.”
“I remember Yinyu struggled initially to find a student research position but never gave up.  He has been part of Dr Jankovic’s research team for some time now.  When I ask how it is going, his reply shows he is passionate about his research area and really enjoys working with his colleagues. Yinyu has become a careful experimentalist with a good eye for detail. Seeing this transformation is the absolute best part of my work.” Leek said.
Wang elaborated on his undergraduate experience and said that both classes and undergraduate research enrich his MSE experience. “Lab classes here are exciting to take, and the feeling of accomplishment when I successfully perform an experiment is satisfying … What’s more, UConn also offers undergraduate research programs to students, so we are able to work with a professor on projects interesting to us and develop independent learning skills,” he said.
Wang’s excitement towards his undergraduate research reached new levels after relocating to the new Science 1 building this year:
“Words can’t really express how excited I was when I visited the labs in the building. The automatic fume hood is eye opening, and the office environment is simply bright, clean, and comfortable. The most important thing I noticed is the new design of the eye washing station and shower station: It reduces the procedures to turn them on by simply pulling the handles, making labs much safer,” he said.
Another area where he has grown as an academic is in his motivation to read. “I just felt like I should receive knowledge not only from school but also from extracurricular sources. I also started writing a diary just to keep track of my feelings and thoughts, and I think it helps me calm down and relax.”
Outside of class, Wang participates in the UConn Airsoft club and enjoys cooking.
“To me, cooking is like performing experiments in a kitchen setting. Spices and foods become the “chemicals” and I love trying out different combinations of them. Sometimes it comes out great and sometimes it may require further…adjustment,” he said.
After graduating this spring, Wang plans to continue his education at UConn MSE in the graduate program.

Author: MSE Professor Collaborates With Others to Write Accomplished Research Paper

Schematic diagram depicting the bottlenecks of conventional catalyst layer and new catalyst design strategy.

Schematic diagram depicting the bottlenecks of conventional catalyst layer and new catalyst design strategy.

MSE Professor Jasna Jankovic, in collaboration with Muhammad Naoshad Islam, Abdul Bashith Mansoor Basha, Vinayaraj Ozhukil Kollath, Amir Peyman Soleymani, and Kunal Karan published a research paper that made it into the Top 25 Nature Communications chemistry and materials science articles of 2022.
Titled “Designing fuel cell catalyst support for superior catalytic activity and low mass-transport resistance”, the article was published in October 2022 and has over ten thousand accesses as of April 2023.
Professor Jankovic was excited to explain her and her colleagues’ work. “This publication reports on fabrication and testing of a novel catalyst for fuel cells. Fuel cells are clean energy devices that produce electricity from air and hydrogen fuel for a range of applications such as cars, trucks, stationary power, backup power, etc. The electricity is produced by electrochemical oxygen reduction and hydrogen oxidation reactions. Very active catalysts are needed to speed up these slow reactions, especially the oxygen reduction reaction. Our collaborative team designed a very active catalyst based on large carbon spheres, functionalized with nitrogen, with small platinum particles uniformly distributed in and on them. This special, rational design improved the activity and the durability of the catalyst. If this catalyst is used in fuel cells, the devices that they are used to power will perform with higher efficiency and last longer.” 
Many different minds came together to work on this. “Our collaborator Professor Kunal Karan from the University of Calgary in Canada contacted us to perform some advanced microscopy on his catalyst and catalyst layers. My postdoc Dr. Amir Peyman Soleymani performed a lot of fancy microscopy to support the research. I also spent hours and hours discussing the results with the team. We all finalized the paper together, which the Calgary team led and we supported.”
Jankovic made sure to mention that she loved working with so many different people. “My research team at UConn has many, many collaborations across the US, Canada, Germany, and South Africa, with people in industry, national labs and academia. Collaborations bring many researchers together at times when they can share knowledge, resources, and successes like this. It also gives students exposure to many different research projects and expands their network. This is our mode of work – and it works! In this particular collaboration, we exchanged samples, reports, ideas and discussions. It was a great collaboration!”
When asked about where this research may go, Jankovic said, “I am hoping that this catalyst will be mass-produced and commercialized with one of our industrial partners.”

Author: “It’s Alright to Rely on Others, and to Ask Questions”

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant 

photo of Benjamin Labkovsky, undergraduate materials science and engineering (mse) major at UConn.

Benjamin Labkovsky, undergraduate materials science and engineering (mse) major at UConn.

“I stumbled upon materials science and engineering,” said Ben Labkovsky, senior materials science and engineering (mse) major at UConn. “I started as a physiology and neurobiology major and found that it was a terrible fit for me immediately. When searching for a new major, I decided to read the descriptions for the majors at UConn. Once I saw materials science and engineering, a field I’d never even thought of before, I was instantly intrigued and wanted to give it a try. Thankfully, I did, and I’ve been in love with it ever since!”
When asked what professor impacted him most, Labkovsky decided he would have to say Professor Leek. “Between classes being moved online, being a commuter student, and transferring late into the major, I found myself really disconnected from the rest of my class. Once we were back in person, I started taking Professor Leek’s lab classes. I was able to find a new appreciation for mse, especially since her passion for the subject is contagious. She’s helped me many times during the two years I have known her. This past year alone with she wrote a letter of recommendation for me and helped me through Senior Design. I feel that I have newfound confidence in myself and the questions that I ask because of her.”
For three semesters now Labkovsky has worked as a teaching assistant. “Being a TA has expanded my communication skills and time management, and has helped me retain the knowledge taught in the courses. It’s fulfilling to help students with problems and be supportive of them when they need it. Although it can be overwhelming when a class has a large number of students, I’m glad I decided to do it.”
One of Labkovsky’s favorite parts of the mse major is how tight-knit of a community it is. “I’ve been able to communicate with other students in the major, and we’ve been able to help each other and be sources for each other. I feel I’ve been able to excel since I have friends who I can bounce ideas and questions off of.”
This relates to Labkovsky’s advice to other mse students: “It’s alright to rely on others, and to ask questions. I found myself enjoying my education and understanding material the most when I was discussing topics with my friends, and we were working together to solve problems.”
In regards to the future, Labkovsky’s current career goal is to become a patent lawyer. “I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, but I was never sure of what to pursue until the end of high school. With the way materials and equipment are advancing, I thought being a patent lawyer for material science would be a great idea. Material selection can be a defining characteristic for a patent to succeed, and I hope to use my knowledge to help those coming up with patents for material-based needs. My degree in mse should make me more approachable and a better candidate for these matters.” Labkovsky will be graduating in August 2023.

Author: MSE Students Are Incredibly Well-Rounded

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant 

photo of Emma Lucas, MSE undergraduate major and member of the UConn women’s rowing team.

Emma Lucas, MSE undergraduate major and member of the UConn women’s rowing team.

Emma Lucas, an undergraduate student studying material sciences and engineering (mse), is successful both in her academics and on UConn’s women’s rowing team. Emma says that balancing the two “gets hard sometimes, but having a rigorous schedule helps me prioritize what’s important and gives me the structure I need in my day.”
Emma has even won the Scholar Student-Athlete Award from the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA). This award requires that student-athletes row in at least 70 percent of the regular season and/or at championships, all while maintaining a minimum 3.5 GPA.
Department Head Bryan Huey, who is a recent convert to rowing, knows just how committed one has to be to get on the water at sunrise and then work through the rest of the day, “Emma is a wonderful example of how our students can be so successful in the classroom, while also advancing their other passions or obligations like collegiate sports, band, jobs, volunteering, clubs, campus research, and so many other interesting activities.”
Emma chose to study mse after taking ENGR 1000: Orientation to Engineering with Professor Kevin McLaughlin. “We were able to hear from professors what we’d study and eventually do when we graduated, and I found mse to be the most exciting.”
Emma has also had the opportunity to work in the undergraduate lab. “My time in the lab has been such an awesome experience. I love working hands-on, and being able to use that to supplement my learning from sophomore to senior year has been so beneficial.”
As part of this experience Emma worked with Undergraduate Lab Director Fiona Leek. “Professor Leek has been such a crucial part of my learning in MSE, and I really appreciate all the hard work and late nights she puts in to help get things done.”

photo of two pieces of metal that undergraduate Emma Lucas welded during her internship at Electric Boat.

Two pieces of metal that undergraduate Emma Lucas welded during her internship at Electric Boat.

When asked her thoughts on the Science 1 building, Emma says that “The new labs are so cool and are making the undergraduate lab experience even more amazing than it already was. They have the potential to really expand interest in the mse major.”
On top of being both a student and rower, Emma has also participated in an internship with Electric Boat (EB), a company that has been the primary builder of submarines for the United States Navy for more than 100 years.
Emma says during some days at EB she’d do work on a computer with the help of her coworkers. “On other days I’d head over to the weld lab.”
Welding seems to have been Emma’s favorite part of the internship. “I struggled for a while in the beginning, but I ended up picking up on shielded metal arc welding. I was able to get a few of my welded plates bend-tested and they passed! I also attempted gas metal arc welding and gas tungsten arc welding, but I found those more challenging.”
As another part of the internship, Emma gained experience in the Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) lab. “I was able to try my hand at magnetic particle testing for indentations in welds on a practice plate. I was then also able to see the NDT inspectors investigate some welds that eventually would be used on one of the submarines.”
When asked for a fun fact about herself, Emma revealed that she’s a triplet. “My two sisters, Sophie and Abby, play college soccer at Salve Regina University and Southern Connecticut State University.” Emma herself will be graduating from UConn in May 2023.

Author: The Husky Behind Intel: How UConn Alumnus Chigozie Muoto is Driving Innovation

photo of MSE Alumnus Chigozie Muoto (PhD ‘11), Business Strategy mManager at Intel Corp.

MSE Alumnus Chigozie Muoto (PhD ‘11), Business Strategy Manager at Intel Corp.

By Megan Andrew, Written Communications Assistant

The number of opportunities for UConn materials science and engineering graduates is endless. Chigozie Muoto combines his Materials Science and Engineering PhD with an MBA as a business strategy manager for Intel Corp. 

Muoto graduated from UConn with his PhD in 2011, at which point he was hired by Intel Corp. as a process engineer in Hillsboro, Oregon. Over the nearly four and a half years he spent in this role, Muoto researched the “best and most efficient technologies that would be used in our latest products.”

Muoto worked with a team to analyze and redesign lithography processes for Intel’s microprocessor products. His day-to-day responsibilities required him to be in one of Intel’s advanced fabrication factories, working hands-on with semiconductor lithography equipment and utilizing the skills he had acquired and developed in the labs at UConn.

After receiving his Undergraduate degree at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, Muoto knew he wanted to advance his academics in the United States. But why UConn?

“It wasn’t like anyone told me about UConn,” he said. “I was researching many schools on the Internet.”

What stood out to Muoto about UConn was the technology available in the research labs. He recalled researching several options to pursue his masters and was amazed by “how easy it is for students to gain access to instruments I never got the opportunity to use.” Muoto was also drawn by the “diversity in research projects the professors had,” he said.

“I really wanted to go to UConn,” Muoto remembered, “I thought about it for many months.”

Once accepted, Muoto was exposed to far more than he initially expected. “Not only did I get access to that lab equipment, but I was also trained on how to service the equipment.” This proved very valuable in his first interview with Intel. “That was part of the reason I got the job,” he said, “the experiences and skills they were looking for were very similar to what I did in the lab at UConn.”

photo of Chigozie Muoto at his PhD Graduation ceremony in 2011

Chigozie Muoto (left) with his advisor Professor Aindow (right) at his PhD Graduation ceremony in 2011

Muoto also fondly reminisced about Professor Mark Aindow, his advisor. Aindow encouraged Muoto to write scientific papers, which led to an impressive six publications for Muoto over the course of his UConn degree. “At first I wasn’t thinking of it as something I could do,” Muoto said. “The way he advised me was just exceptional.”

Although he thoroughly enjoyed his engineering position, Muoto found himself interested in the business side of Intel. He went on to get his MBA at the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management. In 2017, he returned to Intel as a product manager.

In three years, Muoto rose to his current position of business strategy manager. “I have contributed immensely because of my engineering background,” he said. While most people involved in the business side focus on the status of the industry, Muoto’s deep understanding of both business and engineering allows him to lead Intel to more efficient and plausible business solutions.

Muoto’s career path serves as an example of the unique professional options that come with a degree in materials science and engineering. Muoto advises current students to begin exploring their options early. “Start researching the companies you want to go to, and start networking,” he said.

Muoto struggled himself with deciding on a career that fit his interests. “Sometimes its not very clear because you don’t have a lot of information about them,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s not just about the money or the accolades…follow your passion. Everything else will follow.”

Author: MSE’s Involvement in the University Materials Council

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE Department Head Bryan Huey, who was elected as chair of the ‘University Materials Council’ (UMC) for the 2022-2023 academic year.

MSE Department Head Bryan Huey, who was elected as chair of the ‘University Materials Council’ (UMC) for the 2022-2023 academic year.

For the 2022-2023 academic year, Department Head Bryan Huey was elected as the chair for the nationwide association of MSE department heads. This ‘University Materials Council’ (UMC) meets twice a year to share statistics about our programs, lists of students interested in graduate school, and other helpful information. “We also host academic job announcements—it’s been an amazing year for MSE programs across the country, with more than 45 faculty searches over the past 9 months. Most of all though, we are there to share best practices with each other.” 
For instance, in 2020 the UMC had several virtual meetings as they realized the magnitude of the looming Covid pandemic. Member programs shared valuable advice on effective lab instruction during Covid, supporting our department communities from afar, approaches to health and safety, and more.
“It really helped us all to collectively figure out ways to best deal with Covid as educators,” Huey remembers. “For example, I believe several programs have now duplicated how we modified our weekly seminars here at UConn. As we shifted to talks online, we encouraged much shorter presentations, and balanced that with substantially more discussion driven by panels of students with overlapping interests. Even after pivoting back to being in person, we’re still benefitting. I don’t think seminar visits have ever been so engaging.”
Professor Huey and the other 5 UMC officers are responsible for organizing the biannual meetings. This past fall, the UMC assembled in Boston coincident with the Materials Research Society Conference. The 65 attendees enjoyed panel discussions focused on undergraduate student recruiting, budgeting, and advice for new department heads. This Spring, 45 heads met in San Diego alongside The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) conference. There was an update on student recruiting, discussions on how to leverage artificial intelligence in materials education, and conversations about department culture and inclusivity.
“I’m especially pleased that broad support emerged across the UMC membership for a few nationwide efforts that should benefit materials professionals,” Huey notes. “For one, we’re going to kick off communities of practice for those supporting our teaching labs. This will make it easier for us to share popular lab modules, or to identify the most suitable equipment for an undergraduate lab.”
After speaking about past improvements, Huey went on to talk about the future. “I’m personally most excited about another effort, focused on more effectively broadcasting what materials engineers really do, and the impact we have on society. The roughly 130 Materials programs across North America all work so hard on outreach about materials for our own institutions. Now, we aim to collectively create and share such content. Initially there will be 2 main approaches. One will target high school students, featuring short video clips from recent alumni about the interesting problems they solve as materials engineers. The other will assemble video segments, audio clips, and other news items, from major leaders in industry about the impact of advanced materials for their various technologies – and more broadly, for society.”
The UMC meetings also historically feature a carefully structured ‘brag session’. Every professor is allowed 1 slide, and 60 seconds, to share highlights about their own program. “As the UMC chair, that’s one of the hardest jobs – holding professors to just 1 minute. It’s been especially hard for me representing UConn, as there’s so much to be proud about. Student successes, faculty innovations, major awards, and of course Science One. We are envied by many right now, not just on campus but across the country. UConn Materials is just such a great place to be.”

Author: Meet MSE Alumnus Vincent Ybanez Working at the Forefront of Jet Engine Technology

photo of a Mechanic overhauling engine at an Aftermarket Repair Shop. Pratt & Whitney Aftermarket and Sustainment Engineering group provides innovative aftermarket repair strategies for various jet engine hardware.

Mechanic overhauling engine at an Aftermarket Repair Shop. Pratt & Whitney Aftermarket and Sustainment Engineering group provides innovative aftermarket repair strategies for various jet engine hardware.

By Megan Andrew, Written Communications Assistant

Vincent Ybanez has always been fascinated by the properties of different materials and how they can be used to solve complex problems. Now, as a key member of the Aftermarket and Sustainment Engineering team at Pratt and Whitney, he’s putting that expertise to work on some of the most cutting-edge engine technologies around.

photo of MSE Alumnus Vincent Ybanez (’16), Senior Design Engineer at Pratt & Whitney

MSE Alumnus Vincent Ybanez (’16), Senior Design Engineer at Pratt & Whitney

In his role of senior design engineer, Ybanez works on repairs for jet engine hardware by “initially developing repair concepts, establishing design and testing requirements for the repair, substantiating and obtaining approvals within the various engineering groups, and drafting the technical documents for the repair.”
The specific processes he uses to repair engines utilize solid-state welding, fusion welding, additive manufacturing, machining, and plasma spray coating to optimize cost and repairability of hardware.

“UConn’s MSE curriculum and instructors provided an excellent basis for understanding materials science and general engineering fundamentals, which help me make design engineering decisions with a materials engineering mindset,” Ybanez said.

Ybanez recalled that his initial interest in engineering came at an early age, as he worked alongside his father on home-repair projects. Following that spark of interest, Ybanez attended a vocational technical high school, where his hands-on work with electromechanical technologies solidified his future career path.
“I chose UConn as their Engineering program is highly acclaimed, the university itself was known as one of the top public research universities nationwide, and I heard many good experiences of the university and Engineering program from friends and relatives,” Ybanez said.

At UConn, Ybanez discovered the materials science and engineering (mse) field through Professor Daniel Goberman’s ‘Foundations of Engineering’ class. “I didn’t realize mse was a field until that class, and how broad the mse field was, as well as the various job opportunities that materials engineers can pursue,” Ybanez said. That helped him decide to declare mse as his major.

With Professor George Rossetti as his advisor, Ybanez was able to explore different career options during his undergraduate studies. “I remember having helpful discussions with him regarding pursuing graduate studies versus working directly in industry after graduation, which led to me pursuing an independent study opportunity to help me decide,” he said.

Ybanez also fondly described his favorite class as being ‘Failure Analysis’ with Goberman. “The class content has been very useful in my Welding Engineer role when I am leading various investigations for welding process failures and improvements,” he said.
“I remember all the MSE professors not only being very knowledgeable within their fields, but also being very engaging and enthusiastic when teaching as well. The enthusiasm of all the professors and staff, as well as the smaller size of the MSE department, helped MSE feel like a more close-knit and inclusive department in the UConn School of Engineering,” Ybanez said.

After graduation, Ybanez decided to move directly into industry before pursuing his MS in welding engineering a few years later at The Ohio State University. There, Ybanez recalled drawing from his UConn education in materials science and engineering to excel in his academics. “Topics such as phase diagrams, microstructure, phase transformation in steels, and thermodynamics were being reintroduced in my grad school program, and I was able to easily understand them due to my strong undergraduate background.”

He also drew from his experience in a favorite independent study class. Because of his work as an undergraduate research assistant in Professor Puxian Gao’s Nanomaterials Science Lab, he gained insight into the research lab setting and what post-graduate research would be like. Ultimately “this helped me with the personal decision of pursuing industrial experience instead of post-graduate academic research right after graduation,” he said
Directly following his graduation with a BS in mse from UConn in 2016, Ybanez was hired as a materials engineer for Quest Global in East Hartford.
His involvement in both the Material Advantage club, as well as the Engineering Ambassador club at UConn, helped him stand out from other candidates when applying for his first job after graduation. Ybanez advises current students to do the same—”get involved.”

“Particularly, leadership roles set potential new hires apart,” Ybanez said. “Also, try to pursue and apply for any internships and/or independent research opportunities that are available. This will help you decide which specific field/industry you want to specialize in, as well as whether you want to pursue post-grad academic research or industrial work right after graduation.”

Author: It’s Never Too Late to Switch to MSE!

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang standing with undergraduate Gina Parlato after the latter received the 2022 undergraduate outstanding research award.

Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang standing with undergraduate Gina Parlato after the latter received the 2022 undergraduate outstanding research award.

Sometimes you don’t know which major is perfect for you until a bit later in the game, as was true with undergraduate student Gina Parlato.
Originally a mechanical engineering major, Gina had no idea the materials science and engineering (mse) major existed. “I found out about it through an upperclassman I knew who was in mse. She told me all about the program and what materials science engineering was. After that, I was so interested in it that I changed my major the next semester.”
Switching majors actually put Gina off-track to graduate, which makes this her fifth year at UConn. “I took whatever courses I could over the summer and winter semesters to catch up and put in a lot of hard work. However, I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve loved my time at UConn and I’m so glad I found mse, because I really love it.”
Gina says that Professor Fiona Leek has impacted her the most. “She is always available to answer any questions I have and she’s always advocating for her students. Every class I’ve had with her was one that I looked forward to going to.”
In regards to her favorite area of mse, Gina is most interested in polymers. She was actually able to do some research with Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang. “We worked with liquid crystal elastomers, a smart and soft material, to make soft robots with reversible shape and color changing capabilities.”
Professor Wang thinks very highly of Gina. “Gina is the best undergraduate research assistant I have had so far. She performed extremely well and co-authored two journal papers during just one summer in my group. In recognition of her research excellence, she received the 2022 undergraduate outstanding research award.”
When asked her thoughts on the new laboratories in the Science 1 building, Gina says that they’re amazing. “I’m grateful that I get the chance to use such a nice facility.”
Not only is Gina stellar in the academics department, but she’s also part of the women’s hockey club. “Hockey is something I’ve balanced with school for as long as I can remember. We only practice twice a week and have 1-2 games per weekend, which is a lot less than how much I practiced in high school. Deciding to play in college was an easy choice for me, because it’s the perfect break from schoolwork and I already knew I could manage my time.”
Additionally, Gina has interned at EssilorLuxottica, a company that designs, produces and markets optical equipment, prescription glasses and sunglasses. “The internship offered me a lot of hands-on opportunities in the lab to learn how to use new machines and techniques. They wanted me to learn as much as I could and provided me with every opportunity to do that.”
Gina describes the company’s culture as nice and friendly, and says that all the employees love working there. “They would regularly plan company outings. They also care a lot about their employees and have a nurse on staff daily in case of any emergencies.”
Gina’s day-to-day responsibilities involved running experiments under the supervision of some of the company’s senior engineers. “There were some devices and machines I had never used before, so it was a bit of a learning curve getting comfortable using those. However, the senior engineers were always more than willing to answer any of my questions.”
When asked what advice she’d give to other students looking to succeed as an intern, Gina says, “You get out what you put in and every opportunity will teach you something. Try to learn as much as you can, because even if you hate the internship you can still learn about what you want from a job in the future. You’ll learn something no matter what, as long as you put the effort in.”
When asked about her future, Gina answers, “Ideally, I would like to work with polymers in either the biomedical or aerospace fields. UConn MSE has given me a good understanding of materials science and provided me with ample opportunities to get hands-on experience in the lab.” Gina will be graduating in May 2023.

Author: Another Strong Addition to the MSE External Advisory Board

photo of Steve Mayott, Manager of Materials Engineering & Laboratory Services at General Dynamics Electric Boat

Steve Mayott, Manager of Materials Engineering & Laboratory Services at General Dynamics Electric Boat

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant
The department is excited to welcome Steve Mayott as the newest member of the MSE External Advisory Board.
Now comprising nine highly reputable industry partners and alumni, the Board works to guide our curriculum, support our initiatives, and ultimately enhance the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the university, state, and national level.
Mayott currently works at General Dynamics Electric Boat as Manager of Materials Engineering & Laboratory Services. He oversees several technical groups, including metallic materials engineering, metallic additive manufacturing, the metallurgy laboratory, and the chemistry laboratories. One of his responsibilities is assuring that correct metallic materials, materials processes, and material specifications are used in the design and construction of submarines. He is also responsible for the evaluation of material non-conformances, mechanical property testing of metallic materials, and the adoption, implementation and oversight of metallic additive manufacturing at the company.
Department Head Bryan Huey notes, “We are pleased to continue our partnership with GD-EB, which is home to so many of our alumni and obviously a key manufacturer in our state. Their input and advocacy will be important as MSE grows into the new Science 1 building.”
Along those lines, outgoing external advisory board member Peter Jarrett said, “It’s funny to realize that the old IMS building was practically new when I arrived in 1978. I wish you and your department all the best going into the future.” MSE is grateful to Peter for many years of dedicated service as a board member and alum. He recently retired as Chief Technology Officer for Ocular Therapeutix.
The External Advisory Board’s next meeting will be held in-person in Science 1 on the afternoon of April 14th, 2023, and many will join the department’s annual banquet that evening.

Author: You Can Inspire Your Kids Someday to Study MSE

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant 

photo of Anthony Manni, UConn MSE alum, standing next to a plasma etch chamber that he uses for daily production as Chief Technology Officer at TelAztec

Anthony Manni, UConn MSE alum, standing next to a plasma etch chamber that he uses for daily production as Chief Technology Officer at TelAztec

When asked what led to him majoring in materials science and engineering (mse), Anthony Manni, UConn alum, said his biggest inspiration has been his father, Jeff Manni. “He’s been a laser scientist for the last 40 years and is an encyclopedia of optical materials and laser crystals as a result. I knew that if I got an education in mse I could work with him one day, which is still a major goal of mine.”
Manni initially toured UConn during his junior year of high school. “MSE was a very unique program at the time, the only MSE undergraduate program at a state school in New England. Because of this, I was fortunate to attend UConn for nearly in-state tuition via the Regional Student Program. This was a big deciding factor, and I’m extremely grateful for that opportunity.” The department’s strength in nanotechnology was also very appealing and a focus of Manni’s elective courses.
Several professors inspired Manni during his time at UConn. He mentioned Professor Rainer Hebert (Associate Director of IMS and Director of Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center), Dr. Harold Brody (Emeritus Professor), and Dr. Bryan Huey (MSE Department Head). “Professor Niloy Dutta (of the Department of Physics) was one of my favorite professors because of his laser research. Dr. C. Barry Carter (Emeritus Professor) was great as well, his lectures were more like discussions, and he worked hard at helping students internalize concepts. The topics I learned in solid state physics and ceramic materials taught by the latter two professors, respectively, were immediately applicable to my job when I started at TelAztec.”
Manni said that he has his father to thank for his exciting career at TelAztec. “He sent my resume to some companies in the greater Boston photonics industry when I was looking for summer internships. A year after I graduated, TelAztec reached out and asked if I would be interested in what was originally a technician role. Given my background in nanomaterials, it was a perfect fit and I was familiar with all of the fabrication procedures here, so they hired me as a staff scientist instead. Six years later – this past fall – I was promoted to Chief Technology Officer (CTO) because of all the work I’ve done to progress our technology in terms of production efficiency and generating new ideas.”
“My role as CTO basically spans every technological aspect of our daily operations,” Manni added. “I’m currently the principal investigator on a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Project, so that takes up much of my time. Additionally, I lend technical leadership on our commercial production jobs, and develop new uses for technology like 3D printing of manufacturing-related tools and vacuum-forming of custom packages. I also wrote and continually maintain a custom python library for data compilation and analysis so our engineers can spend less time on generating reports. Lastly, I do a lot of nano-photonics simulations, especially when writing proposals for new project funding.”
When asked about the favorite part of his job, and then the most difficult part of it, Manni answered that they were one in the same. “Creating new products is the most difficult aspect of what I do. Ironically, the most difficult things also tend to be the most rewarding. We have a lot of ideas, and many of them don’t work. Facing failure head on and having the patience to learn from it, rather than to sulk or give up, is a constant struggle. I try to highlight the victories when I can – and when I do fail, make sure I gather enough information about it to truly learn and make progress on the next attempt.”
Manni has several projects coming up that he was excited to talk about. “Currently I am working on projects for the Air Force developing novel optical components with our metasurface technology for defense systems based on high power lasers. We are also developing our random anti-reflective nano-texture treatment for diamond, which has applications in semiconductor manufacturing as well as quantum computing.”
The advice that Manni has for current MSE students is what he says every professor tells you as a first year: “Just stick with it! Those first few courses are tough, and you just have to keep your head up. Collaborate with others as much as possible – it’s often easier to learn a concept by talking it through with someone who doesn’t understand everything about it, rather than being lectured by someone who does.”
Another recommendation Manni has is getting into coding. “If you don’t code now, it’s never too late to start. I learned how to code when I was 27 and it changed my life., Coursera, and Udemy are all great platforms for learning through practice. Or even youtube videos!”
Manni reflects on his time as an undergraduate fondly. “UConn’s MSE program provided me with such a versatile foundation and the tools I use every day in my career. I’m grateful to everyone in the program and highly recommend it to anyone considering UConn or engineering in general!”

Author: “Every Leap in Human Civilization is Dependent on the Discovery of New Materials”

photo of Dr. Garvit Agarwal (MSE’19), Senior Scientist at Schrӧdinger, Inc.

Dr. Garvit Agarwal (MSE’19), Senior Scientist at Schrӧdinger, Inc.

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant
“Pursuing my PhD at UConn was one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” says Garvit Agarwal, MSE alumnus.
Agarwal initially earned his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical and materials engineering in 2011 at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. “At that time, I had little knowledge about what materials science and engineering (mse) was all about, but over the years I realized that mse is truly a combination of many different disciplines, and I think that is the best part about it. You get to do everything, from physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering – even chemical engineering. It has all different disciplines combined into one, so it’s truly a multidisciplinary field. I think that inspires me to continue to do research in mse, because I don’t have to choose one particular discipline and stick to it. I get to do everything that I want to do.”
When Agarwal finished his undergraduate degree, he began looking at schools in the U.S. to pursue further education. “I decided to attend UConn specifically because I found that the MSE department had a really good mixture of faculty members working in various different areas of mse, which makes it an ideal place to pursue collaborative research. We have faculty members who are doing state of the art computational science, and we also have professors who are using advanced experimental techniques to unravel the science behind how materials behave. That’s a very healthy mix of computational and experimental scientists in the department.”
Most of Agarwal’s inspiration during his time at UConn came from his advisor, Professor Avinash Dongare. “I don’t think I have words to thank him enough for what he has done for me. He has made me what I am today as a scientist.”
Agarwal went on to reveal that when he first arrived at UConn, he had never done computational materials science before. “I had no prior experience in that area, and Professor Dongare was very patient while teaching me all the different kinds of computational techniques that he uses in his research group to study materials. The group was small when I joined, so he was very focused on each and every student – he would personally sit down and teach me things that were necessary for me to pursue my PhD.”
Professor Dongare was also deeply motivating. “He wouldn’t shy away from sitting down with you, looking at the raw data that you have generated during your computational study, and discussing various hypotheses based on the data. He would want to make sure that you are doing the science in the right way, so he would guide you in how to think about a particular problem. I believe this is a very essential part of the PhD training. You are being trained as a scientist to better comprehend the data at hand and explore new hypotheses. He was very good at that.”
Agarwal also made it a point to mention how much he was motivated by Professor Rampi Ramprasad, who has since become a professor at Georgia Tech. “I must mention him because I was also truly inspired by him. His passion for science is contagious. Every time I would talk to him, I would feel motivated to do more science and to learn new things. He is a truly inspiring person.”
Agarwal went on to discuss what he did immediately post-UConn. “After I graduated, I went on to pursue a post-doctorate at Argonne National Laboratory for two years. At Argonne I was working as a part of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), which is one of the DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs.”
It was there that Agarwal started doing battery research and battery materials modeling. “Specifically, I was doing machine learning for the discovery of new battery materials as well as looking at complex interfaces between electrodes and electrolytes in the batteries and modeling them using Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations. That was a new and enriching experience for me. I learned a lot of new skills and collaborated extensively with experimental groups which allowed me to grow further as a researcher.”
Agarwal explained that his role at Argonne as a postdoctoral scientist was a catalyst to his current position at Schrӧdinger, Inc. “My current role is Battery Materials Simulation Scientist – so what I’m doing at Schrӧdinger is sort of an extension of what I did at Argonne. Now, at Schrӧdinger, I’m developing novel computational methods and tools that allow scientists to accelerate the design and discovery of novel battery materials.”
This work has a real-life, world-wide impact. “We have customers not only in the U.S., but all around the world. All these industries are designing batteries that are used in cars, electronic devices, and everywhere else. They use our tools to model the materials at the fundamental level. These models allow us to understand how material properties affect the device performance, and that shows you how your contributions can impact real life technologies in a positive manner.”
While Agarwal’s first favorite part of his job is advancing the materials modeling technology, his second favorite part is interacting with the customers who are using it. “As an application scientist I need to explain the application of our tools and technologies to the customers. I get to demonstrate how our tools can make an impact for various applications.”
When asked what advice he’d give to current and future students, Agarwal said to “always be curious. Ask questions – never be afraid of asking questions about anything. Those are the most important things that everyone should do, not only those who are considering material science and engineering as a major.”
However, if he had to speak some words of wisdom to prospective materials science and engineering students specifically, they would be as follows: “Over the years what I’ve realized is that mse is a multidisciplinary field. If you are looking for a discipline where you enjoy doing bits of everything, mse is the discipline for you. It’s a true blend of various basic science domains and engineering disciplines. If you are confused about choosing a discipline – for example, between chemistry and physics – My advice would be to go for materials science and engineering. With mse, you don’t have to choose one particular discipline. You get to enjoy the best part of each one.”
Agarwal went on to say that the other rewarding part about mse is that you get to better understand the nature of the world we are surrounded by. “There are materials all around us, so once you start understanding how particular materials behave, you get to understand the world around you better. Once you start, I’m sure you will never want to leave this field, because there are so many interesting things around us, and we always need materials to make progress and solve societal challenges.”
Agarwal used a fitting example of the invention of the Li ion battery in the 90s. “We never had such a technology before, and we needed mse to make that technology successful. Every leap in human civilization is dependent on the discovery of new materials.”

Author: Dr. Cato T. Laurencin Awarded by the American Chemical Society Receiving the 2023 Priestley Medal

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Author: 2023 Graduate Student Appreciation Week

Tuesday, April 4th through Friday, April 7th is this year’s Graduate Student Appreciation Week, a week full of events and activities intended to celebrate UConn’s hard-working graduate students. This year the events will be fully in-person, allowing peers to reconnect in the new Science 1 building.

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Author: Sharon Uwanyuze Wants to Lessen Pollution in the Aerospace and Automotive Industries

photo of Sharon Uwanyuze after being awarded the "Best in MSE Program" certificate by the School of Engineering during the 2020 Annual Poster Competition

MSE graduate student Sharon Uwanyuze after being awarded the “Best in MSE Program” certificate by the School of Engineering during the 2020 Annual Poster Competition.

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant
When asked to describe her overall experience as an MSE graduate student, Sharon Uwanyuze says it was one that “pushed me out of my comfort zone to explore more of what I can be.”
Uwanyuze first got connected with UConn’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering when she went to a conference back in 2018. “I was an undergraduate research assistant at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and when I went to present my work I met MSE faculty member Professor Cato Laurencin. When he came over to my poster we talked for some time, and I told him I was applying to grad schools and also some industry positions. He told me about the great opportunities at UConn, and I later looked up the school. It definitely seemed very competitive and in a new area which would make it more of an adventure for me. I then got in contact with some other professors who were very interested in some of the work that I’d been doing. These interactions made coming to UConn a smooth transition.”
When Uwanyuze first became interested in research as an undergraduate, she worked in an advanced ceramics lab. Her current research involves understanding and mitigating interfacial reactions that form during investment casting of titanium alloy parts in ceramic oxide molds. In simpler terms: “When we want to make a part out of titanium or titanium alloys (with additives), the raw materials have to be melted and then put in a mold of the shape that you want. That mold is made out of ceramic materials. What we then want is to carefully choose the material we’re making the ceramic mold out of so that we prevent reactions when the metal touches the ceramic surface. My work deals with innovating new materials that can show even higher chemical resistance than the current materials that are used.”
What interests Uwanyuze most about this research is the application of the parts that she makes. Titanium is lightweight, corrosion resistant, and has excellent biocompatibility. “More than half of titanium alloy parts (around 60%) go to aerospace applications and allow us to have lighter planes that consume less fuel – that’s less pollution, and faster planes as well. The other relatively large percentage goes into making biomedical implants, like knee implants or hip implants, which are very useful for a person who has a disability.”
When asked what she hopes the impact of this research will be, Uwanyuze says, “I’m really hoping that we can implement more of the material that I’m studying – which is called strontium zirconate – as an improved mold material in casting titanium alloys. If we use advanced materials like these as mold materials, then we can make more titanium alloy parts – without the need of extra processing to remove reaction layers. The manufacturing would take less time and gradually become cheaper, meaning that we can produce more of these parts and we can have them in other applications – not just the high-end applications like aerospace and biomedicine. We can have them even in automotive parts. If our cars have lighter materials – I think they are trying to implement aluminum, but titanium can get to an even higher temperature – we can have lighter cars, less fuel consumption, less pollution. That is what I hope will be the general impact.”
Already, Uwanyuze has had the opportunity to publish several research papers. “Publishing a paper can be almost a whole year worth of data collection, writing, revising, review. We first have to understand what is not known currently and how can I bridge that gap, and then collect good data. Sometimes you go to the lab and things just don’t want to work out, so you come back and try again. It’s been a journey and it has taught me perseverance.”
Additionally, Uwanyuze has a lot of interest in mentoring and teaching. “In the MSE department we serve as teaching assistants for a couple of semesters, but I went ahead and did an extra semester. I also took the Graduate Certificate of College Instruction, which is a program that is available to grad students who are interested in improving their teaching and considering a possible career in academia. It’s offered through the School of Education, and I finished that last December. During that process I was able to apply what I learned and the MSE department awarded me the MSE Teaching Excellence Award in 2020 so I was grateful for that.”
Uwanyuze is a member of several organizations, including Grad Black STEM where she helps to mentor undergraduate students seeking to pursue higher education in a STEM field. Previously, she served as Intellectual Merit Chair, but was recently elected President of the organization. “The role of Intellectual Merit Chair is to plan events and activities that enhance the academic excellence of the members. Some of the things we do are effective presentation styles, research seminars, and good ways to present your research to a wide audience.”
As President of the organization, Uwanyuze now oversees activities in other areas as well, such as Broader Impact and Professional Presence, which consist of mentoring undergraduates and learning how to make yourself marketable.
Another organization Uwanyuze is part of is His Branches Adventurer Club, a local church-based program for children in grades 1-4 to play, learn and improve their social skills. Previously she was the Director of this program, and now serves in an advisory role. “I love to see the imagination, creativity and innovation that the children have, and being able to work with a child through their process of discovering themselves and discovering a new topic. We learn about different things like fire safety and hygiene, and just being able to read. These are simple things, but the same concept applies to general teaching skills, like teaching an undergrad course. I still have to understand that they’re people, they’re not just there to consume information. Just caring about the whole person. I really enjoyed that role.”
Uwanyuze says that the MSE department at UConn is really interconnected. “It’s not an overwhelming size, so we are able to get to know each other, both among students and between students and faculty. We have a lot of resources at our disposal; the labs are great. I have the opportunity to work in both the new Science 1 complex and the Innovation Partnership Building, both of which are world-class facilities. It’s been really nice having those buildings at my disposal. The move was a bit challenging but it was worth it in the end.”
There are many people in the MSE department that Uwanyuze admires. “I have great role models in the department, whether it’s other students or faculty that I can look up to and that push me to aim even higher. The support system has been great, both in classes and in research as well. I’ve had really supportive advisors.”
Currently Uwanyuze’s advisor is Professor Pamir Alpay. “Even though he is now the interim Vice President for Research, he makes time for us as his students through weekly meetings and checking in with us both about our academic research and professional goals. I appreciate that.”
Uwanyuze also speaks fondly of her former advisor, Professor Stefan Schaffoener, who transferred from UConn to the University of Bayreuth in 2021. “Even though he moved to a different school, he still stays in touch with the students he advised almost on a weekly basis to check in on how we are doing in terms of research, academics, and even job applications.”
When asked how UConn has helped her work towards her career goals, Uwanyuze says, “When I was a younger student at UConn, I felt like I had opportunities to grow in either industry or academia. I mentioned resources such as the Graduate Certificate of College Instruction, which was a great stepping stone toward exploring the world of academia. Regarding industry, different career fairs and internship opportunities were extremely helpful. So I’ve been able to explore both industry and academia, and gladly I have job offers and opportunities in both. So that in itself is a great indication of how well the department and the school have prepared me to have several doors open in my future.”
Uwanyuze made it a point to mention how grateful she is to be featured. “I just think it’s really nice to have opportunities like this to reflect on ourselves and our own journeys and get to share them with somebody else. I’m glad that the department is valuing sharing people’s stories. It’s nice when we can share and maybe somebody can relate to it or even be inspired.”

Author: MSE Alumnus Adam Wentworth Uses 3D Printing to Create Patient-Specific Models at Mayo Clinic

Wentworth with a Northeastern Cooperative Educational Program graduate student in Traverso Lab

Wentworth with a Northeastern Cooperative Educational Program graduate student in Traverso Lab

By Megan Andrew, MSE Communications Assistant

MSE alumnus Adam Wentworth (2011) is a senior engineer at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he utilizes his master’s degree in materials science and engineering (mse) to create patient-specific anatomic models and surgical guides. His position requires him to constantly draw on his expertise in 3D printing, a skill that he has been honing since his advising days at UConn. From designing guides to resect pelvic tumors, to molds enabling silicone casting of a face, Wentworth uses 3D printing to create innovative and individualized medical solutions.
Wentworth utilizes his passion and expertise in mse to develop cutting-edge solutions in the healthcare industry. Mayo Clinic is at the forefront of developing 3D printing infrastructure to battle modern health concerns from many angles. Wentworth serves on a team that combines surgery, biomedical engineering, and radiology to optimize surgical outcomes for patients.
Despite not being fond of biology, Wentworth became interested in biomaterials and the healthcare industry after taking ‘Introduction to Biomaterials’ with Professors Lakshmi S. Nair, Sangamesh G. Kumbar, and Yusuf Khan. “I was actually really excited for learning how biotechnology has advanced and learning more about applying the knowledge of materials to a specific set of applications. The class is a core reason I ended up at MIT and Mayo Clinic.”
After getting both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in materials science and engineering at UConn, and ably directing the MSE undergraduate Laboratory as its Manager for seven years, Wentworth worked for Brigham and Women's Hospital and MIT before he began his current position at Mayo Clinic.

photo of An example of a 3D-printed anatomical model/guide that might be used to tackle a patient-specific health issue.

An example of a 3D-printed anatomical model/guide that might be used to tackle a patient-specific health issue

Along the way, Wentworth also co-founded Teal Bio Inc., a company designed to develop personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers in a sustainable way. Teal Bio Inc. was founded following research Wentworth completed alongside several other scientists that uncovered exactly how wasteful PPE in the healthcare industry can be. These studies illustrated that switching from one disposable respirator per day to a reusable respirator with disposable filters could lower waste produced by the healthcare industry over a six-month span from 37.22M kg to 15.73M kg.
That conclusion, combined with research about the use of transparent masks for emotional communication, led to the development of the Teal Bio Reusable Respirator, a transparent, reusable respirator with partially biodegradable filters.
Wentworth fondly recalls his experiences volunteering for UConn’s Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center (EDOC), which has now grown into the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion. This included helping with UConn SPARK, a summer residential program igniting the next generation of women engineers and scientists by shrinking the gender gap in the STEM field. That is “definitely a reason why I have been able to work at some incredible places,” because it gave him experience in “taking a leadership role through an opportunity, and then becoming known for your work in that particular area.”
Department head Bryan Huey notes, “MSE has always been incredibly fortunate to have devoted lab directors like Adam working closely with our students. They are critical to our department’s outreach, and advise many of our hands-on materials-centered clubs too. The amazing labs and lab curriculum we have today is a testament to all of their contributions along the way.”
Wentworth’s advice for current and incoming undergraduate students is to take advantage of those labs, and to get involved in extracurriculars they are passionate about. “After graduating, you will quickly value having spent your free time learning new skills,” he said. Whether it be 3D printing, or learning a new programming language, engaging with your passion early on is what gives you a leg-up after graduation, he said.
Wentworth was also involved in several other MSE-based organizations on campus. “UConn Materials Advantage (UCMA) allowed me to go to conferences and learn about research. I eventually became the advisor for the 3D Printing Club, which gave me a majority of the knowledge I have about 3D printing and provided many opportunities for professional development.”
Upon his enrollment at UConn, however, no one would have predicted Wentworth’s profuse success in the field of materials science and engineering. He actually entered school as a computer science major, realizing his passion for materials science and engineering after a seminar presented by then UConn MSE Professor Leon Shaw.
The message was that progress in materials science defines societal development. “It’s why we call it the bronze age, iron age, silicon age, etc. They encompass the world we live in, and understanding what they are and how we use them to benefit humanity provides a solid knowledge base for an understanding of many things,” he said.
So how did Wentworth get from first realizing his passion to becoming a highly accomplished engineer and scientist?
“Success happens by accumulated effort,” he said. His combined involvement in an assortment of productive extracurriculars gave him room to develop career-building skills in an interesting way.
Adam has one last piece of advice. Students should look up their dream job and learn what are the minimum and preferred qualifications. “Build your LinkedIn network, ask someone to review your resume, join a club. In an interview, show an example of your work. It will easily communicate your attention to detail, creativity, or some other skill that’s not easy to put into words. That’s how you can separate yourself from other applicants.” he said. Students should always ask themselves “what don’t you know?”

Author: Undergraduate Recovers Silver from Computer Keyboards

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Silver recovered from 46 computer keyboards by undergraduate student Jackson Kaszas.

Silver recovered from 46 computer keyboards by undergraduate student Jackson Kaszas.

Jack Kaszas, undergraduate materials science and engineering (mse) major, is excited to reveal the results of his independent research project. He was successfully able to recover silver from several computer keyboards.

 “Keyboards each contain two thin sheets of silver-plated plastic,” Kaszas explained. “These sheets lie below the keys, and when a key is pressed it causes the two silver-plated sheets to touch. This completes a circuit, and depending on the resistance of the circuit formed, the computer can tell which key is being pressed.”

Kaszas then went on to explain how the silver was recovered. “I first soaked silver-plated sheets from 46 keyboards in dilute nitric acid (HNO3), which caused the silver plating to dissolve as silver nitrate (AgNO3). I then separated the silver from the solution by adding a small amount of hydrochloric acid. Silver compounds form insoluble silver chloride in the presence of chloride ions and precipitate from solution (AgNO3 + HCl -> AgCl +HNO3). Next, I washed the silver chloride (a white solid) with water and added lye to convert it into silver oxide (2AgCl + 2NaOH ->  Ag2O + 2NaCl + H2O). I then reduced the silver oxide to silver metal by adding sugar. The sugar molecules donate electrons to the silver oxide to create a finely divided silver powder. After washing with water, I melted the silver powder into a shiny button with a blowtorch.”

Department head Bryan Huey notes: “This is such a great example of how MSE students can align their own passions, apply the concepts they’ve learned in our program, and leverage our amazing undergraduate lab facilities. In this case the work was totally driven by Jack’s creativity, and an interdisciplinary collaboration between Professor Fiona Leek (MSE) and Professor Christian Brückner (Chemistry). It was really surprising just how big of a lump of silver Jack was able to reclaim—I expect that’ll sit on his desk for years to come and impress everyone who asks about it.”

The research project’s primary goal was to explore the recovery of valuable metals from electronic waste. Kaszas chose this topic due to his interest in applying mse to sustainability. “I want to use my engineering knowledge to explore recycling pathways and carbon neutral materials manufacturing.” Kaszas will be graduating in May 2023.

Author: MSE Professor Gao Encourages Students to Take an ‘Open-Minded Approach’

By Megan Andrew, MSE Communications Assistant

MSE Professor Puxian Gao

Materials Science and Engineering Professor Pu-Xian Gao said that he finds his career most rewarding when he sees the difference he has made in a student’s life. He recalled a particular time he was chairing a conference and a former undergraduate student approached him. According to Gao, the student gave him a warm and enthusiastic greeting, and insisted that it was Gao’s class that pushed him to pursue a higher education.

Gao has been a with the UConn MSE department for 15 years, joining the faculty in 2007 after earning his PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Despite being very comfortable in his role within the department now, Gao entered the job as a professor with what he calls an ‘open mind,’ because he was unsure about the future of his career. After growing to love his position at UConn, Gao advises his students to have the same open-minded mentality about their future as they navigate the wide variety of career paths available to them.

Although his passion for teaching was ignited in part by chance, Gao made the decision to come to UConn specifically much more deliberately. “At the quiet and beautiful corner of the northeast, UConn boasts as a comprehensive and diversity-driven school,” he said.

Aside from the location, Gao also enjoys the competitive athletic programs and sporting events at UConn.

“UConn Huskies are well known for ‘our amazing athletics’ with outstanding athletic teams and athletes that rack up championship titles and make us proud.”

However, above all else, Gao was impressed by the prestige of the academics.

“UConn has solid academic quality, as it ranks the top research public university in the northeast. It continues to show consistently strong performance on many metrics,” he said.

image of Nano-engineered monolithic devices are developed at the UConn Nanomaterials Science Laboratory for cost-effective and energy-efficient emission control, hydrogen production, and methanol synthesis, which are intercorrelated and can be potentially integrated as eco-friendly and sustainable chemical/fuel manufacturing systems. (References: Nature Communications 2020, 11, 1062; Nano Letters 2018, 18, 4914; Advanced Materials Interfaces 2018, 5, 1700730).

Nano-engineered monolithic devices are developed at the UConn Nanomaterials Science Laboratory for cost-effective and energy-efficient emission control, hydrogen production, and methanol synthesis, which are intercorrelated and can be potentially integrated as eco-friendly and sustainable chemical/fuel manufacturing systems. (References: Nature Communications 2020, 11, 1062; Nano Letters 2018, 18, 4914; Advanced Materials Interfaces 2018, 5, 1700730).

For the past decade and a half, Gao has aided in furthering MSE academics. A major part of this was through his research contributions. Gao said he is currently focusing on the design, engineering, and science of nanostructured materials ensembles. His work specifically addresses relevant and pressing issues in the world today, such as energy sustainability and climate change. Some examples of his work include low temperature adsorbers and catalysts for emission control, carbon capture and utilization, sustainable and renewable fuels, electrodes for water electrolysis, sensing and remediation devices for environmental monitoring and management, materials for advanced PPE and medical instruments, scalable nanomanufacturing, and in-situ characterizations of chemical/energy transformations.

Since much of his work involves other areas of study, he and his research group work alongside team members from various universities, national labs, and industry partners, such as the United Technologies Research Center, the Honda Research Institute, and Umicore.

Gao said that aside from himself, these relationships with industry partners also benefit his students. “I am very glad that many of our former and current undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral trainees, have benefited from these relationships in the forms of either an internship, assistantship, or as a project participant,” he said.

After building strong relationships in interdisciplinary fields and communities, Gao is able to fully pursue the research he is passionate about. Early on in his career at UConn, he felt that he must make a distinction between his independent research and his experience training as a graduate student. However, he quickly learned that the people around him in the community took a more holistic approach.

“I felt very fortunate early on, and always thankful, that people in the research community have been open-minded and receptive to allow us to establish and position with a unique and impactful research area…We take pride in being able to contribute to the causes of tackling some technological and scientific problems in a large scale, such as the global emission control and utilization issues I mentioned earlier. I am excited and look forward to the bright future of this challenging endeavor.”

Gao’s appreciation of the communal feeling he experiences as part of the MSE Department has extended into both his classroom and his labs. His ability to do this is largely thanks to his outside partnerships with both academia and industry sectors.

“Over the years, we have engaged a broad array of interdisciplinary research topics and subjects in my laboratory, which is equipped with various capabilities from materials synthesis, processing, characterization, to device testing and modeling, thanks to the strong support over the years from the university and other sources.”

Gao likes to see students take full advantage of these resources.

“Despite the focus needed on individual research, we have always encouraged students to fully utilize the available resources in lab and get trained, and be capable of doing multiple things, not just one thing.  That said, ‘multi-tasking’ ability is a beneficial trait that is trained for our students.”

He has found that such “full-range” preparation, both in-class and hands-on, has equipped students for various careers, regardless of the specific industry.

“Therefore, if there is any suggestion to current students, I would say, be open-minded about approaches, directions, and positions, ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ Of course, once settled in, self-belief, hard work and persistence matter for eventual success,” he said.

Author: Two MSE Alumni Join the MSE External Advisory Board

photo of Paul Su, Staff Vice President, Principal Research Scientist, Equipment and Materials Science Research, FM Global

Paul Su, Staff Vice President, Principal Research Scientist, Equipment and Materials Science Research, FM Global

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant
The department is excited to welcome Dr. Paul Su and Victoria Reichelderfer as the newest two members of the MSE External Advisory Board. Now comprising nine highly reputable industry partners and alumni, the Board works to guide our curriculum, support our initiatives, and ultimately enhance the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the university, state, and national level.

Dr. Su is a University of Connecticut alumnus who earned his Ph.D. from the Materials Science and Engineering department in 1997. Paul has participated in materials R&D for over 30 years, especially in corrosion mitigation, materials degradation and monitoring, failure analysis, and chemical product development in the property insurance, chemical, and aerospace industries. He is a Fellow of the National Association of Corrosion Engineers and member of IEEE, ASM International, and ASME societies. In addition, Paul has received a patent and seven industry awards.
Victoria Reichelderfer graduated from UConn with her bachelor’s in 2020 and from the University of Colorado Boulder with her master’s in 2022, both in materials science and engineering. After moving back to the east coast, she began working as a materials and process engineer at Kaman Air Vehicles in Bloomfield, CT. There, she supports materials selection and process development, working mainly with metals and composites. Outside of work, Victoria is involved with the Society of Women Engineers and ASM’s Heat Treat Society, and is an active member of the Heat Treat Society’s R&D committee.

photo of Victoria Reichelderfer, Materials and Process engineer, Kaman Air Vehicles

Victoria Reichelderfer, Materials and Process engineer, Kaman Air Vehicles

Cycling off of the MSE External Advisory Board are Peter Chomowicz, Peter Jarrett, and Howard Orr.
Department Head Bryan Huey notes, “We are so grateful to all of our board members for their advice and support, and will miss Peter, Peter, and Howard for their 30 years of collective insights. The EAB in general is always so helpful in advocating for our program, keeping the university attuned to industry priorities and concerns, and steering resources our way like equipment donations, internships, and jobs for our students and alumni.
The Board’s next meeting will be held in-person in Science 1 on the afternoon of April 14th, 2023, and many will join the department’s annual banquet that evening.

Author: The Cato T. Laurencin Institute for Regenerative Engineering Launched at UConn

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The Cato T. Laurencin Institute for Regenerative Engineering Launched at UConn

Author: It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask If You’re Interested in MSE Lab Work

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Undergraduate student Jackson Kazsas sitting near a fume hood in an MSE Teaching Lab in Science 1.

Undergraduate student Jackson Kazsas sitting near a fume hood in an MSE Teaching Lab in Science 1.

If you’re interested in doing lab work as an undergraduate materials science and engineering (mse) student, Jackson Kazsas’ story proves that all you have to do is ask.
When prompted as to why he wanted to study materials science and engineering, Jack says, “I was interested in mechanical and chemical engineering going into college and thought that mse would be a nice hybrid of the two.”
He read about UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) department in a brochure during a campus visit and decided to find out if the school’s program would be a good fit. It was. “The small class size has helped me learn more effectively and make better connections with my professors. The MSE professors here are great teachers and great people, and I’ve enjoyed my time as an MSE student.”
Jack says that Professor Lesley Frame’s classes are what impacted him the most. “Her energy and enthusiasm for the topics she teaches have helped me retain my passion for materials science and engineering.”
Professor Frame is honored by Jack’s kind words. “It is always so rewarding as a professor when students ask me challenging questions. It shows that they are truly interacting with the material and that they are thinking about what comes next. Jack was always ready with insightful and challenging questions. I enjoyed having him in my classes!”
As far as research goes, Jack has been involved quite a bit. “I’ve worked in Professor Bryan Huey’s Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) lab for almost two years now. AFM is a fascinating technique used to characterize the physical, electronic, and magnetic properties of functional materials.”
Jack first got involved with the lab because he wanted more research experience as an undergrad and emailed a few professors to let them know he was interested.  “Professor Huey responded quickly and enthusiastically, and so I began work in his lab.”
What Jack does on a typical day in the lab varies a lot depending on the project he’s working on – however, some more consistent responsibilities include making detailed presentations and handling microscopes with care.
When asked his favorite part of this experience, Jack says, “I love the culture in the lab. My coworkers are great to talk to and always willing to help, and the lab meetings are interesting and productive. Working in Professor Huey’s lab is a great experience, and I would not have developed my ambition to earn a Ph.D. without my undergraduate lab work.”
Jack’s advice for other undergraduate students is to not be afraid to reach out to faculty. “Most professors are kind and willing to have undergrads help out in the lab.”
During his time at UConn Jack was also able to work with undergraduate lab director Professor Fiona Leek. “My experience with Professor Leek has been wonderful. She is an excellent professor and seems to understand and connect with her students. I’m sure that her new lab space in Science 1 will prove to be a great educational tool and make her lab classes even better.”
Elaborating on his thoughts about the new laboratories in Science 1, Jack thinks they are “a great investment by the university. The labs are larger, cleaner, and allow for more effective research. Hopefully the new labs lead to many great materials science discoveries in the future.”
As far as Jack’s future goes, he’s primarily interested in applying MSE for sustainability. “For example, I want to use my engineering knowledge to explore recycling pathways and carbon neutral materials manufacturing.”
This semester Jack started his own independent research project involving the recovery of valuable metals from electronic waste, which he recently discussed during a meeting with Professor Christian Brückner, Department Head of Chemistry. Materials Science and Engineering is a multidisciplinary field, which is why members of the major often collaborate with experts in other areas, such as the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, and all other Engineering disciplines. Jack was excited to be able to do just that. “Professor  Brückner advised me to focus on some lesser-studied parts of this topic, specifically the analysis of potentially dangerous chemical waste produced during recycling as well as the recovery of more obscure elements (for instance cobalt, yttrium, and indium instead of gold, silver and copper).”  
Jack’s biggest goal upon graduating from UConn in May 2023 is getting his Ph.D. – hopefully from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he did research last summer as part of an REU program. “UConn MSE has helped me toward this goal by providing a place for me to get research experience and flourish as an undergraduate student.”
Jack has received a scholarship for undergraduate excellence in mse, the Outstanding Teaching Assistant award, and has made several appearances on the dean’s list. He’s an Eagle Scout, the President of RunUC (UConn’s competitive running club), and an undergraduate student flourishing in an MSE professor’s research lab. It truly never hurts to ask.

Author: Study MSE to Make a Difference in Your Interests

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Kyrus Tsai, MSE graduate student, loading a sample into the Teneo SEM at the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis (CAMMA) in the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB).

Kyrus Tsai, MSE graduate student, loading a sample into the Teneo SEM at the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis (CAMMA) in the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB).

As an MSE graduate student who used to play division three tennis, Kyrus Tsai wants to use his research to advance the material components used in tennis rackets – but more on that later.
While he was an undergraduate at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Tsai obtained a BSE with a concentration in chemical engineering and a BS in chemistry. But knew early on that he wanted to pursue material science, and also a graduate degree. Since Calvin did not offer a materials program, Tsai jumped into MSE when he came to UConn for a PhD.
“UConn was doing a lot of interesting research and I liked the collaborative nature of the department both between groups and with industry partners. I also recall on my visit, it being mentioned that UConn had the fastest growing Materials program in the nation and that appealed to me,” Tsai remembers.
At UConn MSE, Tsai is currently working on materials characterization of additively manufactured metals by observing the microstructure of these builds using a range of microscopy techniques. “It is cool to be able to observe what makes a given material have its properties and get into those core details. The research allows me to understand the reasons why, and the effects the microstructure has on the overall component.”
When asked what he hoped the impact of this work will be, Tsai says, “I am hoping that what I am doing and what I am observing can be used to improve the relevant additive manufacturing processes. We’re giving information on how process parameters affect the microstructures and ultimately the efficacy of the resulting builds.”
Additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) is an ever-growing field. Tsai’s research helps him understand not only newly printed parts, but also damaged ones. Repairing these parts requires studying the connection point between the existing piece and the new addition to determine if the repair will be successful, and whether the part can continue to be used in the same manner.
Tsai describes the MSE faculty members and staff as “incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. . . The collaborative nature of the department has allowed me to get help from other advisors, and gave me insight into other projects and groups.”
Tsai is a member of Professor Mark Aindow’s microscopy group. As part of a major joint effort, he is also regularly updated on the work done in Professor Seok-Woo Lee’s micromechanical testing group and Professor Avinash Dongare’s computational group. “This really helps me to gain a deeper understanding of fields/topics I otherwise may not touch on in my own research. Having meetings where other research areas are discussed in detail gives insight in ways that occasional seminars or research papers I read cannot.”
Tsai is not only a talented academic – he also plays club volleyball on the side. “Being a student athlete is not only possible for undergraduates but graduates as well. I think that is something that is important and a game changer for me. I am so glad that I am able to play competitive sports again since it has always been such a big part of my life.”
When asked what he wants to do upon graduating from UConn, Tsai says he is interested in two different directions that ideally he would combine into one. “The first is advancing the field of something I am interested in by introducing novel materials to those that are commonly used.”
The second direction? Dealing with sustainability. “Being able to use recycled or upcycled materials is incredibly important in my mind. Pollution and waste are huge issues that need to be tackled. I think taking on this issue from a MSE perspective is key.”
Tsai admits he has long been interested in the evolution of tennis rackets throughout the past century. “The evolution from wood to metal to composites like carbon fiber and graphene has always been something that fascinated me.” Some have even incorporated piezoelectrics for vibration damping and ideally more powerful strokes—just ask Professor George Rossetti about developing such rackets which even got used at Wimbledon.
Perhaps sustainable and recyclable tennis rackets are not too far off in Kyrus Tsai’s future. “It would be awesome to be able to be a part of that sort of change.”

Author: Become a Catalyst for the Advancement of Humanity by Studying MSE

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Dr. Manuel Rivas, Blue Origin

MSE alumnus Dr. Manuel Rivas (’18), Technical Program Manager, Blue Origin

Looking back, Materials Science and Engineering alumnus Manuel Rivas has one major piece of advice for MSE students and graduates: go to as many conferences as possible. It was at conferences that Rivas was recruited to pursue his PhD at UConn, and years later to begin his dream job.

As an undergraduate studying physics at the University of Texas Pan-American, Rivas had the opportunity to be one of three undergraduates to present research at the Electronics Materials and Applications conference in Florida. This is where he met MSE Department Head and Professor Bryan Huey.

Rivas recalls meeting Huey during the conference social when Huey was talking to another professor about atomic force microscopy, a technique he hadn’t heard of before.

“Not being shy, I asked him to explain what AFM was since I wanted to be able to follow the conversation. Afterwards I bombarded him with questions,” Rivas admits.

Professor Huey remembers that conversation well. “Manny impressed me from the start with his ability to think on his feet, the types of questions he asked, and his drive to succeed. It helped that his then-professors also remarked about how much he had learned in their labs as an undergraduate, and how they came to rely on him even for training others. While a student Manny always made the most of every opportunity, whether it was undergraduate research, seeking chances to further develop his leadership skills, outreach events, even helping to launch a company.

Now, Rivas can say he doesn’t regret that move across the country, telling other students to socialize as much as possible at conferences. Shortly after the conference, he got a Skype call from Professor Huey and discussed the opportunity to join his team at UConn while pursuing his PhD.

“I still wasn’t sure of what I wanted with my future at the time, but I knew that this was an opportunity of a lifetime that I did not want to pass up,” Rivas says.

In 2012, Rivas joined the MSE graduate program as a PhD candidate and a member of Huey’s research group. He can say now that going up to Huey that day and eventually moving all the way to Storrs, Connecticut, were not decisions he regrets.

“Joining Huey’s research group was life changing. The group was extremely diverse, always ready to help one another, and pushing each other,” he says. “With their mentoring and comradery, it made being more than 2,000 miles from home not feel so bad.”

Professor Huey was the bridge to many more opportunities to come for Rivas. According to Rivas, he pushed him to apply to the NSF Bridge to Doctorate program (BTD) promoting participants of underrepresented groups in the STEM disciplines. This led to his master’s project, which led to a summer internship at the Army Research Lab near Washington D.C., and eventually a full- time job for three years with the ARL while he completed his PhD.

Though he was balancing a lot as he earned his degree, Rivas says he had a strong support system from friends, family, and the Huey research group. According to Rivas, that support along with having a good line of communication with MSE advisors and mentors, setting deadlines, being upfront when falling behind, and constantly planning how to best execute research were all crucial ingredients to pulling off the balancing act that is any PhD research.

During his time at the US Army Research Lab, Manny was developing a new top electrode for MEMS devices (microscopic devices, particularly those with miniature moving parts). An opportunity arose sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct research of the MEMS devices in radiation rich environments. Rivas jumped at the chance, eventually presenting some of this research at the IEEE Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference (NSREC). A year after that presentation, and just a week after he defended his PhD, Rivas received a message from a technical recruiter from Blue Origin asking if he was interested in becoming their Radiation Effects Engineer. When Rivas asked the recruiter how they found him, he was told he had spoken with someone from Blue Origin at the NSREC conference who had written his name down in a list of people to watch.

Rivas joined the Blue Origin team at their headquarters in Kent, Washington in 2018 and has worked there ever since as a Radiation (“Rad” as Rivas calls it) Effects Engineer. He is now the Technical Program Manager. As a radiation effects engineer, he helped ensure the mission success of the space rockets and stations; radiation is the highest risk in a lot of these programs. As Program Manager he helps ensure radiation effects are well understood, and mitigated in a timely manner. Ultimately, “rad” is a fitting name for how Rivas describes his job.

“I work with an incredible group of individuals that push me to be the best version of myself. I’m constantly learning, through reading, online courses, conferences. And I get to leave my fingerprint in many things that will not just fly to space but really have the chance to impact the future of humanity,” he says.

The most difficult part of his job, Rivas admits, occurred when he first joined Blue Origin and was pulled into a multitude of meetings involving circuit design review. “At the time, I was a little lost since my background was physics and materials science and engineering, but not electrical engineering. With mentoring and online courses, I’ve managed.”

Within three years of Rivas having entered the field, the technical chair for the 2021 RADECS (the European version of NSREC) and largest Radiation Effects Conference in Europe asked Rivas to be the Session Chair for the conference. “I was honored since I would get to work with members of the Radiation Community from NASA, the European Space Agency, Airbus, and many more.” The community has done things the same way for a long time, but Rivas led a session on ways the community could obtain accurate results in a faster, cheaper, and therefore more effective way.

“The high level of engagement from the community with my session, as well as the congratulations of a job well done from my colleagues who’ve been doing this for 15+ years, was a sign that not only did I do well, but also that this topic will continue to be explored at future Rad Effects conferences worldwide,” Rivas says.

In addition to going to as many conferences as possible, Rivas’ advice for current MSE students is to never stop learning. Every year he selects several papers written in his field to read and analyze, and he is currently enrolled in more than ten online courses. These courses range from project management, to aerospace engineering, to 3D printing.

Professor Huey notes, “Like so many of our graduates, Manny has become an inspiration to our current students. He’s giving back by helping them build out their own professional network. And his work is just fascinating. It’s always a pleasure to hear from him, and so many other MSE alums, when we get to reconnect.” In fact, Manny is giving our department seminar on March 3, and he will also meet with UConn’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).

When asked if he had any final comments, Rivas said the following: “Give back to the community, help inspire the future generation of scientists and engineers.” Throughout the year Rivas often enjoys giving talks at local schools and libraries about Engineering for Space to K-12 kids.

“If you can inspire one kid, that kid can go on and make the next scientific breakthrough, which in turn makes you a catalyst for the advancement of humanity.”

Author: Alumnus Reflects on His Wonderful Time at UConn

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE alumnus H. Yu ('12), Senior Advanced R&D Engineer/Scientist at Honeywell UOP

MSE alumnus Haibo Yu (’12), Senior Advanced R&D Engineer/Scientist at Honeywell UOP

Alumnus Haibo Yu has so many positive remarks about his time at UConn. He credits the excellent classes, meaningful research opportunities, supportive advisors and mentors, and life-long relationships made there for his pleasant experience. “All of these have created unforgettable and precious memories that I will carry along in my life wherever I go,” he says.

Yu’s interest in materials science and engineering started at the University of Science and Technology Beijing (USTB) where he received his bachelor’s and master’s. He became amazed by the interdisciplinary characteristics of materials science and the striking structure-processing-performance-properties relationship of materials. “It was also in that period when I started to realize the significance and power of characterization techniques, particularly electron microscopy, for probing materials structures and properties. This unveiling of microscopic interactions is crucial to solving a host of problems for materials applications,” says Yu.

After his time at USTB, Yu decided that he wanted to further his education in MSE. “I wanted to study abroad and explore the field further, particularly electron microscopy characterization,” he said. “UConn was one of my top options, because it is one of the top public research universities in the United States. Most importantly, UConn hosts a stunning Materials Science and Engineering program covering state-of-the-art research in diverse areas of materials science, including Materials Characterization, Materials Synthesis & Processing, and Theory & Modeling.” Thus, Yu obtained his doctorate from UConn in 2017.

At UConn, Professor Mark Aindow served as an advisor and mentor to Yu. During his five years in the Ph.D. program, Yu claims that he learned something new from him every single day. “Professor Aindow not only taught me about what is important both personally and professionally, but also provided meaningful opportunities for growth,” he states. “Professor Aindow is a lifelong role model to me, and his mentorship has had an invaluable impact on my career success to date.”

Another role model that Yu had at UConn was Professor S. Pamir Alpay, who has been the interim Vice President for Research since February 2022. Yu went under his co-supervision for a project on advanced Electrical Circuit Breaker Contacts, funded by GE Industrial Solutions. “It was truly a pleasure working with Professor Alpay, from whom I learned a lot, and I was deeply impressed by his talent, creativity, energy and enthusiasm for life and science,” says Yu.

Post-graduation, Yu took a position at Honeywell UOP in Des Plaines, IL where he currently serves as a Senior Advanced R&D Engineer/Scientist. Honeywell UOP is an international supplier of process technology, products, engineered systems and technical services to the petroleum refining, petrochemical, gas processing and energy industries, and is a leader in the research and development of petroleum and petrochemical processing. “At UOP, I have great opportunities to work with expert colleagues on exciting research projects, and most importantly I can utilize my electron microscopy expertise to support the development of life-changing technologies and to solve metallurgical failure issues in commercial and industrial applications,” he says.

In his position, Yu uses advanced electron microscopy characterization techniques for metallurgical failure analyses. This helps to resolve failure/corrosion issues, including those associated with metals and alloys, and also for catalysts in an industrial petrochemical and refining related environment. Also, he leads corrosion coupon testing to determine appropriate alloys/plastics/coatings for materials being considered for groundbreaking processes/technologies in both modern petroleum refining/petrochemical solutions (e.g., catalytic dehydrogenation, alkylation, platforming) and sustainability technologies (e.g., renewable fuels, battery energy storage, carbon capture).

His research helps commercial customers in oil refining and other petrochemical industries to identify root causes and mechanisms of possible corrosion or mechanical failures during the service life of various plant equipment. “It is gratifying that my research studies can often not only identify the problem causes, but also direct the customers to alternative solutions to mitigate future risks and ensure continued safe plant operation,” Yu claims. “Also, my characterization research plays a part in the company’s sustainability technology development, especially in the areas of renewable fuels, battery storage and carbon capture, contributing to environmental protection with carbon neutrality for a more sustainable future.”

For students who are interested in pursuing a career in MSE, Yu has two pieces of advice. First, find your specific area of interest because it will keep you enthusiastic for your entire career. Second, overcome fears of failure. “Everyone has difficulties, discouragements, and even failures during any research project. It is always beneficial to face these hurtles with optimism and courage. This will greatly help you proceed with a bright future, not only in MSE, but also in life,” Yu wisely states.

Yu expresses his best wishes and heartfelt gratitude to the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UConn. “I am very glad to see the continued growth of the MSE Department at UConn,” Yu says. “I feel happy for the current MSE students, as they could potentially have access to the premier Innovation Partnership Building center at UConn Tech Park and possess great opportunities to conduct exciting research that is changing the future of materials science. I sincerely wish UConn MSE students joy and success in their futures like I’ve enjoyed.”

Author: Space Nerds and Cyborgs Study MSE!

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

Ever imagined what a day working at NASA would be like? Seth Utter is a senior MSE major who had the opportunity to do just that.

Seth was able to participate in the NASA Pathways program, which is a work-study (co-op) that prepares participants for a career at NASA. Pathway interns gain valuable work experience and are offered a direct pipeline to full-time employment at NASA upon graduation. This was an amazing opportunity for Seth, who has a “fascination for making new materials in the aerospace industry” and originally wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Over three consecutive summers, he was able to work at three different branches of the Johnson Space Center to get an all-encompassing experience of what working at NASA is like.

When asked what he learned from this experience, Seth stated that the better question would be, “What didn’t I learn?” At the materials and processing branch Seth got to work on and design a test for thermal isolators on VIPER, a lunar rover that is currently planned to be sent to the moon in November of 2024. He was also able to study padding for the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), which is the spacesuit that will be worn by the first woman (and the next man) to walk on the moon. At the thermal design branch Seth got to research materials being used for heat shields and conducted a heat shield sizing simulation, for which he had to learn Linuxis. This was Seth’s favorite part of the co-op due to the “great project, great mentor, great colleagues, and it was right up my alley in terms of what I was interested [in]. I got to learn a variety of techniques and even got to do an Arc Jet test where a mock heat shield I made got completely destroyed!” Finally, at the thermal systems branch, Seth used Thermal Desktop software to work on establishing temperature requirements for equipment that may someday be installed at the lunar south pole.

To any students looking to take part in the NASA Pathways program, Seth said “They want space nerds! Show them that you’re a space nerd!” He encourages applicants to “mention any projects you have done on your own time that relate to space and your interest in it.” Seth explained that one of his own biggest selling points was when he described an honors assignment on heat shield applications of Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs), which are a type of material that consist of ceramic fibers embedded in a ceramic matrix. It was completely online research with no actual testing, but they loved it. “Most importantly, what you do doesn’t have to be from a professor’s lab or a club activity either! You want to simulate a Mars landing? Do it! You want to build a rocket engine? Go for it! Because even if you fail at doing it or don’t have the money and have to just do a research paper on it (like me), it shows interest! That honestly goes for any industry, not just this!”

Seth originally wanted to become an aerospace engineer but settled on mechanical engineering with an aerospace concentration when he realized UConn doesn’t offer an aerospace program. Seth says that the moment that changed his mind and interested him in the MSE major occurred during his 1000 ENGR: Orientation to Engineering course, when Professor Bryan Huey gave a lecture on Materials Science Engineering and explained how applicable it was to aerospace. What convinced Seth to stay in the major, though, was “the close-knit community of students, passionate professors, and variety of research opportunities available.” Another one of Seth’s favorite parts of the major is how small the class sizes are, as it allows one to get to know their fellow students very well. “It makes communication between peers a lot easier when you don’t have to continuously reintroduce yourself to new people every semester.”

The field that interests Seth the most is thermal engineering. “One of the most interesting topics for aerospace is the developments happening for thermal protection shields. Materials are constantly being developed in different ways to stand up to some of the hottest environments that space throws at us. How do we make it so the material can withstand multiple runs? How do we make it so that it’s easier to create and still perform well?”  

Seth’s favorite class that he’s taken thus far would have to be MSE 4040: Materials Selection in Mechanical Design, taught by Professor Greg Ojard. “Arguably one of the most important classes you can take if you plan on doing anything that involves making anything. This class helps you learn how to pick out the right material for the job and understand why certain materials and shapes are used in your day-to-day life.” Seth says that this class was incredibly helpful for his Senior Design Project with Pratt & Whitney, Hybrid Metal Composite Case Design, advised by Professor Sophie Wang. A major part of the project was going through the materials selection process that he had learned in MSE 4040.

Seth enjoys traveling to nearby cities, being a TA under Professor Lesley Frame for MSE 2101: Materials Science and Engineering I, and working in UConn’s new Science 1 building. “The fact that I can now have a meeting with my Senior Design Team in the same room as the equipment we’re going to be using to test our samples is such a huge convenience. Need to check our tensile grip measurements? Just do it right there! Not sure of a test result? Just redo the test right there! Not to mention having everything on the same level reduces time going between using one machine to the next. I can say for certain I won’t miss having to go up and down flights of stairs between our old labs for testing.”

Seth is a recipient of the Lockheed Martin Scholarship, which is a “financial aid program that provides support to freshmen and sophomore students who demonstrated academic excellence, leadership, avid participation in school/community activities, and clear aerospace-oriented career goals.” He has also received the NASA Connecticut Undergraduate Scholarship and is a Babbidge Scholar Recipient. Seth will be graduating in May 2023 and hopes to find a job in a lab environment, testing the latest and greatest in aerospace materials. Eventually he would be interested in a project lead role.

When asked for a fun fact about himself, Seth explained that he has a titanium dental implant in his front tooth. “I am part cyborg!”

Department Head Huey noted, “It’s no surprise that the impact of materials engineering on everything from aerospace, to cyborgs, is motivational for our students. Seth’s experiences at UConn, with the new labs, inspirational classes and projects, and meaningful internships, are perfectly aligned with our department’s goals for all of our students.”

Author: MSE Alumna Encourages: “Don’t be shy to get your hands dirty”

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

MSE Alumna Girija Marathe (‘11), Senior Engineer at Otis

As an alumna of UConn, Girija Marathe has learned the value of embracing every opportunity that comes her way. Throughout her journey, she has encountered countless situations where she had to roll up her sleeves and dive headfirst into something unfamiliar or challenging. And while it may be intimidating at first, she has always come out on the other side stronger. So, don’t be shy about getting your hands dirty – it is through these experiences that we grow and learn the most.

Marathe is currently a senior engineer at a Fortune 500 Company, Otis, which is the largest manufacturer of vehicle transportation systems. Marathe’s primary responsibility is to support and sustain materials engineering activities. She provides materials engineering support for Otis’ supply chain, their factories, and their commitment to quality. She also performs failure analysis, reviewing, and revising of Otis material specifications in compliance with industry standards. She is further involved with developing cost effective and robust materials engineering solutions for mechanical components of elevators. “Some of my projects are surface engineering of shafts, electronic safety actuators, analyzing coating alternatives on belt cords, and developing and understanding the failure mechanism of safety friction surfaces,” she says. 

Prior to her job at Otis, Marathe served as a senior metallurgist at Schaeffler Aerospace. Her role was to maintain bearing quality from raw materials through to the final product stage. She oversaw new heat treat process development to meet customer requirements, wrote internal quality documents and procedures for their Heat Treat and Metallurgical laboratory, and audited heat treat and metallurgical labs at the Danbury and Winsted Schaeffler plants. She also trained new technicians about new customer and internal metallurgical requirements, and performed metallurgical failure analysis on returned parts. “One of the projects which I cherish the most from my time at Schaeffler involved working with the vacuum carburizing process. That included installation of the furnace, process development of the ring component subject to respective customer approvals, writing internal documentation, and ultimately helping to get the plant ready for NADCAP certification for vacuum carburizing process in order to be certified by the Aerospace Auditing committee for full time production,” states Marathe.

The field of materials science and engineering is still very male-dominated, and Marathe acknowledges that she faced some challenges and pushback when she first started her career. “In the beginning, I sensed that sometimes my suggestions and inputs were ignored in meetings, or even passed off by others as their [male coworkers] own,” she says. “However, a short time after I realized this, I started building alliances across teams and got more vocal about my suggestions.” Thus, Marathe’s determination and hard work led to significant accomplishments and successes within her career.

Marathe joined the field of materials science and engineering due to a close family friend who was a MSE professor at her undergraduate university. She later decided to pursue a higher degree in MSE and earned her Ph.D. from UConn in 2011. “I chose to attend UConn because there were very few universities which had metallurgical engineering programs with active research in the field of powder metallurgy or mechanical metallurgy,” she says.

At UConn, Professor Herbert served as a key role model in Marathe’s journey as a graduate student. “Professor Hebert’s calm persona and empathetic nature really supported me through my studies. UConn also enabled me to expand my horizons by exposing me to other materials technologies like developing bulk laminates using ARB, metallic glass,” Marathe says. “I was very fortunate to have a tightly knit and collaborative group of friends and fellow researchers who helped me overcome challenges faced during my graduate journey.”

She also has some helpful advice for students looking to pursue a career in MSE. “One very important lesson I learnt in my career was to gain a few years of experience in the manufacturing and production world. Shopfloor and production floor experience really helped me understand the importance on how real time problems can impact the production and quality of the product,” Marathe states. “Don’t be shy to get your hands dirty while working on the production floor. Be eager to learn something new every day.”

Author: MSE Undergraduate Research Opportunities is What Drew Matthew Carragher to UConn

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Undergraduate student Matthew Carragher (‘23)

Undergraduate student Matthew Carragher (‘23)

Undergraduate student Matthew Carragher already knew when he applied to college that he wanted to pursue materials science and engineering. But he chose UConn because of the MSE Department’s undergraduate research opportunities. “I think what made the decision obvious was the amount of interesting materials research going on at UConn,” Carragher says. “The amount of faculty doing research is massive, making it really easy to find opportunities here.”

Carragher is a senior graduating in May 2023. He chose to study MSE because it is a mixture of different type of sciences. “MSE is an amazing blend of both the hard sciences, concepts you would learn in a chemistry or physics curriculum, and the practical applications of those concepts you get from other engineering majors,” he says. “I think I wouldn’t have been satisfied in my education if I only learned one side of that spectrum, and so MSE was the obvious choice.”

Carragher’s favorite area of MSE is metallurgy. “I don’t think I realized just how much there is to learn about metals until I got to UConn. In class, we often talk about the relationship between structure, properties, processing, and performance, and there are few areas of materials science where that relationship is so strong,” he says.

At UConn, Carragher is a teaching assistant in Professor Fiona Leek’s lab. He helps set up and run the experiments for the junior class, makes sure all the experiments run as smoothly as possible, and imparts practical knowledge of MSE that students might otherwise miss. “Professor Leek has been amazing to work with,” says Carragher. “She is more than willing to listen to the opinions of her teaching assistants and values the ideas we come up with. She gives me the autonomy to run many parts of the lab classes myself, while providing help when I need it. All of these things have taught me a lot about how to be a good teacher and leader.”

Carragher also works in the Foundry with recently retired Emeritus Professor Harold Brody.  Carragher describes this as the highlight of his time at UConn. “Professor Brody is an amazing resource, and has an unbelievable body of knowledge to draw from. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from him and not learned something new,” states Carragher. He also praises Emeritus Professor Brody’s ability to challenge him to think critically and apply every concept he’s learned. “He has made me a far better engineer and academic than I could have possibly imagined.”

Recently, Carragher attended the IMAT conference in New Orleans with fellow undergraduate student, Jaclyn Grace, and Dr. Frame’s research group. Grace and Carragher participated in the Domesday competition where they designed and fabricated a geodesic dome that had to protect an egg from a hydraulic press.

During his free time, Carragher is the president of the Metal Working Club, the chief technology officer of the 3D Printing Club, and a member of UCMA. The Metal Working Club aims to teach students about different metal processing principles, like casting and blacksmithing. The club uses the Foundry and its resources for many of the projects. “The club has given me the chance to apply many MSE concepts to solve problems and help other members with the projects they want to work on,” claims Carragher. “Our faculty advisor, Professor Frame, has been a pleasure to work with and has been extremely supportive of everything the club wants to do.”

Department Head Huey notes that the Metal Working and 3D Printing clubs are incredible opportunities for students, not just to expand their knowledge, but also their organizational and leadership skills. The clubs are so successful because of devoted students like Matt, devoted faculty mentors like professors Frame, Brody, and Leek, and a continued commitment from the department to support and indeed grow the clubs. As Matt has demonstrated, MSE students have wonderful chances to be engineers and practice what they learn while they’re still students. And starting this term, they get to do so in our incredible new Science One building.

After graduation Carragher plans to pursue a master’s degree and then Ph.D. degree. After graduate school he wants to spend some time in industry, and then go back into academia with his practical knowledge. “Research and industry are so deeply intertwined, and I think spending some time in both areas would do everyone good,” he claims.

For students questioning whether to study materials science and engineering, Carragher says to go for it. “Studying MSE is such a good way to broaden your future opportunities,” he says. “Someone with a degree in MSE can go into just about any STEM related job they want, while still getting to learn a specialized field that makes them stand out from other potential candidates.”

Author: Volkan Ortalan Takes DoD University Research Equipment Awards

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Author: Andres Godoy Wins Chateaubriand Fellowship

photo of Andres Godoy and visitors in the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) laboratory

Andres Godoy and visitors in the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) laboratory

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

Graduate student Andres Godoy recently won the prestigious Chateaubriand Fellowship to study at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France. The fellowship is a merit-based grant offered by the Embassy of France in the United States that supports Ph.D. students from American universities who wish to conduct research in France. He first learned about the fellowship from Assistant Director of Enrichment Programs for Research and Fellowship Programs, Rowena Grainger. “This opportunity has been a very fruitful and rewarding experience, at the personal and professional level,” describes Godoy.

Godoy received his bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from Universidad del Valle-Cali (Colombia) in 2011. He decided to join the field of MSE because he was interested in the idea of working in an interdisciplinary field of science that brings together physics, chemistry and engineering with the goal of designing or discovering new materials. After working at the University of Texas as a research assistant from 2011 to 2017 he joined the MSE Department at UConn as a graduate student.

At UConn, Godoy is a part of Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic’s research group. “At the time, Professor Jankovic was a new professor in the department, but she had a lot of experience in fuel cells and was eager to build something great,” claims Godoy. “I wanted to be part of that process, and so far we have grown significantly together; I am very proud of that and our team. Professor Jankovic always keeps pushing us to go beyond our limits, but also encourages us to get some time for ourselves to have a balanced life.”

“I am very proud of Andres” says Professor Jankovic. “He has advanced so much during his Ph.D., and gained invaluable expertise in microscopy and fuel cells. His energy and passion are indispensable, and his desire to learn more is admirable. Congratulations to Andres for receiving the Chateaubriand Fellowship! I am sure you will represent our team and UConn in the best light. Also, make sure to wave to us from the top of the Eifel Tower!”

Currently, Godoy is interested in clean energies. “I am especially interested in using fuel cells as a practical solution to tackle the existential climate and environmental crises triggered by the use of fossil fuel-based energy generators,” he says. His goal is to create a new and efficient catalyst materials for proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) which use clean fuels instead. This solution would give zero-emissions, be highly efficient, have low maintenance costs, and contain a high energy density.

Godoy built on this area of interest to conduct research while in France. By using advanced electron microscopy techniques, he proposed an investigation into the structure and properties of state-of-the-art and novel catalyst materials used for fuel cells. This will help to fundamentally understand the dominant degradation mechanisms at a nanometric level which these catalyst systems can experience under certain operating conditions.

Post-graduation, Godoy hopes to be a Fullbright Scholar to teach in France, Germany, England or Japan. Then he plans to continue his research in academia and wishes to be a professor.

For undergraduate students considering graduate school in materials science and engineering, Godoy suggests talking to professors and completing an internship. “If you talk to a professor doing research on topics you are interested in or passionate about, most of them are very responsive and willing to help,” he says. “If possible, do an internship and build up a strong resume tailored to the area you feel strongly about. But in general, get out of your comfort zone and do the things that may intimidate you.”

Author: Xueju (Sophie) Wang is a 2022 EML Young Investigator Award Winner

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

Xueju “Sophie” Wang (right) receiving the EML Young Investigator Award certificate presented by Professor Teng Li (left), editor of the journal EML and professor at the University of Maryland, at the 2022 MRS Fall conference.

Xueju “Sophie” Wang (right) receiving the EML Young Investigator Award certificate presented by Professor Teng Li (left), editor of the journal EML and professor at the University of Maryland, at the 2022 MRS Fall conference.

Professor Xueju (Sophie) Wang recently won the Extreme Mechanics Letters (EML) Young Investigator Award. The YIA is sponsored by Elsevier to honor the best paper by a young scientist which has been published by the journal EML. The YIA honor is bestowed annually to the corresponding author(s) of the paper who received her/his Ph.D. within 10 years of the award. EML is a journal that focuses on the role of mechanics in various fields such as materials science, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, and engineering, with a particular emphasis on the originality, depth, and impact of new concepts and observations in applied sciences. Wang is one of just four 2022 winners.

Wang’s paper titled “Reconfiguration of multistable 3D ferromagnetic mesostructures guided by energy landscape surveys” fits perfectly in the scope of this emerging journal focused on the mechanics of functional materials and structures. The paper was recognized for presenting a comprehensive experimental and theoretical study on highly nonlinear, multistable three-dimensional magnetic structures. It explored ways to control their multistable states and least energy reconfiguration paths. The findings are an important step towards the development of reconfigurable structures for a variety of applications, such as soft robotics and multifunctional deployable devices.

Professor Wang is currently an Assistant Professor in Materials Science and Engineering and the Institute of Materials Science at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include stimuli-responsive materials and multifunctional structures for applications ranging from soft robotics to bio-integrated electronics, which combines elements of mechanics and multiple scientific fields. In addition to the EML Young Investigator Award, Wang has also received the NSF CAREER Award, NIH Trailblazer Award, ASME Orr Early CAREER Award and PMSE Young Investigator Award for her contributions to the field of research.

Author: Dr. Cato Laurencin Receives Shu Chien Achievement Award

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Author: MSE Students Visit Nucor for the First Time Since the Pandemic

MSE students visiting Nucor

MSE students with Professor Frame and Professor Leek at Nucor

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

At the end of October Professor Lesley Frame and Professor Fiona Leek, Director Undergraduate Laboratories, reinstated an MSE tradition of taking students to visit Nucor; this is the first visit since the COVID-19 pandemic. Students attended as a part of the MSE 4004 Thermal and Mechanical Processing course, as well as students from Senior Design.

Nucor is one of the largest US steel producers. They have a vision that closely aligns with the UConn goals for sustainability.

Professors Frame and Leek claim that UConn is very lucky to have a facility like Nucor in Connecticut that the students can visit to learn more about thermomechanical processing. “It was really wonderful to bring the students to a steel mill where they are using equipment that is from the mid-20th century right to the new instrumented roll stands,” Frame says. “It is important for students to see that updates to manufacturing facilities don’t happen all at once. These upgrades are part of continuous improvements, which is why it is so important to learn about older methods of manufacturing processing and control right alongside the new technological breakthroughs.”

Approximately 30 students attended the tour, with mostly undergraduate students. Students were met by managers and engineers of Nucor, who were very eager to share knowledge, and information about internships and job opportunities. Senior Matthew Carragher said the following about the visit: “The Nucor trip was a fantastic experience. Getting to see the machinery at Nucor really puts into perspective just how large these operations are, and the amount of work that goes into them.”

Author: Graduate Student Presented at the SHPE Conference

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Karla Del Cid-Ledezma

Graduate student Karla Del Cid-Ledezma presenting her research at annual SHPE Conference

Graduate student Karla Del Cid-Ledezma competed in the Engineering Science Symposium at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina from Nov. 2nd to 6th. The SHPE Convention serves as the largest annual gathering of Hispanic STEM students and professionals to network, share research, receive awards, and attend educational workshops. “The convention, besides having the competition, was full of workshops that dealt with imposter syndrome, being authentic, and both personal and career goals/paths,” she says.

In the Engineering Science Symposium, there are five thematic categories that center around the current research conducted that has a potential role in solving society’s greatest challenges. Del Cid-Ledezma competed in the Avances or Advances category where she presented her research titled “Novel Ultra-Resolution Properties of Materials in 3D.” The presentation was about an aspect of her research where she uses an Atomic Force Microscope to look at properties of materials below the surface; then she uses a tomography to reconstruct that data in 3D.

Del Cid-Ledezma is a fourth year PhD student a part of Department Head and Professor Bryan Huey’s lab. At the SHPE Conference, Del Cid-Ledezma represented the Graduate SHPE chapter at UConn, where she currently serves as Vice President. “The convention was the largest gathering of Hispanics in STEM, and it helped reaffirm my sense of community in the STEM field,” she says.

Author: MSE Alumnus Thanks his Previous Major Advisor for his Successes

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant   

photo of MSE Alum Junfei Weng

MSE Alum Junfei Weng, North America Diesel Product Application Manager at Umicore

MSE Alumnus Junfei Weng credits his time at UConn to his success at the international company, Umicore. This company focuses on catalysis, energy & surface technologies and recycling across the world. “In automotive catalysts, Umicore provides customers with technologies and products in emission control catalysts, mostly for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles and for all fuel types,” says Weng. “I regularly apply what I learned about catalysts during my Ph.D. studies. My contributions sometimes seem small, but they make important contributions to the business and our customers.”

At Umicore, Weng is a North America Diesel Product Application Manager. In this position, he mainly works on customer support, technical discussions, and internal research and development of diesel aftertreatment accelerated aging cycle (DAAAC) protocols. In the automotive industry, the DAAAC protocol is a diesel aftertreatment accelerated aging procedure that results in catalytic system deterioration similar to that observed in field-aged components. The procedures that were developed aimed to shorten durability testing times dramatically, with a reduction in durability testing time goal of ≥ 90%. It also saves the cost of time, fuel consumption, labors, etc. “My responsibility in Umicore is to understand how we could better systematically and statistically represent the real-world aging in a laboratory environment from the perspective of catalyst deterioration,” he says.

Weng first came to UConn after receiving his Bachelor of Engineering and Masters of Engineering in materials science and engineering at Beihang University. “I was eager to apply for a Ph.D. degree abroad after my Master’s program in China. UConn MSE faculty had received numerous awards for their excellence in research, publications, innovations and education. The strength of the IMS, especially its multidisciplinary focus, was also important to me,” states Weng. “In addition, I had heard from other UConn students about the beautiful campus, the convenient infrastructures, and the friendly culture here. Also, I was thrilled to learn that all full time PhD students at MSE are offered full funding to conduct their studies, research, teaching and outreach responsibilities.”

At UConn, Professor Pu-Xian Gao provided Weng with invaluable mentorship as his major advisor. “He always encouraged me to approach questions from multiple perspectives, and to innovate. This helped me strengthen my “scientific” thinking patterns that I regularly used for my research and nowadays my career,” Weng says. “In addition, I appreciate the power of ‘putting your feet on the ground’ that Professor Gao always mentioned. No matter how innovative an ‘idea’ is, we still need to start from reviewing the literature, conduct careful testing, and finally demonstrate feasibility.”

 “I greatly appreciate his kindness, genuine care, and strong support for me when I had to face both academic and life challenges,” Weng states. “He helped me build confidence, diligence, and enthusiasm. It was a great pleasure and honor working with him as his student.”

For students who are pursuing a career in materials science and engineering, Weng has five pieces of valuable advice. First, be curious about the materials themselves. Consider every aspect: the structure, synthesis, characterization, performance, and deactivation. Second, a comprehensive literature review is always helpful. Third, present your research with different audiences to improve presentation skills and receive feedback. Fourth, apply your solid foundation of materials knowledge, and get well trained on the experimental operation and setup. Lastly, seek opportunities in industry to bridge the gap between academic research and real-world innovation.

Author: UConn Sparked an Undergraduate Student’s Love for MSE

photo of MSE undergraduate student, Jaclyn Grace (‘24)

MSE undergraduate student, Jaclyn Grace (‘24)

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant   

Undergraduate student Jaclyn Grace’s involvement on campus is astounding; she keeps busy as the President of UCMA, President of the 3D Printing Club, a teaching assistant for MSE 2101 and UNIV 1820, a Maker Specialist for the Werth Innovation Zone, was a member of the VII Explore Engineering Camp, competed in the International Materials Applications and Technology (IMAT) conference and works as a part of Professor Bryan Huey’s research group. In other words, she does it all!  

Even though it’s clear Grace loves materials science, she initially started out as a biomedical engineering student on the biomaterials track. But, when she learned that the same program was offered in materials science, she immediately switched. “There’s a lot of versatility in materials science and I love how broad the program is,” she says.  

As President of UCMA and President of the 3D Printing Club, Grace has a lot of responsibilities. For UCMA, she plans and organizes the annual MSE banquet as well as plans other outreach programs. At the 3D Printing Club, Grace teaches students how to use different modeling software such as SolidWorks, Fusion360 and OnShape. The club also has a design challenge every month and has run a design competition for high school students too.  

Out of all her involvements, being a Maker Specialist for the Werth Innovation Center is one of her favorites. “I love working in the Makerspace. I have access to a multitude of different machines such as 3D printers, laser engravers, sewing and embroidery machines, soldering equipment and woodworking tools,” says Grace. “I’ve been working in the IZone for a year and a half now, and it has become a safe place for me to go when I just need a break from everything. I have also made a bunch of connections with both staff and students of First Year Programs and had the opportunity to run many different programs such as sewing and textile skill shares, challenges such as the marble and egg drop challenge, and Month of Discovery activities.” 

In the Makerspace, Grace is also a teaching assistant. She teaches UNIV 1820, which is Introduction to Making. This includes teaching students how to use different machinery in the facility, such as sewing and 3D modeling. Another course she helps with is MSE 2101, the introductory class for non-MSE majors “Materials Science and Engineering I.” Her responsibilities include holding office hours and grading homework.

The Makerspace isn’t the only place that Grace gets to help others. This past summer, she worked at the VII Explore Engineering camp, is a weeklong residential experience designed to introduce high school students to all the engineering disciples at UConn. “That camp was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s crazy how many faces light up when you show students how their interests match to a major,” she states. “During the E^2 camp, I got to do a demo creating casein plastic, which is a plastic that is made simply using heated milk and vinegar. The students loved it.” 

One way that Grace gets involved in research is with Professor Huey’s lab. In his research group, she is learning to operate an Atomic Force Microscope. Over the summer, she was involved in a research paper in conjunction with Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang’s, studying Shape-Memory Thermochromic Liquid Crystal Elastomers. For this, Grace conducted force curve mapping at variable temperatures to see how the mechanical properties of the LCE reacted to heat. Grace praises her time in the lab: “Professor Huey has provided me with numerous opportunities and connections to further my career in MSE.” 

Another faculty member that Grace praises is Undergraduate Laboratory Director Fiona Leek. “She has been the perfect mentor over these past few years,” she says. “It’s awesome to get real lab experience before working in industry. Those lab experiences are invaluable. Not a lot of other majors have this opportunity.”  

Speaking of opportunities, one major event that Grace attended this semester was the International Materials Applications and Technologies (IMAT) conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, Grace competed in the DomesDay competition where her peer, Matthew Carragher, and her designed and fabricated a geodesic dome that had to protect an egg from a hydraulic press. “If it weren’t for the MSE Department, I would not have had the opportunity to go on such a trip. It was a great way to learn more about materials science, explore a new city, learn more about the professional side of engineering, and make some new connections,” she says.  

Post-graduation, Grace hopes to go into biomaterials and tissue engineering. Her end goals are to apply additive manufacturing technology with stem cells, but she also really enjoys polymers and 3D printing technology. She plans on going to graduate school to obtain a MS in MSE with a graduate certificate in BME, and to later build a career around this expertise.

“I love STEM cell technology and want to find solutions to the lack of organs needed for medical transplants. I like the idea of helping people without being in the operating room,” Grace states. “UConn MSE has helped me work towards my goals by giving me opportunities to take elective classes in areas I’m interested in, as well as connect me to people in industry.”  

For students questioning studying materials science and engineering, Grace definitely recommends it. “I always say that MSE is the broadest engineering field. Some people think mechanical engineering deserves that title, but everything in our world is made from materials. You couldn’t have mechanical engineering, civil engineering or electrical engineering without MSE,” she claims. 

 Also, Grace praises the flexibility of materials science and engineering. She says that “with a degree in materials science, you’re able to do essentially whatever you want post-graduation. It’s such a versatile field, and you can find a way to tailor your degree to your interests no matter what.”

Author: Theo Kattamis Retires after being with UConn’s MSE for Over 50 Years

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Theo Kattamis, Emeritus Professor

Theo Kattamis, Emeritus Professor

Theo Kattamis has played a vital role in the development of the MSE Department at UConn. He has witnessed the creation of an undergraduate program, expansion of the department and new research findings. He remained loyal to UConn because he “liked the University’s environment which was very friendly and helpful, and the job which offered the possibility of growth.” And now after 50 years of employment, Kattamis has retired. He will extend his extraordinary contributions and service to UConn’s MSE Department as an active emeritus professor.

When Professor Kattamis first came to UConn in 1969, he joined the Metallurgy Department which offered only a graduate program. “Since the Department was located from the early seventies in the Institute of Materials Science Building, its name evolved to the Department of Metallurgy and Materials,” says Kattamis. “Many years later we added an Undergraduate program, and shortly thereafter, following a world-wide trend, we became the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.”

Over the years, Kattamis taught three graduate courses: Solidification of Metals, Welding Engineering and Powder Metallurgy Processing. He also taught two non-engineering electives for undergraduates: History of Materials and Technology and History of Engineering Until the Dawn of the 20th Century. More recently, he taught important core courses for the department related to processing and has taught literally thousands of UConn engineers through the Introduction to MSE course.

Kattamis first obtained his bachelors in mining engineering from the Université de Liège, Belgium. During his fifth year he was appointed as an assistant lecturer and decided to obtain a second degree in geological engineering. But, “after practicing as a geological engineer in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I changed my mind as I was walking through the jungle full of snakes. Instead, I finished my studies with an extra year focused on extractive metallurgical engineering” he says. After that he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he obtained his MS in metallurgy with a research focus on the dendritic structure in low alloy steels and the way the alloying elements are distributed within the solid (“micro-segregation”). 18 months later he received his ScD focused on the microstructure and mechanical properties of solids formed from highly undercooled (up to 300oC) melts.

In the field, Kattamis’ expertise is solidification of metals and ceramics, materials joining and materials processing in the liquid and vapor state. Out of his 128 published research papers, his two favorites are “Influence of Coarsening on Dendrite Arm Spacing of Aluminum-Copper Alloys” and “Influence of Coarsening on Dendrite Arm Spacing and Grain Size of Magnesium-Zinc Alloy” because of their focus on coarsening. “For a long time, my peers did not believe in coarsening. But, interface instability of the growing crystal leads to the formation of arms and an increase in the specific solid-liquid interface area and there comes coarsening which pushes back the dendrite arms trying to reduce that interface area,” says Kattamis. “I had to do more work to convince them that I was right.”

At MIT Kattamis fell in love with an academic career. “I stayed at MIT as a research associate for three years and felt very much attracted by an academic career,” he states. “My desire to join an academic institution and contribute to the education of future generations encouraged me to start exploring available academic openings.”

Kattamis’ professor and mentor at MIT, Merton. C. Flemmings is the reason why Kattamis teaches at UConn. “Professor A. J. McEvily, at that time Head of the UConn Metallurgy Department, established at UConn in the Fall 1968, called Professor Flemings looking to hire a young professor specializing in the area of solidification,” Kattamis says. “I was interviewed, offered and accepted the job as an assistant professor, starting in January 1969.”

When he first came to UConn, Kattamis was in shock. “There was only a restaurant/coffee shop (Kathy John’s), a drugstore, a pizzeria and a cinema!” he exclaims. Since then, Kattamis claims that the University has physically and academically grown tremendously. But the University is still growing! “The MSE Department is rapidly growing, and this Fall will have a new building (Science 1),” says Kattamis. “[The major] has several concentrations, such as classical Metallurgy, Biomaterials, Nanomaterials, Energy Materials and Electronic Materials. MSE graduates find well-paying jobs and will join a group of very successful alumni”.

He was promoted to associate professor in 1971, awarded tenure in 1973 and became a full professor in 1975. Recently, Kattamis was awarded the honorary title of emeritus professor, making 2021-2022 his last year as a full-time faculty member. But, as current MSE Department Head Bryan Huey notes, “fortunately for our students, Theo is remaining active as an emeritus faculty member, and so continuing to share his wisdom and excitement for the field.”

Kattamis has been an essential asset to the creation and development of UConn’s MSE Department; the program would not be what it is today without his years of expertise. His knowledge, teaching, humor, and insight have been indispensable. The Department of Materials Science and Engineering thanks Professor Kattamis for his dedication and loyalty and congratulates him on his retirement.

Author: MSE e-Bulletin 2022

Welcome to our 2022 Outreach Bulletin! This publication is intended to share news stories and features about departmental accolades, research being conducted by MSE faculty, and alumni interviews that highlight our students’ diverse accomplishments post-graduation.

We hope that you will find inspiration in the many ways in which UConn MSE continues to grow and diversify while remaining on the cutting edge of research and innovation.

3    Department News 
15  Undergraduate Students
19  Senior Design Day
23  Graduate Students
25  Alumni


Author: Programming Adaptive Structures of Stimuli-Responsive Materials via Selective Mechanical and Light Control

photo of Assistant Professor Wang and her Ph.D. students Yi Li holding morphable LCE structures and UCONN letters

Assistant Professor Wang and her Ph.D. student Yi Li holding morphable LCE structures and UCONN letters

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering Department has the pleasure of congratulating Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang on her group’s recent research achievements. The prestigious Journal of Matter has accepted Wang’s research paper titled “Morphing of Stiffness-Heterogeneous Liquid Crystal Elastomers Via Mechanical Training and Locally Controlled Photopolymerization.” The work is in collaboration with Dr. Teng Zhang at Syracuse University.

“Adaptive structures of stimuli-responsive materials that can change their shapes and therefore functionalities are promising for many applications including soft robotics and biomedical devices,” says Wang. “The local control of their material properties and morphing behaviors has long been desired but remain a challenge.” Therefore, Wang has researched ways to control these materials.

Her paper introduces a simple technique to create stiffness-heterogenous morphing structures of liquid crystal elastomers via selective photopolymerization and mechanical programming. Tailoring molecular interactions enables material regions of distinct stiffness, which synergistically determines the morphing behavior of diverse asymmetric three-dimensional (3D) structures and subsequent sequential programming of the structure.

Various demonstrations have been performed, including several biomimetic 3D structures like the flapping of butterfly wings or octopus tentacles bunching up, as well as programmable “UCONN” letters using the new photo- and mechano- induced approach employed by Wang and her team.  Furthermore, the surrounding non-photopolymerized regions can also be programmed, allowing for reshaping as shown in a sequentially shape-morphing “face” that can reveal the “nose”, “mouth”, and “eyes” in a well-controlled manner. “The results represent a significant step toward creating next-generation intelligent materials and structures for engineering applications,” Wang states.

The Journal of Matter is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that encompasses the field of materials science. It only publishes scientific articles that contain significant original research, with less than a 13% acceptance rate. Wang says, “our group is very happy about our work being accepted by the journal because it not only acknowledges the quality of our work, but also its impact to a broad audience.”

Wang joined UConn MSE in 2020 from the University of Missouri, Columbia, where she had been an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Prior to that she received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and completed her post-doctoral research at Northwestern University.

Author: UConn Names Radenka Maric as 17th President

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Author: WFSB Channel 3: UConn Rover Prototype is Part of ‘Big Idea’ Contest from NASA

UConn Student Team Aims for the Moon with Lunar Rover Design

Author: Professor Wang Receives the NIH Trailblazer Award

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant 

photo of MSE Assistant Professor Xueju "Sophie" Wang

MSE Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang

The National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded Assistant Professor Xueju (Sophie) Wang a total of $643,591 for her proposal entitled “Multifunctional 3D Bioelectric and Microfluid Hybrid Systems for Online Monitoring, Regulation, and Vascularization of Organoids.” The award is granted to early-stage investigators who wish to pursue research programs of high interest to the NIH NIBIB at the interface of the life sciences with engineering and the physical sciences. This 3-year project will be in collaboration with the Co-Investigators of Dr. Yi Zhang (BME at UConn) and Dr. Yan Li (Florida State University).

Through this award, Wang will develop a soft, multifunctional electronic/microfluidic hybrid network in three-dimensional (3D) geometries, for simultaneous sensing, stimulation and well-controlled delivery of molecules into deep tissues. “Organoids have emerged as a promising platform for modeling tissue development and disease, personalized medicine development, drug screening and drug toxicity investigations,” says Wang. Despite their great potential, current organoids suffer from drawbacks including immature structure and functionality, limited heterogeneity and limited accessible readouts for organoid evaluation. This is partly limited by existing technologies; for example, conventional rigid, planar, and 2D electrodes for modulation and sensing cannot achieve detailed investigations of 3D biosystems. To address those challenges, Wang’s team will develop a hybrid 3D electronic/microfluidic system that can probe the 3D volumetric tissue: “If successful, it will greatly improve the monitoring, regulation and vasculature capabilities of organoids, and therefore their potential in modeling tissue and personalized medicine development, drug screening and many others.” 

In 2016 Wang received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. After completing her post-doctoral research at Northwestern University, she served at the University of Missouri, Columbia, as an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. She joined UConn MSE in 2020.  

Wang’s research has been recognized through numerous awards including the ASME Orr Early Career Award, the ASME Haythornwaite Foundation Research Initiation Award, the Gary L. Cloud Scholarship Award from the Society of Experimental Mechanics, the PMSE Yong Investigator Award and the NSF Faculty Early Development Program (CAREER) Award.

“I feel very excited about winning this award, not only because it is a recognition of my research achievements as a young investigator, but more importantly, it is a research topic that I have been interested in studying for years,” says Wang. “Through this award, I hope to address the limitations of current organoids and create organoids with mature structural and functional complexity.”

Author: Lesley Frame awarded UTC Professorships in Engineering Innovation

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Assistant Professor Lesley Frame

Assistant Professor Lesley Frame

The Materials Science and Engineering Department has the honor of congratulating one outstanding faculty member for being recognized for her incredible contributions to the field. The UConn School of Engineering has named Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Materials Processing Data (CMPD) Lesley Frame a United Technologies Corporation (UTC) Professor in Engineering Innovation in the School of Engineering.

Frame developed her extensive knowledge of materials science through her invaluable research, industry and teaching experiences. Her research interests include metals processing, manufacturing, corrosion, residual stress, phase transformations and structure-property-processing relationships

Frame received her BS from the Department of Materials Science Engineering at MIT, followed by her MS and PhD from the University of Arizona in the same field. She began teaching and leading research at UConn in 2018, after a professorship at the University of Bridgeport and a position as Director of Product Development at Thermatool.

Her impressive background includes participation in organizations such as ASM International, the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), and the Association for Iron and Steel Technology (AIST). Additionally, Frame has won several awards for her work including the ASM International Silver Medal Award (2021) and Bronze Medal Award (2017), ASTM Award of Achievement (2017) and Thermatool’s President’s Award (2015). She is currently serving as the ASM Heat Treating Society’s President; the first woman to hold this position.

UConn’s MSE Department sincerely congratulates Lesley Frame for her new titleship and looks forward to her future successes.

Author: Designing a Lighter Fuel Cell with Higher Current Density

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Author: Department of Energy Early Career Award Recipient Yuanyuan Zhu

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Author: UConn’s Cato T. Laurencin named 2023 Priestley Medalist

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UConn’s Cato T. Laurencin named 2023 Priestley Medalist


Author: Dr. Cato T. Laurencin Elected to the European Academy of Sciences

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Author: Dr. Cato T. Laurencin Honored with the Distinguished Contributions to Orthopaedics Award

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Author: Katie Read (MSE BS ’11, MS ’17)

Katie Read (MSE BS ’11, MS ’17)

Author: Undergraduate Student Chose to Study Materials Science and Engineering Over Mechanical Engineering

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

Hale Tresselt, MSE undergraduate student (‘22)

Undergraduate student Hale Tresselt didn’t always know she wanted to study materials science and engineering. In fact, it was UConn MSE’s very own Professor and Interim Associate Department Head, Serge Nakhmanson, who convinced Tresselt to pursue a degree materials science and engineering during the “Exploring Engineering” program for high school students. “Initially I thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. That was until I came to UConn and took a tour of the School of Engineering. There I actually met Professor Nakhmanson and he described the Materials Science program to me,” Tresselt says. “Originally, I wanted to pursue sustainable design. When I spoke to Professor Nakhmanson, I realized that I actually wanted to work in sustainable materials research and design. This conversation really propelled my interest in materials science further.” Nakhmanson, the other professors, facilities and overall community influenced her ultimate decision to pursue her bachelors at UConn MSE.

Once at UConn, her passion for materials science and engineering immediately skyrocketed. “I may be biased but I think materials science is so cool. Everything is made of something and I just love being able to look at things and know why they are made of a certain material or why something has cracked the way it has,” Tresselt exclaims.

While Tresselt was inspired by Nakhmanson, another MSE faculty member inspired her as well: Undergraduate Laboratory Director Fiona Leek. “Professor Leek is incredible and I truly cannot say enough good things about her. She provides great and thoughtful feedback and has really improved my writing as an engineer,” says Tresselt. “She provides clear direction and organization that is very applicable to time management in the real world. I am so grateful that I have gotten to work with Professor Leek as much as I have.”

Currently, Tresselt does research with Nakhmanson alongside PhD student Mohamad Daeipour. Their research involves simulating the effect of different pour temperatures on solidification of cast metals. On campus she is also a part of the Materials Advantage Club and the UConn Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Team.

Following her freshman and sophomore year, Tresselt had summer internships at Philips Healthcare, and following her junior year she had a summer internship at the Los Alamos National Lab. “At Philips I did a lot of foam and adhesive testing so most days I would be creating samples and running different tests on their strength,” she says. “I learned so much about regulation and just how much thought has to go into every aspect of design and then later tested. I left this job far more aware of the small details that design engineers have to deal with constantly.”

While Tresselt loved her internships, unfortunately, the Covid-19 Pandemic made things difficult. “We found ourselves having to find ways to get large amounts of testing done with far fewer days in the office. This made for some extremely long nights,” Tresselt says.

But, working at these internships helped Tresselt feel more confident as a woman in materials science and engineering. “My boss was fantastic. She was a young engineer with so much advice to give about being a young woman in a very male dominated field,” she says. “I learned so much from her, not only about how to be a better engineer, but about how to present myself with confidence.”

Post-graduation, Tresselt wants to continue in academia. “I am hoping to move on to getting my masters and potentially my PhD,” she states. “My goal is to help others by researching sustainable materials as well as more sustainable manufacturing processes to help lesson our harm on the environment.”

While Tresselt originally wasn’t studying materials science and engineering, she is happy that she chose this field. “This degree can take you in so many different directions and provides so much information about things you might not have even thought to wonder about,” says Tresselt. While her journey had some bumps along the way, she had many mentors that helped her come out of her shell and bloom into a confident woman in the field of MSE.

Author: Fiona Leek Selected as Undergraduate Faculty Career Mentor of the Year

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Director of Undergraduate Laboratories, Professor Fiona Leek

Director of Undergraduate Laboratories, Professor Fiona Leek

Please join us in congratulating our Director of Undergraduate Laboratories, Professor Fiona Leek, on her selection as this year’s Undergraduate Faculty Career Mentor of the Year award.

The student nominated Undergraduate Faculty Career Mentor of the Year award is presented by UConn’s Center for Career Development (CDD). Within the past few years, CDD has established an initiative called “Career Everywhere,” which recognizes that students search for career advice from a variety of people: faculty, staff, alumni and employee partners. “Career Everywhere” also helps ensure that everyone a student may interact with has the tools and resources to help guide them towards career readiness. Therefore, these individuals deserve to be recognized for their service in assisting students with their career goals.

Professor Leek earned her doctoral degree from the Polymer Science Program at UConn. After working in the field as a technical expert and a Senior research scientist she returned to UConn and served as the Associate Director of the Industrial Affiliates Program (IAP) for 10 years. She worked with scientists and engineers from a wide variety of Connecticut companies to solve various materials-related challenges using the wide range of analytical tools and faculty expertise within IMS. In 2019 she joined the MSE department as director for the undergraduate laboratories.

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering thanks Professor Leek on her commitment to students and her great support for UConn students and their career development.



Author: Studying at UConn MSE was Ryan Gordon’s Best Decision

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE undergraduate student, Ryan Gordon (‘22)

MSE undergraduate student, Ryan Gordon (‘22)

Have you ever made a decision that you knew in your heart was the right choice? Well, undergraduate student Ryan Gordon knows the feeling! “The UConn MSE program was the reason I decided upon attending UConn in the first place! I absolutely loved the labs when I toured, the close-knit nature of the students in the program and the professors as well,” says Gordon. “Attending UConn was honestly one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Ryan Gordon, a senior graduating this spring, chose to study materials science and engineering because of its versatility. “There is not a single engineering degree that is as useful to a new undergraduate as MSE. Almost every single company across the country needs someone with a materials background,” he says.

He has had an incredible time at MSE as a part of Assistant Professor Lesley Frame’s research group. The group focuses on structure-processing-property-performance relationships for engineering alloys. Specifically, Gordon focuses on how the fission product, tellurium influences the mechanical properties of a high nickel alloy in molten salt reactors. “Working in the lab with Professor Frame has been an amazing experience, especially for my future career in MSE. I have learned so much from her. I learned how to effectively present research, how to be organized in a lab setting and how to set up and run an effective research project,” he says. “Professor Frame and the other members of her lab group molded me into the student and researcher that I am today.”

He also praises the mentorship of Undergraduate Laboratory Director Fiona Leek. “Professor Leek has provided me with so much advice when it comes to running a project, I would not be where I am today without her,” states Gordon. “My technical writing skills were not the best coming into school, but, thanks to her feedback, I have improved significantly in this area. I would like to thank her greatly for being a fantastic professor and role model.”

Likewise, Professor Leek praises Gordon on his development. “The best part of my job is seeing students transform from an enthusiastic, but hesitant sophomore to a confident researcher on graduation. This does not happen with all— it definitely has with Ryan,” states Leek. “I know he will do extremely well with whatever he tackles in the future.”

Besides research, Gordon has also been involved in the student chapter, University of Connecticut Material Advantage (UCMA). The chapter provides career opportunities and outreach events to educate the general public, specifically K-12, about the field of MSE. Gordon has been the President of UCMA since 2020.

Also, he has had two summer internships during his time at UConn: Texas A&M University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “I was not too sure where I wanted to go with my career, but I knew these experiences would help me decide whether research was something that I would enjoy,” says Gordon. “These internships showed me that I can run a project on my own, and it allowed me to make great connections as well as figure out the path I wanted to take.”

At each internship, Gordon learned how to make informative posters, how to run a project effectively and how to collaborate with lab mates. “My favorite part was honestly the people that I met,” he says, “They showed me what it was like to work in a lab as a PhD student and made my summers really informative and fun at the same time.”

Speaking of PhD students, Gordon recently accepted a Research Assistantship to pursue a PhD in MSE at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research will be focused on materials corrosion in molten salt reactors. Post-graduation he hopes to go into industry and lead a failure analysis group or pursue a career at any one of the National Labs throughout the country.

Gordon gives credit to UConn MSE for preparing him for his new role at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The laboratory classes I took with Professor Leek helped to reinforce the necessary lab knowledge such as correct PPE, how to dispose of toxic chemicals and other necessary laboratory procedures,” he says. He also claims that working in Professor Frame’s research group gave him the essential skills for working in a laboratory.

“As I said, one of the best decisions I have ever made was to attend UConn for my undergraduate degree. The best decision I ever made? That was to do materials science and engineering,” he says. If you asked high schooler Gordon where he thought he would be today, the last thing he would have ever said would be that he was pursuing a PhD. “The past four years in MSE here at UConn have completely molded me into a student and person that I am proud of,” says Gordon. “I am, and forever will be, thankful for my time here studying materials science and engineering at the University of Connecticut.”

Author: Robert Williams Selected for a Fulbright Fellowship

By Kyra Arena, Written Communication Assistant

photo of UConn MSE undergraduate student Robert Williams (‘22)

UConn MSE undergraduate student Robert Williams (‘22)

Undergraduate student Robert Williams was recently selected for a Fulbright Fellowship in Vietnam. The Fulbright Program is a prestigious worldwide program whose purpose is to unite the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchanges. “To be selected to be a Fulbright grant recipient, it is expected that you serve as a cultural liaison in addition to upholding the Fulbright mission: Respect all peoples and cultures, value diversity, and commit to international education and mutual understanding while serving as a catalyst for a peaceful and interconnected world inspired by international educational exchange,” says Williams.

Williams will serve during the 2022-2023 academic year. He chose to apply for the fellowship in Vietnam for personal reasons: “As a biracial Vietnamese-American, I applied to the Vietnamese ETA position to gather a deeper understanding of my culture and heritage, bridge cross-cultural discrepancies and similarities of Vietnamese and American culture, and provide opportunities for students, staff and locals to grow as individuals,” he states. At Fulbright in Vietnam, Williams will interact with his local community, work collaboratively with international partners in scientific fields and participate in research.

UConn’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering congratulates Williams on his impressive achievement.

Author: MSE Adjunct Professor Daniel Goberman ‘never lets the class get bored’

Adjunct Professor and Raytheon Technical Fellow Daniel Goberman. (Photo courtesy of D. Goberman)

By Gabriela Esposito

Materials Science and Engineering Adjunct Professor Daniel Goberman says the root of his teaching philosophy is to “never let the class get bored.” 

This has been a guiding mission to Goberman since he first began his career as a professor. According to him, when he entered the MSE department over 13 years ago as an adjunct faculty member, he was determined to show his students how interesting and exciting materials science and engineering could be.

“I love teaching. I really enjoy the challenge of making technical topics interesting and even entertaining,” Goberman says.

Goberman recalls being a student and dreading the classes where the professor turned their back from the students, spoke to the blackboard, and wrote derivations and problems from the book. Throughout his years standing in front of the blackboard, he has made it a goal not to do this.

“I believe that no matter how dull the basic material might be, it can be applied to something interesting.  I try to find that interesting thing and use it to teach. If I can’t find an interesting example, then it is up to me to break-up the monotony with a joke, funny observation or simply a five-minute break… Students don’t learn much when they are sleeping,” he says.

Though he might have snored through a few lectures as a student, Goberman, who has been associated with the department in some way for over 25 years and the University for over 30, has certainly never tired of UConn MSE. Not to mention, his two brothers and sister also studied at UConn. So when it came time to complete his PhD in 2002, fate would have it that he didn’t venture far from his home in Storrs.

Just when he was finishing his PhD research, the UConn surface modification laboratory manager at the time announced he was going to retire.

“Here I was with a bunch of knowledge about how to run all the machines, analyze the data, and apply the technology to advanced research… The perfect fit,” Goberman says.

He spent over five years in this position before, in 2008, he joined the United Technologies Research Center as a senior engineer, moving up the ranks to Discipline Leader in Materials Characterization and Associate Director by 2017. In 2020, the company merged with Raytheon forming a new parent company Raytheon Technologies. In January of 2022, Goberman was promoted to his current role of Technical Fellow in Materials Characterization.

All the while, Goberman has taught as an adjunct faculty member at UConn MSE. He is also a member of the MSE External Advisory Board.

“Having over 13 years of experience in industry as well as over 25 years associated with the department, I have a unique perspective when it comes to understanding what industry might want from graduates as well as what the department is able to offer,” he says.

As a technical fellow, he works hands on in the laboratory supporting materials characterization focused on surface analysis. He also acts as a materials analysis focal point for any related questions from engineers within Raytheon.

Goberman’s work with Raytheon spans both failure analysis and advanced research.  According to him, recent efforts have included the analysis of discoloration of bolts on a commercial airliner and advanced analysis to try to determine the root cause of electronics failures in fighter jets. As for research at Raytheon, Goberman says he has been involved with the analysis and development of high temperature ceramic materials for future use in aerospace and defense applications at Raytheon Technologies.

Much of his current focus is related to the goal of improving aircraft technology. However, Goberman relishes his work the further up the atmosphere it is. In his words, he’s a “space junky.” A few years ago, when NASA came knocking with an issue that needed solving, he was more than happy to lend a materials science hand. The problem concerned a space suit which was holding up a critical spacewalk needed to fix the International Space Station… No pressure.

“Myself and my colleagues worked several really long days but had answers that allowed NASA to approve the suit for use in just a few days from when this issue was identified,” he says.

Aside from being able to bring this story back to his students, there are many ways that his two jobs have become a collaborative pair as he pulls experience and networks from one and brings it to the other.

“Being an adjunct professor gives me the opportunity to maintain my connections to the university.  I can keep in touch with the faculty and stay abreast of changes in personnel and technologies in addition to getting to meet the students.  Both of those aspects help me in my professional life outside the university by allowing me to facilitate the interactions between Raytheon and UConn,” he says.

According to Goberman, the work that he does at Raytheon defines how he teaches.

“It gives me a treasure trove of examples — not directly from Raytheon, but similar enough that the public domain example is just as good,” he says.

It’s this question of “real life” application that Goberman believes distinguishes his students’ learning.

“True success will come when you understand how items you learned are applied to real world situations.  Asking ‘What is this good for?’ for each topic makes the knowledge useful by connecting it to applications and you are much more likely to remember it in the future when you need it,” he says.

This semester, he teaches a graduate class, Surface Science for Materials.  According to Goberman, the class focuses on the surface of materials with a detailed exploration of the interactions that occur between those surfaces and the analysis tools used to understand them.

No matter the class, Goberman finds a way to make the material interesting. Though he enjoys being creative with his lessons, this is not his favorite part of being a professor. The best part of teaching, according to Goberman, is when a student says, “I don’t understand.”

“First, this lets me know that they care enough to ask for help! But secondly it is a challenge for me to find a new way to explain the topic that I thought I had just explained. The challenge is so satisfying, and it allows me, in that instant, to see the world around me in a different way,” he says.

Author: Undergraduate Student’s Internship Success at IBM

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE undergraduate student Ria Paranjape (‘22)

MSE undergraduate student Ria Paranjape (‘22)

Each academic year, college students frantically search for summer internships. It’s a tricky and stressful endeavor. But UConn’s MSE undergraduate student, Ria Paranjape has had not one, not two, but three summer internships at the global technology company, IBM.

Paranjape is a senior studying materials science and engineering after switching from chemical engineering her freshman year. “After arriving at UConn, I learned more about the materials science program through some introductory classes and found that it aligned more closely with what I was interested in pursuing,” she says. “Additionally, I knew MSE was an ‘up and coming’ field, which furthered my interest in the major.”

In the field of materials science, Paranjape is most interested in polymers research with a focus in sustainability, and product design and development in materials selection.

Undergraduate Laboratory Director Fiona Leek has provided Paranjape with a positive and enriching experience. “As a professor, she makes a huge effort to show support to her students and help every step of the way,” says Paranjape. “She is incredibly passionate about what she does, and it influences myself and my peers to work harder in our major and post-graduation when we’re in industry.”

When Paranjape was first searching for an internship, she wasn’t entirely sure on what she wanted to do. But she picked IBM because they are heavily involved in technology, and materials science is a very important part of that. “My first internship involved studying corrosion resistance, and from there my research narrowed down to what I worked on this previous summer, which was superconductor electroplating for quantum computing applications,” she states.

During her first summer at IBM, Paranjape mainly worked in the lab and ran tests on various samples with her manager. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her two following summers were online. Since she could not physically be in the lab, she focused on experiment planning, design of experiments and data analysis.

But the pandemic did not stop Paranjape from enjoying her time at IBM. “I constantly was challenged and had to think about things in ways that I hadn’t before, which helped me develop my critical thinking skills in a very welcoming environment,” she says. “Everyone I would talk to would be so open to helping me or talking to me about their area of expertise, giving advice, etc. It goes back to how I really appreciated being valued as an intern.”

Paranjape has three pieces of advice for MSE students to succeed as an intern: keep an open mind, always ask questions and be confident! “Sometimes you might land a role that isn’t exactly what you expected yourself to be doing, but the beauty of materials science is that it can be applied to almost anything,” she states. “I tend to get imposter syndrome when I’ve achieved something because I think I don’t deserve it, or I’m not smart enough to be at this place, however being confident in yourself will help alleviate that.”

And as for future students, Paranjape recommends studying materials science. “Right now, especially, the field is expanding rapidly and offers so many exciting opportunities right out of undergrad. UConn MSE, specifically, prepares you a career in industry by offering a wide range of materials classes you can take,” she says. “The professors make sure to drill important concepts and give you valuable information you can use past graduation. With the new MSE building underway, the growth that the department will have in the near future is incredibly exciting and even more reason to consider the program!”

Author: Radio Interview on WILI 95.3FM: UConn students building a lunar rover prototype for NASA

image of Radio WILI FM 95.3FM

Listen to the radio interview with the interdisciplinary team of UConn undergraduate students, the finalists in the 2022 NASA BIG Idea Challenge.


Author: U.S. News MSE Program Ranking

US News logoNewest US News rankings reward UConn with biggest jump ahead for any materials program nationwide.
UConn MSE leaped 11 spots to 35th, and is now tied at 24th among public institutions. We also remain the top program in the School of Engineering for the 14th straight year.

An advanced degree in engineering can help students improve their proficiency, specialize in fields of interest, take advantage of leadership opportunities and eventually earn higher salaries. To assist in discovering the programs that may be the best fit, U.S. News’ Best Engineering Schools rankings compare schools on their research activity, faculty resources, academic achievements of entering students and assessments by other engineering schools and employers.

U.S. News surveyed 214 engineering schools that grant doctoral degrees. This data collection was used for the overall rankings, for 13 specialty rankings and for populating each school’s profile (source

Author: UConn Student Team Aims for the Moon with Lunar Rover Design

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Author: Avanish Mishra’s Journey from Astrophysics into the Field of MSE

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of LANL Postdoctoral Researcher, Avanish Mishra

LANL Postdoctoral Researcher, Avanish Mishra

When it comes to your major or career, have you ever had a change of heart? UConn’s former MSE Postdoctoral Researcher, Avanish Mishra, certainly had. By his educational background, he is a physicist with a specialization in astrophysics, something he describes as “quite an exciting field to explore.”  

Although he enjoyed this area of concentration, while preparing for his Ph.D. entrance exams and interviews, he began to enjoy materials science and quantum mechanics. “Here, I saw how the principles of quantum mechanics dictate materials functionalities and responses,” says Mishra. And so, Mishra’s passion for MSE began. Thus, he decided to change career paths and get a Ph.D. in Computational Materials Science from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, in 2019 under the guidance of Professor Abhishek Kumar Singh.   

In his Ph.D., Mishra co-developed India’s first computational materials database aNANt. The database “shares the structures and electronic properties of computationally designed two-dimensional functional materials (MXenes) in a single platform” and currently contains data records for over 23,000 materials data. “As a graduate student, I worked on the first-principles modeling of materials and informatics, along with that I also learned about different length scales for materials modeling and respective challenges,” he says. 

C. Barry Carter, MSE Professor, encouraged Mishra to apply for a postdoctoral position with Professor Avinash Dongare at UConn. “He told me about Professor Dongare’s research and exciting future possibilities for me,” states Mishra. “I liked the idea of learning a new set of materials modeling tools and extending my understanding of first-principlesmodeling onto a higher length-scale.” Hence, he joined Professor Avinash Dongare’s research group in May 2019 as a postdoctoral researcher. 

Professor Avinash Dongare’s research group focuses on “the development and application of materials modeling, data analysis, and visualization methods to investigate structure-property relationships of materials as well as the evolution of microstructures ranging from atomic scale to mesoscale in various environments.” 

“I really enjoyed working with Professor Dongare, especially because I felt he has been very supportive throughout, gave me constructive feedback during our discussions, and most importantly trusted me with utter confidence,” says Mishra. “I am very fortunate to have a mentor like him, and I feel he has contributed significantly towards my professional and personal development.” 

One highlight from his time at MSE was getting to work as a part of the Center for Research Excellence on Dynamically Deformed Solids (CREDDS). Mishra and graduate student Marco Echeverria ran virtual experiments of shock deformation in metallic materials. They used this research to characterize defect structures, which helps validate current computational methods and guide future experiments. “I acknowledge all the members of CREDDS for their immense help and support,” states Mishra. “It gave me an excellent opportunity to work closely with experimentalists.” 

In 2021, Mishra co-published five research papers alongside Professor Dongare and others. His published first-author paper focuses on fingerprinting shock-induced deformation via virtual diffraction, which helps to complement and explain experiential in-situ diffractograms and characterize materials without any destructive means. His second first-author paper centers on understanding the phase transformation mechanisms and factors affecting the dynamic response of Fe-based microstructures at the atomic scales, which is essential for studying various other properties of multiphase metallic materials. 

“Avanish has always been excited to learn new capabilities and loves the challenge to build something of his own that can help us understand the science,” says Professor Dongare. “His time here working with me and the students in my group has led to several new computational capabilities at UConn that are currently being finalized for publication. It has been a pleasure working with him and to see him grow as a researcher.”

As a prior MSE professional staff member, Mishra is expanding his gained knowledge of atomistic modeling and machine learning with Professor Dongare and Professor Singh to understand materials response and get fundamental insights by characterizing atomistic structure using machine learning.  His work is important for designing high-performance materials for applications in extreme environments. For instance, he works to find an alternative for existing materials, such as replacing or improving metals and alloys in various applications. “The work I carried out at UConn has direct application in designing promising materials for extreme applications and could be extended to various fields where the materials undergo slow or fast dynamic deformation. Understanding of dynamic deformation of metallic materials is fundamental to the maintenance of nuclear deterrents as well,” says Mishra.  

Recently, Mishra started a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as a postdoctoral researcher. LANL’s goal is to solve national security challenges. Here, he analyzes atomistic structures using machine learning and extends that insight to the next level of modeling.  

Mishra hopes that he will always be a part of the field of materials science and engineering. “I like doing research and want to mentor the next generation of scientists and engineers to make the world a better and safe place by addressing challenges in MSE,” he says. For those wishing to pursue a career in MSE, Mishra suggests that students should be curious, should ask questions without any fear of judgment, should be open to new ideas, and be keen to build connections with their peers. He also recommends meeting UConn’s two favorite dogs: Johnathan XIV and Officer Tildy! “Every time I saw any one of them, it made my day,” says Mishra. 

Overall, Mishra’s journey into the field of MSE is inspiring not only for current students but for those who’ve recently discovered their passion for MSE. His narrative teaches people that it is okay to change career paths. Following your heart will not only make you successful, but you’ll have fun too! 

Author: Professor Jankovic Served as a Panelist at H2 View’s Virtual Hydrogen Summit Europe 2022

photo with Assistant Professor, Jasna Jankovic, at H2 View’s Virtual Hydrogen Summit with other panelists

Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic at H2 View’s Virtual Hydrogen Summit with other panelists

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic recently presented in Session 4 of H2 View’s Virtual Hydrogen Summit Europe 2022 event. She was one of three panelists for Women in Green Hydrogen (WiGH) whose goal is to amplify the voices of women working in green hydrogen. At the event, Jankovic and the other panelists discussed the changing and evolving hydrogen sector amongst their career and experiences. In H2 View’s abstract, they state that “the hydrogen sector has seen days of discovery and short days of glory! It’s certainly a fast-changing sector that offers great opportunities for technology enthusiast. In this H2 View panel event, we highlight WiGH women with different experiences in the sector and look to how we can encourage and support those that are transitioning or just entering the sector.”

Jankovic has been in H2 sector for almost 20 years, and studied and worked in various places such as the National Research Council in Canada, University of British Columbia, Automotive fuel Cells Cooperation and UConn. “I’ve seen hydrogen sector’s ups and downs, and was talking about these changes in the sector and in my career,” Jankovic says. “I also serve as an active mentor to young women within this network.”

Author: MSE Graduate Student Contributes to Aerospace Innovation

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of

MSE graduate student Sarswad Rommel (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Sarshad Rommel had five requirements when he was searching for a MSE graduate program: Excellent advisors, exciting research projects, strong support systems for international students, fun colleagues and opportunities for his future career path. All were provided by UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) department.

Prior to attending UConn MSE, Rommel always had some level of interest in most fields of science and engineering. However, he chose to pursue materials science and engineering because of its highly collaborative nature with other areas of science, claiming that “most practical and commercial applications of scientific research are eventually bottlenecked by materials constraints that can only be overcome through materials research.” Rommel obtained a B.Tech and MS degree in metallurgical engineering and materials science from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai. His degrees were a part of an integrated dual-degree program, and his master’s work specialized in ceramics and composites.

It was while still being an undergraduate student that he had the opportunity to explore UConn. During the summers of 2014 and 2015, Rommel worked with MSE Professor Eric Jordan, now emeritus professor, as an intern. During this time, he got to work with UConn professors, interact with students and learn more about the MSE graduate program.

Ultimately, choosing UConn MSE to pursue his Ph.D. was an easy decision. “UConn has cutting-edge research facilities and industrial outreach. The Innovation Partnership Building is a world-class facility that houses state-of-the-art instruments,” he says.

Rommel has been a part of Professor Mark Aindow’s research group since 2016. Here, he enjoys working with sophisticated electron microscopy and characterization equipment. “Professor Aindow has been an excellent mentor throughout my graduate career, and under his guidance I have grown by leaps and bounds as a researcher,” he says. “He has helped me learn through both guided and independent research, and has encouraged me to take charge of my projects when possible, providing me with valuable experience.”

Professor Aindow’s research group focuses on microstructural development in engineering materials.

Rommel’s research interests include the development of alloys, process-property-microstructure relationships in alloys and corrosion behavior of aluminum alloys. His thesis research, funded by Collins Aerospace, “involved investigating corrosion phenomena in new generation aluminum alloys through microscopy and materials characterization techniques to understand the process-property-microstructure relationships and aid in development of these alloys for superior corrosion resistance.”

In 2021, Rommel co-published four research papers. Two focused on the effects of thermal treatments on the high strength corrosion-resistant aluminum alloys for aerospace applications, another dealt with the effects of Calcium Magnesium Alumino-Silicate (CMAS) viscosity on its infiltration in thermal barrier coatings and the last helped shed light on the mechanism of the uniquely high recoverable strain observed in SrNi2P2 micropillars.

His research is extremely important to help delay the corrosion of aircraft materials. “The average direct annual costs associated with corrosion in the U.S. aircraft industry is estimated to be around $2.2 billion,” Rommel says. “My research is directed towards the mitigation of these costs.”

Post-graduation, Rommel plans to continue his work as a post-doctorate member of Professor Aindow’s research group. In the future, he aspires to be a materials scientist in the industry. However, he is entirely grateful for his experience in UConn’s MSE department. “I have gained much during my time as a graduate student, personally as well as professionally. I have made life-long friendships here, developed new hobbies that I had never considered before, and gained much clarity regarding a career path that I would like to follow,” he says. “My time at UConn has truly been life-changing.”

Author: Thoughtful Insights with Alumnus Burc Misirlioglu

MSE alum reflects on his experience in UConn’s doctorate program and discusses his current position as the Department Head of MSE at Sabanci University, Turkey

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Alumnus Burc Misirlioglu (MSE 2006), Department Head of MSE at Sabanci University, Turkey

Alumnus Burc Misirlioglu (MSE 2006), Department Head of MSE at Sabanci University, Turkey

Alum Burc Misirlioglu joined UConn’s doctorate program for materials science in 2001 after obtaining his MSc and BSc in metallurgy and materials engineering from Istanbul Technical University. He was Professor S. Pamir Alpay’s (MSE professor, Interim Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship) first Ph.D. student. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2006, Misirlioglu completed post-doctoral work at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Germany and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2008 he became an assistant professor at Sabanci University in Turkey. Currently, at Sabanci University, he is the Department Head of MSE, Professor of MSE and Co-director of Center of Excellence for Functional Surfaces and Interfaces (EFSUN).

Misirlioglu’s current research involves ferroelectric oxides and how their interfaces with other types of materials either enable or limit functionality in devices. Alongside this work, he has on-going collaborations that focus on the response of oxide/semiconductor interfaces in the optical and THz spectrum for tunable optics. Misirlioglu is also working on the response of nanoscale magnets to external electric fields, which can pave the way for future designs and development of more efficient devices in the semiconductor industry.

We sat down with Burc Misirlioglu to discuss his experiences as a UConn alumnus, and how that affects his career in MSE.

What inspired you to enter the field of materials science and engineering?
While I was preparing to take the university entrance examination in Turkey in early 1990s, my father had a vision that metallurgy (which later on transformed into materials science and engineering) would become a very important field in technology. I was more interested in chemical engineering at that time (also due to my exam score) but it was my father who encouraged me to study metallurgy and materials at Istanbul Technical University. After I got my B.Sc. in metallurgy, I went for M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees thinking that I would become a materials engineer or some sort of a materials specialist working in aerospace, a field that I enthusiastically have followed since my childhood years. So, I can say that it is my father and my passion for aerospace that inspired me to obtain degrees in materials science and engineering.

Why did you choose UConn for your graduate studies?
In the year 2000, I met Professor Nejat Olgac from the Mechanical Engineering Department at UConn who gave a lecture about his research during a visit to Istanbul Technical University. I was doing my M.Sc. at the time. He suggested that I apply to the MSE program at UConn. He told me that there were highly dynamic faculty members at the department, carrying out research with aerospace companies nearby, as well as cutting edge facilities at the Institute of Materials Science. I got very excited, reviewed the program on the internet and decided to apply. At UConn, I never got to work on aerospace materials for my Ph.D. research but stepped into a field that was just as interesting. I had some of my most challenging and at the same time most rewarding times at UConn MSE between 2001 and 2006. The MSE department at UConn has grown further since and become one of the best programs in materials science and engineering in the USA.

Describe your experience working with Professor Alpay during your doctorate program.
When I first met Professor Alpay in 2001 at UConn, I was struck by his scientific brilliance and his patience with the students. He had just started to work at UConn as an assistant professor and I was his first Ph.D. student. I often had the impression that he was carrying out research as a hobby, a quality every enthusiastic scientist possesses. I could easily say he was a role model for me during my Ph.D. and I believe I inherited some of his admirable qualities during that time. I try to implement these qualities when interacting with my own students here at Sabanci University. Professor Alpay’s creative approach to research problems and his perspective and guidance on a number of scientific challenges I was facing in my Ph.D. are two other points I must mention. His sense of humor and positive, approachable personality were also among his qualities I enjoyed, and we are still in contact to this day.

How did your experience at UConn prepare you for your career?
The working style of Professor Alpay definitely influenced the way I approach science and academics. Next to Professor Alpay, Professor Mark Aindow was another inspirational faculty. His command over the field of microscopy, how organized and smoothly he delivered his lectures were invaluable scientific and learning experiences for me. I must admit Professor Aindow was famous among the grad students for his demanding assignments and lab reports, but at the end attending his lectures proved highly rewarding especially when I was asked to teach fundamentals of electron microscopy at Sabanci. I also greatly benefited from interacting with him as he was co-supervising my research on dislocation studies in thin films using transmission electron microscopy. I must not forget to mention Professor Nitin Padture (now at Brown University) from whom I took the mechanical properties course in the Fall of 2002. He always tried to provide a clear view of the subject and demonstrated how one can benefit from intuition when approaching engineering problems. All these experiences have contributed to the way I carry out research and prepare for lectures in my own academic career.

Why did you decide to accept the demanding role of Department Head of MSE at Sabanci University?
When my name was mentioned as the next program head (equivalent of the department head title) in late 2020 for the materials program at Sabanci, I was somewhat hesitant as I thought it would interfere destructively with my research. I then tried to convince myself that this was an opportunity to update or implement some policies that I always had thought would benefit our program. Apart from research, implementing new agendas and methods to enhance the effectiveness of materials research and education has been a “thought exercise” I sometimes found myself in. The encouraging, cooperative atmosphere among the faculty members we have here at Sabanci eventually resulted in my acceptance of the offer in January of 2021.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in MSE?
I advise students to keep a broad vision on the numerous possibilities in science and technology, as opposed to being focused entirely on a single direction of study. Academic courses are certainly the starting point for achieving critical and advanced levels of thinking. But at the same time, a productive career starts when one is determined to go beyond her/his existing experience. I highly recommend students to follow other areas, such as mechanics, physics, electronics, biosystems and alike, and to interact with the people in these areas to identify the material related issues or opportunities that may lead them to highly interesting and rewarding paths in their careers. And just as important, I advise them to remain curious learners throughout their careers as scientific knowledge and methods are constantly evolving.

For more information on Dr. Misirlioglu, please visit his research group website.

Author: Amir Soleymani Improves the Understanding of PEMFC Catalyst Materials and Addresses Future Opportunities in the Field

By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant

Amir Soleyman

MSE graduate student Amir Soleymani is holding an in-situ liquid cell holder – used in the aberration-corrected transmission electron microscope (Titan Themis) to acquire high-resolution images and videos as the reactions progress inside the cell.

Graduate student Amir Soleymani co-authored a research paper with MSE Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic and Electron Microcopy Research Scientist Lucas R. Parent. The paper is entitled “Challenges and Opportunities in Understanding Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell Materials Degradation Using In-Situ Electrochemical Liquid Cell Transmission Electron Microscopy” and was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Advanced Functional Materials. The paper focuses on improving the performance and durability of proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), which are alternative clean energy generation devices addressing challenges caused by environmental pollution from fossil fuel consumption. Improvement of PEMFCs can be achieved by observing and understanding their catalyst layers. Soleymani and his co-authors used In-situ electrochemical liquid cell transmission electron microscopy (TEM) techniques to study PEMFCs materials evolution and degradation. The research featured in the paper contributes to understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with applying the In-situ microscopy techniques in the field of fuel cell materials.

Soleymani joined UConn in 2018 as a doctoral student in MSE. He was Assistant Professor Jankovic’s first student to join her research group that is dedicated to advancing clean energy technology. Previously, he completed his BS and MS in MSE at Isfahan University of Technology, and MS in mechanical engineering at Tennessee Technological University. After his approaching completion of his Ph.D., Soleymani wishes to continue his research in clean energy and work in the automotive industry.

Author: Pamir Alpay Named Interim Vice President for Research, Innovation & Entrepreneurship

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Author: Xueju “Sophie” Wang Receives CAREER Award

By Kyra Arena, Written Communication Assistant

photo of MSE Assistant Professor Xueju "Sophie" Wang

MSE Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang

MSE Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang has been awarded the NSF Faculty Early Development Program CAREER Award for her proposal entitled “Mechanics of Active Polymers and Morphing structures: Determine the Role of Molecular Interactions and Stiffness Heterogeneity in Reversible Shape Morphing.” It is one of NSF’s most prestigious awards.

Wang’s NSF CAREER award will support her research on fundamental studies of the mechanics of innovative active polymers and morphing structures. Soft active polymers that can change their shapes and therefore functionalities upon exposure to external stimuli are promising for many applications, including soft robotics, artificial muscles and tissue repair. This research project aims to establish the missing correlations across the molecular, material and structural levels of novel active polymers for their rational design, manufacturing and applications, by using liquid crystal elastomers as a model material system. “I am very grateful and honored to receive this prestigious award, and I look forward to working with my students to address challenges in innovative active polymers and to apply them in emerging fields like soft robotics,” Wang said.

Through this award, Wang will expose students and the general public to research frontiers in morphing materials and structures through starting an overarching program, “Morphing Beyond Imagination,” where simple and entertaining demonstrations of morphing flowers, spiders and octopuses will be provided to elementary school students. Additionally, Wang’s program will be used to help develop curricula for high school students to promote their pursuit of STEM related studies.

The award and funding are administered through the NSF Mechanics of Materials and Structures (MOMs) program in the Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) in support of early-career faculties who have led academic advancements in research or education in mechanics as related to the behavior of deformable solid materials and structures.

UConn’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering congratulates Wang on her impressive achievement.

Wang joined MSE in 2020. Her research group focuses on mechanics, advanced materials and functional structures for applications from flexible electronics to soft robotics. In 2016 she received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. After completing her post-doctoral research at Northwestern University, she served as an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, Columbia. 

In addition to the NSF CAREER award, her research has been recognized through numerous awards including the ASME Orr Early Career Award, the ASME Haythornthwaite Foundation Research Initiation Award and the Gary L. Cloud Scholarship Award from the Society of Experimental Mechanics.

Author: UConn Celebrates Dr. Cato T. Laurencin for Historic NAACP Top Honor

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Author: MSE PhD Candidate Encourages Other Female Researchers to Not Doubt Their Own Voices

By Gabby Esposito, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Suman Kumari

MSE graduate student Suman Kumari

As of 2021, female PhD researchers like Suman Kumari are welcoming the challenge of pursuing a passion in a still male-majority field. Though representation has improved compared to decades ago, the imbalance in a classroom or lab can still be intimidating. According to Kumari, though it hasn’t been easy being a female in her discipline, this shouldn’t dissuade others from pursuing materials science and engineering.

“Though the world is changing, it’s challenging as a female in the materials science and engineering field, but nothing is impossible if you have the will to do it. I would say, ‘listen to yourself, you know what you want to do,” she says.

In much of her career so far, Kumari has not let any hesitation stop her.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (IITGN) in 2017. During her undergraduate years, she did a summer internship at Clemson University. Following graduation, she worked as a project associate for an IT firm, Cognizant. A year later, she went back to IITGN to be a junior research fellow.

As an intern at Clemson assisting in computational modeling of fluids through membranes, Kumari began to realize her particular interests which led to her future decision to pursue her PhD. She was involved in developing the framework for the fibrous membranes and determining the permeability of the flow when she became engrossed by the significant change in the flow properties which occurred when changing the microstructure. Kumari recalls this as a precipitating moment leading to her future as an MSE PhD candidate.

“I was more interested in understanding the material’s behavior irrespective of their application in different domains,” she says about materials science and engineering as opposed to chemical engineering.

Students in MSE often face two paths as they progress throughout their career leading up to their undergraduate graduation. Many students will find themselves drawn to either the realm of scholarly research or leaving formal academia behind for industry. According to Kumari, her exposure to research from Clemson to her fellowship at IITGN reinforced her affinity for the fundamental science of investigation, innovation, and experimentation in a university setting.

In particular, Kumari felt inspired by the collaboration and kinship which can occur in group research. As a female— a minority in MSE— her sense of purpose in groups that are often all male drove her past any intimidation or challenge.

“I liked the scientific discussions with my group members. It is the journey that one goes through and skills one obtains during their PhD that was exciting for me. Even though I knew that it can become stressful sometimes, coming out of that and starting fresh again is something we need in all aspects of life, not just a PhD. So, basically, the entire journey of 4-5 years full of challenges and learning intrigued me to pursue a PhD,” Kumari says.

With her decision to pursue her PhD, Kumari then had to figure out where exactly she would want to be for the next few years. She came to know of UConn MSE from a past colleague she met as an undergraduate who had gone on to the department at UConn.

“From her, I heard that the MSE department is quite good here, and she connected me to a few students in MSE from whom I got to know more and was impressed. Therefore, I chose UConn for my higher studies,” Kumari says.

Kumari initially joined the UConn MSE Department with the thought of staying in her comfort zone doing computational work in polymers. However, this intention did not work out as planned, she says. Ultimately, she came to know about other groups doing similar work, though different from her prior work. One of the faculty members who was scouting for students was Associate Professor Volkan Ortalan. After talking with him about her interests, Kumari found upon closer introduction that his research would complement her past experience well while also pushing her.

“The only thing was I didn’t have any experimental experience at all. I was very confused at that time, but I took it as a challenge to learn, and to my surprise, I started liking it,” she says.

As of 2021, Kumari makes up the majority female student group led by Ortalan. Within the group, Kumari says she has been investigating the structure-property relationship of polymeric systems using in-situ TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy) and understanding the fundamental science of such systems by capturing their dynamics on extreme spatial and temporal scales with Ultrafast TEM.

“It’s a bottom-up approach to understand the system from atomic to macroscopic scale. These in-situ techniques could fill up the gap in the fundamental knowledge to help with the processing and manufacturing of materials for a given application. It could be helpful in various disciplines apart from material science,” she says.

According to her, she is most interested in the forces of space and time.

“Capturing the ultrafast dynamics on the extreme scale is fascinating to me. It can give a lot more information about how things are changing over such small space and time scales, consequently affecting the behavior at a macroscopic level,” she says.

According to Kumari, she and the rest of the group are given a lot of independence by Ortalan to perform their research. This is something, she says, that makes him a great leader.

“He is great as an advisor and provides his full support for our holistic development. He encourages us to take responsibility for our own progress and let us find our own way,” she says.

Additionally, Kumari’s appreciation for collaboration in research is something Ortalan also values. According to her, the group has open discussions during the meetings and works in smaller groups with one another.

“Learning from each other is something I like about the group,” she says.

This is something she has found with UConn MSE as a whole that differentiates it from other universities.

Kumari says that unlike other schools she spent time at, UConn MSE has “hands-on experience with advanced instruments, collaboration with other universities and research groups, and working with diverse groups of people.”

“Overall, it’s a great experience so far at UConn… The students, faculty, facilities, opportunities, and everything,” she says.

Though she has not yet decided exactly where or what she will find herself doing following graduation, she has an idea she won’t venture far from academics and inspiring rising women in STEM.

“Whatever it would be, I’ll be involved in teaching science and its wonders.”

Author: Getting to Know Incoming UConn Interim President Radenka Maric: ‘For Me, The Students Are Everything

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Getting to Know Incoming UConn Interim President Radenka Maric: ‘For Me, The Students Are Everything’


Author: First Generation Graduate and MSE Postdoc Doesn’t Plan On Leaving Academia

Gabby Esposito, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Monia Nielsen, postdoc at the IN-siTu/Operando Electron Microscopy (InToEM) center, in front of the DENSsolution Climate system at UConn Tech Park.

Monia Nielsen, postdoc at the IN-siTu/Operando Electron Microscopy (InToEM) center, in front of the DENSsolution Climate system at UConn Tech Park.

When Monia Nielson was in the midst of pursuing her PhD in Election Nanoscopy, she discovered the beauty of looking through an electron transmission microscope. This was also the first impactful time she was introduced to the world of materials science. Nielson says that from then on, she never looked back.

Now a UConn materials science and engineering (MSE) post doctoral researcher under Assistant Professor Yuanyuan Zhu, Nielson exercises her interest in the subject officially. In the past, she studied nanotechnology, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Copenhagen in 2008 and then 2015. She then went on for her PhD in from the DTU Center for Electron Nanoscopy, also in Denmark.

Still not ready to leave academia, Nielson decided her next move would be a postdoc. This time, she would change it up a bit more by studying in a different country. The choice of where exactly that would be was not random.

Nielson had already known Zhu after reading her work and meeting briefly at a conference. According to her, she had finished her PhD just around the beginning of the pandemic and job opportunities in Denmark were sparse. Nielson had decided to apply abroad, looking into groups dealing with in situ microscopy experiments. While doing so, she noticed Zhu had an open position.

“I contacted her to hear if the position was still open, and she was currently in the process of interviewing people. I promised to send an application within two days and I was contacted the following day, informing me I had an interview and the rest is history,” Nielson says.

According to her, when she received an offer to come work with Zhu’s group, there was no question about attending UConn.

But long before her interest in MSE brought her to Conn., Nielson had always loved learning about this realm of science.

“While in high school I developed a keen interest in science and found the combination of chemical and physical characterization extremely interesting,” she says. According to her, this is what initially led her to study nanoscience.

However, her curiosity did not end in nanoscience. 

“I am a very curious person of nature, and I like to understand how the world around us works,” she says.

After discovering the electron transmission microscope, she wanted to add an engineering component to her research.

“MSE is a broad field that combines engineering, physics and chemistry principles to solve real-world problems, which I am now doing on the nanoscale looking at catalysts with an in situ environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM). So, it is more a combination of two great worlds,” she says.

Additionally, she had never felt a desire to leave learning. After her master’s, she had a few interviews for jobs in industry, but those just increased her pull to education.

“I fear industry would feel mundane. What I like about working in a university setting, is that no day is the same. It is interest and discovery driven and I can focus on something I find interesting,” Nielson says.

As the first person in her family to receive a university degree, getting the most out of academics has been important to Nielson.

“This may sound corny, but my biggest achievement is getting a PhD degree,” she says.

A couple months after achieving this huge milestone, Nielson set out to climb the next bigger one. She began her postdoc in January of 2021. According to Nielson, Zhu has been an influential mentor throughout that time.

“She has taught me many things, such as how to better structure my research, how to approach a challenge, new techniques working with in situ TEM and catalyst characterization. Most of all, she managed to pass on her passion of in situ TEM characterization of catalysts and after every meeting I feel so inspired,” she says about Zhu.

In broad terms, the research Nielson works on, aside Zhu, seeks to use in situ ETEM to produce a better understanding for designing new and improved catalysts. In her words, “in situ ETEM plays a crucial role in determining the catalytic performance and to understand the physical and chemical properties of catalysts during reaction and provide fundamental insight into the underlying reaction mechanism.”

The specific research Nielson is currently working on aside Zhu deals with the dynamic structural changes during the catalytic lifetime (activation, reaction and deactivation/regeneration). According to Zhu, she is “extremely lucky” to be able to study this with the highly specialized climate holder from DENSsolution at the IN-siTu/Operando Electron Microscopy (InToEM) center.

However, if Nielson had to choose her favorite research she’s done, she says it would be on heterogeneous catalysis.

“It’s an interesting subject. It is a key process to a sustainable future as it is the center of chemicals and energy industries. The insight from fundamental in situ studies could have a tremendous impact in the world,” she says.

Ultimately, the work on catalysts which Nielson and Zhu’s group focus on, is key to developing solutions to many of the world’s environmental challenges such as energy shortage, air pollution and climate change.

Though working and learning is a driving force in Nielson’s life, she also finds time for her personal hobbies. Nielson says she enjoys reading a good fantasy novel or solving “twisty” puzzles like a Rubik’s Cube. For someone who spends most of the day in a lab, Nielson says she really likes hiking.

While you think that in several years after her postdoc Nielson might be able to take up hiking more, she says she isn’t planning on breaking up with education just yet.

“I hope to pursue a position within academia. Maybe another postdoc position or two to gain even more knowledge, experience and to expand my network within the in situ ETEM field before hopefully starting my own group,” she says.

Author: MSE Alumnus Gives Advice To Prospective MSE Faculty

Gabby Esposito, Written Communications Assistant

Arun Kanakkithodi, assistant professor (on track for tenure) at Purdue University

MSE alumnus Arun Kanakkithodi, assistant professor at Purdue University

It would suffice to say for UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) alumnus Arun Kumar Mannodi Kanakkithodi, MSE found him rather than the other way around.

Growing up in India, Kanakkithodi knew he wanted to pursue a discipline related to physics and chemistry. Before graduating high school, he took exams which placed him in a bachelor program. He was placed in the materials engineering program at one the country’s most prestigious colleges, the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.

After graduating with his bachelor’s in 2012, Kanakkithodi was unsure of what his next step would be. Then, something happened, which he says, changed the course of his life, putting him directly on the path he’s on now.

Kanakkithodi was half-heartedly submitting graduate school applications during his senior year when he came across an advertisement in his current department, encouraging students to apply for UConn MSE. The ad was made by Professor Rampi Ramprasad (formerly of UConn MSE and now a professor at Georgia Tech) and Ghanshyam Pilania (formerly an undergrad at Kanakkithodi’s alma mater in India and grad student at UConn, and now a scientist at Los Alamos).

According to Kanakkithodi, his future seemed clear after meeting with Ramprasad and Pilania on Zoom.

“I decided that all I wanted to do in life was to join this basketball-crazy university in New England and do computational materials science research for Professor Ramprasad and his group. The rest, as they say, is history,” he says.

According to Kanakkithodi, Professor Ramprasad became an influential mentor to him as his PhD advisor. Aside from just the recruiting advertisement, Ramprasad had a lot to do with Kanakkithodi’s career.

“He made me a better scientific writer and overall, a more confident researcher and person,” Kanakkithodi says.

After earning his PhD in 2017, Kanakkithodi worked and studied as a postdoctoral researcher at Argonne National Laboratory for a few years. According to him, his postdoctoral work helped him grow comfortably independent as a researcher. During this time, he received an Outstanding Postdoctoral Performances Award as well as a Distinguished Young Investigator Award for his research.

Following his postdoctoral research, Kannakkithodi searched for jobs within industry companies and labs. However, after applying to a few, he realized moving outside the realm of university research was not the right direction.

“What I really wanted to do is become an academic, set up my own research laboratory, and train students in order to develop future generations of materials researchers,” he says.

This realization is what brought him to become an assistant professor (on track for tenure) at Purdue University to teach MSE in January of 2021.

This period of uncertainty leading up to his career at Purdue turned out to be a valuable lesson. According to him, no one really knows where they truly want to be in their careers until after they have done some exploration.

“I believe everyone needs to go through this journey where they gradually figure out where they fit in best. I now have no doubt in my mind that an MSE faculty position is what was right for me,” he says.

Additionally, it has been a theme in his life that guidance from professors and supervisors have given him the push he needed to confidently take the next step in his career.

Kanakkithodi says owes a debt of gratitude to his postdoctoral supervisor at Argonne, Maria Chan, for propelling him towards becoming a PI (principal investigator). These leadership skills lent to his passion in his current work.

He now teaches different core introduction courses at the Purdue MSE department. In the spring, he taught “Intro to Materials Modeling”, a class which he particularly enjoyed because it is close to his research interests.

According to him, Kanakkithodi loves teaching and mentoring students, but the most rewarding aspect of the job is the research.

“I love conceptualizing a research problem and working on it as part of a team, and ultimately disseminating the results and scientific publications and tools for the community. I enjoy writing manuscripts and interacting with collaborators from across the world,” he says.

His research group focuses on accelerating the design of novel materials for energy applications using first principles modeling, data science, and machine learning. According to Kanakkithodi, the group is currently working on compositional, structural, and defect-engineering of semiconductors for improved performance in solar cells and related applications.

In his research group and classes, Kanakkithodi’s teaching philosophy has been guided by his own experience as a student.

“I have absolutely tried to incorporate certain styles from my favorite professors at UConn, including Professor Ramprasad, Rossetti and Dongare, into my classes at Purdue. It is not easy to succinctly explain concepts to students from varying backgrounds, and I learned from the best as to what I should and should not be doing. Rampi’s electronic structure theory course and Avi’s materials modeling course were especially illuminating to me about the best teaching styles to adopt,” he says.

During the pandemic, it was harder for him to apply his teaching philosophy. As a first year teacher during that time, Kanakkithodi was just getting adjusted to being a professor in the traditional sense. It was difficult to suddenly have to teach in a style, new to even the most experienced professors.

Despite the uncertainty experienced by professors and students because of the pandemic, Kanokkithodi says confidently that MSE students are in an excellent place for research and future career prospects. Even during atypical times like the pandemic, they should make full use of every opportunity or faculty at their disposal, he says. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of diversifying students’ research exposure. 

“Interact with research groups and professors whose work is quite different from yours. This is a great way of learning something new and discovering an interest you may not have realized you had,” he says.

He says, especially for PhD students interested in becoming an MSE professor, they should seek insight from their own advisors and professors. 

“You would have no better resource than them and nobody to have your back like they do,” he says.

Additionally, he tells PhD students interested in becoming an educator to “read as much scientific literature as you can in your areas of interest and start jotting down research ideas when you have them. Towards the end of your PhD, you should start looking at what kind of faculty openings are available and start planning your applications.”

Kanokkithodi recently spoke as an MRS panelist in a webinar event about applying to faculty positions in which he went more in depth about his own experience and provided advice for others.

Along with his presence at the MRS panel, he has been recognized for his work through several awards. He received an Outstanding Postdoctoral Performances award, a Distinguished Young Investigator award from Argonne and the Materials Research Society’s Graduate Student Silver award, at a fall conference. His research has led to invitations for delivering talks at conferences, such as MRS spring 2022 and MS&T 2021, and general seminars and workshops at Purdue and Argonne.

Though it has only been a little over a year since he began his career as a professor, Kanokkithodi says he is confident he will continue on the faculty path until he is a tenured professor.

Author: A Brighter Future for Clean Energy, Dr. Jankovic’s Research Leads the Way

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Author: MSE Alumnus and NIST Scientist Reflects on His Passion for Materials and Rowing

William Osborn in the lab at the National Institute of Standard Technology.

William Osborn working on a calibration system for picometer displacements measured with a customized laser Doppler vibrometer in the lab at the National Institute of Standard Technology 

By Gabby Esposito, Written Communications Assistant

UConn MSE alumnus William Osborn was drawn to materials science by the rowing shells he raced in for sport as a high schooler. From a young age, he was curious about what defined the boats’ performance and how it related to the properties of the material the boat is made of.  Now, as a scientist with the National Institute of Standard Technology (NIST), Osborn’s job is rooted in the importance of answering questions about material measurements such as those he once asked about the shells.

“I learned to row in an old 1970s wooden boat that was so heavy that even eight high school freshmen struggled to pick it up,” Osborn says. He recalls later stepping into a 1980s boat with a wooden skeleton and a single skin of Kevlar; it was light and delicate. Years later, he says he would race in even lighter shells built from unidirectional carbon fiber and honeycomb composites.

“The importance of what something is made from really sinks in when you lift it over your head every day.  I didn’t know materials science and engineering was even a field of study at that point, but I was already interested,” Osborn says.

After discovering he could major in his passion, Osborn completed his bachelor’s in 2004 with a degree in MSE from the University of Washington, Seattle. Just a year later, he moved across the country to continue his studies at UConn.

An internship during Osborn’s undergraduate years did to him what first internships often do; it showed him what he liked and didn’t like, narrowing down the question of what he wanted to do after graduation. “I enjoyed the testing work more, and it became clear I wanted to have a career where I could push the state of the art. In engineering fields, that generally means PhD,” he says. UConn became the place which led Osborn to do just that.

According to him, the academic quality of his work at UConn served his career as it encouraged both the applied and theoretical sides of the field. Aside from this, the social aspect of his degree impacted his career decisions. “Having a positive experience working with professors, technical staff, and other grad students in a research lab reinforced my decision to work in an R&D environment,” Osborn says.

As a PhD candidate, Osborn also worked as a teaching assistant for one semester. “I was surprised how few of the undergraduate students sought help when they needed it,” he notes about the experience.

However, help from professors is what often propels students further in their career. It was one of his graduate professors, now-Department Head Bryan Huey, who suggested Osborn go for the National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship with NIST. “It was great advice. The depth and breadth of scientific capabilities offered at NIST impressed me at the time and still does today,” Osborn says.

Since earning his PhD in 2009, he has worked for NIST as a bench scientist, spending most of his days in the lab. According to him, there have been opportunities to move into management or other roles that are less hands-on, but his partiality for the lab has kept him there. “I love being able to pick industrially relevant technical challenges and getting to develop new instruments, data analysis methods, or even reference materials to address the needs of other scientists in the U.S. and around the world,” he says.

With NIST, Osborn works to improve the quality of measurements. A large portion of his current research is related to measuring strain in semiconductors. By developing and verifying the quality of measurements and systems of use, he creates valid and reliable measurement procedures.

Though nearly every day is spent in the lab, it never bores Osborn. “With very few exceptions, no one day is like the previous day—and I love that,” he says. Though he does admit there are some days that are a bit more fun than others. “People bring us awesome metrology challenges! Companies or other government agencies ask us to help develop a way to measure things that are important to them, but only after a bunch of talented scientists in their own ranks have tried first,” Osborn says. 

Getting to do the work he does has made Osborn realize the importance of communicating with those around him. “Be willing to share your time and talents with colleagues and collaborators,” he says. According to him, some of his most influential work has been a result of collaborations.

Author: Graduate Student Publishes Research on SrNi2P2 Pseudo-elasticity in Nano Letters

MSE graduate student, Shuyang Xiao, making microscale samples used in his Nano Letters publication.

MSE graduate student, Shuyang Xiao, making microscale samples used in his Nano Letters publication.

By Gabby Esposito, Written Communications Assistant

MSE graduate student Shuyang Xiao recently published his research for the first time in Nano Letters, entitled “Pseudo elasticity of SrNi2P2 Micropillar via Double Lattice Collapse and Expansion.”

Typically, the elastic strain limit of crystalline solids is less than 1% because dislocation plasticity or cracking occurs only after a small amount of elastic deformation. In his research, Xiao shows an extremely high elastic deformation up to nearly 15% of strain and complete shape recovery in the intermetallic compound, SrNi2P2, through making and breaking P-P bonds between atomic layers.

“I was so excited when I saw the results,” says Xiao. “Compared with conventional shape memory alloys, which exhibit 5~10% of elastic strain limit, our material can exhibit an even larger elasticity limit. More interestingly, the process of making and breaking bonds does not accumulate any mechanical damages such as dislocations and micro-cracks.”

“This is a very elegant work that includes the mechanical visualization of two-step atomic bonding-debonding process in the solid state,” says Xiao’s graduate research group leader, Associate Professor Seok-Woo Lee.

In Lee’s words, Xiao’s work demonstrates how trillions of chemical bonds in a solid are formed simultaneously by mechanical forces. The material, SrNi2P2 shrinks when the chemical bonds are formed under the compressive force and, if the applied force is removed, expands when they are broken. This is unusual given that the phase transformation process can be repeated infinitely without creating any damage due to fatigue. According to Lee, the material can be used to create an ultra-spring system that can absorb and release a giant amount of mechanical energy.

“I believe our discovery will open a new and promising research opportunity for the development of high performance super-elastic materials among more than 2500 ThCr2Si2-type intermetallic compounds” Xiao says.

After graduating in 2018 with his bachelors from the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, Xiao chose to travel across the globe to pursue his graduate’s degree at UConn. Xiao has since become a member of Lee’s research lab, focusing on in-situ mechanical characterization of superplastic intermetallic compounds. In the past, Xiao has served as both a president and senator for the UConn Materials Research Society. In his free time, Xiao enjoys playing guitar and video games.

Author: MSE Undergraduate Earns Her Degree as Both Student and Teaching Assistant

By Gabriela Esposito

photo of Materials Science and Engineering senior Brianna Westenfield

MSE senior Brianna Westenfield

Materials Science and Engineering senior Brianna Westenfield began at UConn as a biomedical major; three years later, she is now finishing her final fall semester as an MSE undergraduate student and teaching assistant.

Like most undergrads during their first year, freshman Westenfield was faced with the realization that her intended field of study was not for her. Though she was not fond of biomedical (BME), Westenfield was still interested in materials science. According to her, the next logical choice was MSE. “I’m really glad that I did end up switching because I love MSE and I think I’m a lot happier here than I would have been had I stayed in BME,” she says.

While her major in biomedical was short-lived, her lasting interest in engineering was what had initially brought her south of her home state of Mass. When her older siblings went through the college admissions process, Westenfield remembered them touring UConn and the school’s great engineering program. With admission and the option of going home for weekends, Westenfield became a Husky.

Though many undergrads change their majors, not many become teaching assistants. After applying for the position last year, Westenfield assisted Professor Serge Nakhmanson during the spring semester with an Introduction to MSE course (MSE 2002). This semester, she assists with the director for MSE’s undergraduate laboratories, Professor Fiona Leek in the MSE junior level lab course (MSE 3055).

“It’s really rewarding to be able to explain a process to a student in the class in a way that they understand it. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re helping someone learn something that isn’t necessarily easy to understand at the start,” Westenfield says.

According to her, it can be difficult when students ask questions that are too deep for even her understanding. “Thankfully, Fiona is a wonderful professor to TA for and is always happy to explain something to all of us,” she says.  

Aside from her TA position, Westenfield also volunteers with Multiply Your Options, a program run by UConn’s Society of Engineers, to help expose 8th grade girls from throughout the state to engineering. She has volunteered with the organization for all four years she has been at UConn. “I love helping the girls who come to learn and experience things that they may not be able to in their daily lives,” she says.

Though teaching is not something that Westenfield has seriously considered as a career, sharing her passion and knowledge in engineering as a mentor has become a theme in her life. “I hope to be able to keep teaching people for a long time, even if it is not necessarily in the traditional way,” she says.

Westenfield’s own teaching abilities have been inspired by Professor Leek, whom she says has been an influential mentor. “Fiona is an incredible professor and an even better mentor. I never hesitate before asking her advice on anything from academics to industry and things like graduate school, and I really appreciate any and all words of wisdom that she can give,” she says.

Since making herself at home in MSE and working under Leek, Westenfield has identified the areas of the field she favors most. She has grown particularly interested in failure and failure analysis. “It’s really cool to look at how and why things break and if there is anything you can do to prevent it,” she says.

According to Westenfield, she is interested in pursuing her passion for failure analysis after graduation, whether it be through a job in industry or by continuing her academics to earn her graduate degree. 

Outside of the MSE department and her teaching assistant roles, Westenfield feels strongly about empowering women in engineering. Having been in the Society of Women Engineers club all four years at UConn, she has held a leadership position with the club since sophomore year. “I love the mission behind the club and I love to be able to go somewhere and be with other people who understand what it’s like to be a woman in engineering,” she says.

On top of this, Westenfield participates in the Husky Ambassadors group which runs open houses and the Husky for a Day program. Through this role, she helps prospective students get a taste of what it is like to be a UConn student.

The Husky for a Day program is something that is of particular value to Westenfield who might not have ended up at UConn had she not done it. “I participated in the Husky for a Day when I was a senior in high school and it was one of the main reasons I actually came to UConn, so I love being able to do the same thing for another person,” she says.

Despite her many roles related to her career, Westenfield shares that she does in fact have hobbies outside of materials science and engineering which she finds time for. Interestingly, she is passionate about the arts. According to her, she enjoys painting, sketching, and reading.

Finding the time for these activities may be something that also discourages undergraduates from pursuing a TA position. However, Westenfield says that it is not as overwhelming as you might think. “It can be a little worrisome the first time you do it, but it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s really interesting to actually see the other side of things, and it gives you a bit of perspective when it comes to your own TA’s and professors,” she says.

For those who are unsure about the field of MSE and much less sure about helping teach it, Westenfield says they give it a chance. “I especially see it in my friends who only minored in MSE, but they tend to wish that they had gone into MSE fully.”

“MSE is really a fantastic place to be. Yes, the program is well ranked amongst other colleges and the research that’s happening in UConn MSE is incredible, but honestly it’s the people that really make the program,” says Westenfield. 

Author: MSE e-Bulletin 2021

Welcome to our 2021 Outreach Bulletin! This publication is intended to share news stories and features about departmental accolades, research being conducted by MSE faculty, and alumni interviews that highlight our students’ diverse accomplishments post-graduation.

We hope that you will find inspiration in the many ways in which UConn MSE continues to grow and diversify while remaining on the cutting edge of research and innovation.

3    Research 
9    Department News
13  Undergraduate Students
15  Senior Design Day
19  Graduate Students
23  Alumni


Author: MSE Assistant Professor Publishes Origami-inspired Research in Materials Horizons

By Gabby Esposito

photo of Ph.D. student Yi Li, in Assistant Professor Wang’s group is actuating multistable, origami-inspired structures using a portable magnet.

Ph.D. student Yi Li in Assistant Professor Wang’s group is actuating multistable, origami-inspired structures using a portable magnet.

MSE Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang recently published her article entitled “Tailoring the multi-stability of origami-inspired, buckled magnetic structures via compression and creasing” in Materials Horizons. The study was in collaboration with Professor Teng Zhang at Syracuse University and Professor Halim Kusumaatmaja at Durham University, who led the study’s theoretical work.

According to Wang, the research originates from origami, the ancient art of paper folding. “It has inspired the design of many engineering structures for a wide range of applications, including deployable systems, self-folding machines, reconfigurable metamaterials, and DNA origami,” she says.

A key feature in the design of all these structures is their ability to have multiple stable states. The article lays out the foundation for the rational design of these structures. The work introduces two effective parameters of creasing and compression for tailoring the multistability of origami-inspired structures. Using ribbon structures as an example, a design phase diagram is constructed as a function of the crease number and compressive strain. The results show that the number of distinct stable states can be actively tuned by varying the crease number from 0 to 7 and the strain from 0% to 40%. These two parameters can be easily incorporated in the structure’s design to maximize functionality. Diverse examples were designed and demonstrated, from programmable structure arrays to a biomimetic insect and a soft robot, which can be actuated remotely by magnetic forces.

Additionally, Wang’s article explores the limits of new designs. Though the article has been published, this is a topic Wang is still working on. “It will be interesting to explore the concept of actively manipulating the number of stable states and their reconfiguration paths in the design of other types of functional structures by using alternative control parameters,” she says.

Wang joined UConn MSE in the fall of 2020. She received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2016. After completing her post-doctoral research at Northwestern University, she served as an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, Columbia.  She is the author of over 30 publications, and she holds multiple patents and disclosures. In addition, her research has been recognized through awards from the professional society, including  ASME Orr Early Career Award, ASME Haythornthwaite Foundation Research Initiation Award, and Gary L. Cloud Scholarship Award from the Society of Experimental Mechanics.

Author: MSE Assistant Professor Awarded Twice in a Month for Her Contributions to the Thermal Processing Community

photo of Professor Frame and her students at the 2021 Heat Treat Conference

Assistant Professor Frame and her students at the 2021 Heat Treat Conference

By Gabby Esposito

MSE Assistant Professor Lesley Frame recently won both the 2021 ASM Silver Medal Award, as well as the Fluxtrol and ASM International Professor Valentin S. Nemkov Academic Research Award. These were conferred by the ASM International Board of Trustees for her contributions to the materials science and engineering community.

Here at UConn, Frame is the director of the Center for Materials Data Processing. She is also the faculty advisor for the UConn Materials Advantage student chapter, and inspired our new Metalworking club. Furthermore, Professor Frame is now the president of the ASM Heat Treating Society.

Department Head Bryan Huey says, “Professor Frame is not just the elected leader of this major professional organization representing both industry and academia; in fact, she is the first female president since it was established more than 100 years ago in 1913. Lesley is an excellent example of the substantial impacts our MSE faculty are making—to our students, and to our profession.”

The Silver Medal is awarded “for noteworthy research and collaborations that merge experiment and characterization of materials, behavior modeling, and data analytics; along with her unwavering support of diversity, equity, and inclusion within ASM international.” It is given annually to one academic and one industry professional who are each mid-career.

“I am honored to be selected as one of this year’s recipients for the Silver Medal award from ASM International,” Frame says.

ASM International also recently announced that Frame was the winner of the Professor Valentin S. Nemkov Academic Research Award, sponsored by Fluxtrol at the Heat Treat 2021.

The competition judged the research that academics have worked on with their students. Frame was chosen for the quality and impact of her contributions to research that was part of the traditional oral program, Fluxtrol Student Poster Competition, the inaugural Strong Bar Competition, and her support as a member of the event’s organizing committee and acting Session Chair.

“We are so pleased that Professor Frame has been recognized for her combined intellectual and leadership accomplishments. With major awards also announced in just this past year to professors Cato Laurencin, Jasna Jankovic, and Sophie Wang, MSE clearly features outstanding role models for our growing and diversifying student cohort,” says Huey.

Author: MSE Students’ Fluxtrol Research Makes Semifinals at National Heat Treat Society Conference

By Gabriela Esposito

photo of Dean’s group in front of their project at the Heat Treat Society Conference. From left to right: Ryan Gordon, Cole Accord, and Quenten Dean.

Dean’s group in front of their project at the Heat Treat Society Conference. From left to right: Ryan Gordon, Cole Accord, and Quenten Dean.

Two MSE students made it to semi-finals at the 31st Heat Treat Contest which took place Sept. 14 and 15 in St. Louis. This year, the student/emerging professional portion of the conference hosted the Fluxtrol Student Competition and the new ASM Heat Treating Society Strong Bar Student Competition.

The talented group of rising materials engineers from UConn consisted of three undergraduate students, three graduate students, and one recent graduate.

The Heat Treating Society as a whole serves professional and aspiring material engineers who work in thermal processing. The annual competition offers awards and widespread recognition to young innovative scientists. Through this, the program seeks to encourage the participation of younger generations in the ASM Heat Treating Society. It also provides a pipeline to worldwide opportunities in the thermal processing community.

Recent MSE graduate Brittany Nelson and MSE senior Ryan Gordon were the two participants from UConn who made it to the semi-final round of the Fluxtrol Student Research Contest. “Unfortunately, they did not make it to the final winner slot, but everyone did a great job and they had some steep competition,” their faculty advisor, MSE Assistant Professor Lesley Frame, says. Frame currently serves as the first female Vice President of the Heat Treat Society.

Quenten Dean, the student group leader, was one of the three undergraduate students who attended the competition. His group also included Ryan Gordon, Cole Accord, Matthew Carragher, and Jack Gibbons. According to him, the contest he participated in was to see who could make the most ductile metal bar with the highest applied load. This was tested by performing a three-point bend test.

“We prepared by first researching as much as we could the best ways to heat treat this bar to get the desired properties while also meeting the hardness requirement,” Dean says. After this, the team received their bars from Professor Frame and with only a week left, were able to quench, temper, and test.

According to Dean, the team had a few problems during their competition setup because the equipment hadn’t been calibrated in a long time. The biggest problem was that their oven failed to display an accurate temperature. Because of this, it was difficult to harden the samples.

However, the team did not let these difficulties hold them back. “We had to use our best guess and play it on the safe side for our hardness and not go too soft,” Dean says. Ultimately, he says the team received great results in terms of the amount of martensite produced by tempering the bars.

It was at the conference that the team finally got to see their work put to the test. Dean says that though they didn’t achieve the highest load, he was proud of their results.

Author: MSE Alumnus and Thermo Fisher Scientist Shares Experience Switching from Research to Business

By Gabriela Esposito

photo of MSE alumnus Justin Roller

MSE Alumnus Dr. Justin Roller, Product Marketing Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific

Every phone, car, computer, and even washing machine uses semiconductor chips. Though the chips are small and cheap compared to the final product, they play a vital role and in many ways are key to our economy. As a product marketing manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, MSE Alumnus Justin Roller works on marketing and product development for an automated transmission electron microscope which helps the semiconductor industry produce more efficient chips at higher yield.

One could summarize Roller’s background by saying that he has lived all over the map. After graduating from Georgia State University with a bachelors in chemistry, he received his master’s in materials engineering from the University of British Columbia. Prior to pursuing his PhD at UConn MSE, he worked for the Government of Canada at the Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation in Vancouver. While working on his PhD, Roller collaborated closely with MSE professors Radenka Maric and Barry Carter. After graduating in 2013, he moved from the East Coast to Oregon where he started his career with Thermo Fisher Scientific. 

However, it was not always in Roller’s plans to settle in Oregon. It was through Professor Carter that he became acquainted with an employee of Thermo Fisher. Three months later, Roller got a call from the company with a job offer. 

Eight years later, traveling is still a major theme in his life. According to Justin, it is one of the coolest aspects of his job with Thermo Fisher. “I’ve travelled all over China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and the US. Our manufacturing site is in Eindhoven, Netherlands so I usually fly there several times a year as well,” he says. Throughout all these places, Roller has helped achieve Thermo Fisher’s mission of using science and technology to make the world a safer, healthier, cleaner place. 

Similar to his geographic presence, Roller’s job experience has made some leaps. He has gone from purely engineering to dealing with the business side of science. As a product marketing manager for the unique automated transmission electron microscope, he is now in charge of both the business and technical sides of the product. 

“One moment I’m on a call with a customer trying to understand their pain points or to share a product roadmap. In the next call I might be presenting to our VP about revenue and gross margin targets, or pitching ideas for the next iteration of the product to other areas of the organization,” Roller says. 

However, this multifaceted approach took some getting used to. “For me, the jump to product marketing was a big change and I was afraid I might lose my technical edge,” he says. After all, Roller’s career had thus far been defined by materials science. To this day, his favorite and most significant contributions are ones he made in the field. “I co-authored a review paper on cathode materials for solid oxide fuel cells with colleagues at the National Research Council Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation back in 2010. It has since been cited by over 1000 peer-reviewed papers. However, my favorite paper was submitted to the Journal of Materials Science about the effects of selected process parameters on a jet-diffusion flame for platinum particle formation,” he says.

Ultimately, Roller found that moving on from purely science did not mean he would lose his technical instinct. “Instead, I gained a business acumen,” he says. 

Of course, the bridge to business was not a perfectly smooth process. Roller’s boss gave him advice as he switched from applications to product marketing. According to him, his boss said, “Justin, you are going to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid and don’t expect to do a perfect job all the time. Just get back up and learn from those mistakes so that you are better prepared next time.”

Though he has changed jobs, roles, and geographic states, Roller emphasizes the importance of moving on, but not forgetting. “The key is to keep things fresh, never burn bridges, and know when to move on,” he says. 

Roller himself kept working with UConn professors and facilities after leaving. “I continued to collaborate with UConn Professor Radenka Maric and Emeritus Professor Barry Carter, Brookhaven National Labs, and former UConn Professor Bill Mustain for some time after graduating. Having access to some top-notch microscopes was like my version of having a luxury car. I enjoyed helping out their graduate students while also satisfying my own intellectual curiosity,” he says. 

Reflecting on his own experience, Roller advises current MSE graduate students to network with each other, reach out to previous students, get involved in projects that have a direct industry linkage, and leverage the contacts that your advisor shares. “Don’t be afraid to try something new even if it’s not in your focus area. Finally, go out in the world with a positive attitude and have fun,” he says. 

Author: Laurencin is Only US Professor Chosen as Royal Academy Fellow

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Laurencin is Only US Professor Chosen as Royal Academy Fellow


Author: MSE Welcomes Administrative Services Assistant Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore, MSE administrative program support
(Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering extends a warm welcome to new staff member Sarah Moore, who takes over as the administrative program support for MSE.

Sarah joins the department with a strong background in administrative and customer services to local businesses and international companies.

She is married to John David Moore, a supervisor at G. Donovan Associates and is mother to a teenage son and daughter. If she is not at work, she likes to spend time with family and friends. She enjoys spending time at the pool or beach, walking her dogs, and camping.

Please join the department in welcoming Sarah!

Author: A Tribute in Memory of John Eric Morral

MSE Emeritus and former department head John Eric Morral

To the MSE community,

John Eric Morral, prior MSE department head as we made the important step to add an undergraduate degree in 2003, passed away earlier this past year. He became a fellow of ASM International in 1995, was awarded the Gibbs Phase Equilibria Award in 2017, and for many years edited the Journal of Phase Diagrams and Diffusion. Professor Pamir Alpay, Associate Dean, notes “John was an excellent researcher and a great mentor. We will all miss him.” Professor Mark Aindow, Executive Director for Innovation External Engagement, and Industry Relations, recalls “John was truly a gentleman and a scholar. Although he was very modest about his achievements, his contributions to the field of metallurgical thermodynamics were seminal. His work on complex diffusion problems and phase diagrams in particular received international recognition.”

There will be a memorial service at the Schoedinger Funeral Service Northwest facility in Columbus Ohio on July 30. There is also a website with his obituary and a “tribute wall” for those who wish to learn more, or to leave a memory for his wife Dot and extended family and friends to enjoy.

While John and Dot do not have one favorite charity, they regularly supported both The Cancer Society and Habitat for Humanity. If you wish to make a donation in his memory to UConn MSE in recognition of his profound influence on our program and alumni, please do so via the UConn Foundation. We recommend giving to the MSE unrestricted fund, in memory or honor of John, upon which proceeds will explicitly go towards advancing materials science through student scholarships and a special guest lecture in his name.

Terry Hennesy, PhD student with John and later an adjunct faculty member for our department, remembers “John was the smartest, wisest man I ever knew, and one of the few people I actually wanted to emulate.  Although I could never approach his prowess in theoretical physical metallurgy, I tried to adopt his gentle, encouraging teaching style, his willingness to embrace changing technology, his friendly acceptance of newcomers, his open-minded curiosity about subjects beyond metallurgy, and his stubborn commitment to his principles.” Hal Brody, distinguished professor, summarizes, “we were lucky to have worked and studied with John.”

Author: NAACP to Present Prestigious Spingarn Medal to UConn’s Dr. Cato T. Laurencin at 112th Annual Convention

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NAACP to Present Prestigious Spingarn Medal to UConn’s Dr. Cato T. Laurencin at 112th Annual Convention


Author: University of Connecticut solar tree will offer campus visitors a place to recharge

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University of Connecticut solar tree will offer campus visitors a place to recharge


Author: MSE Alumnus Leads Quality in Rolling at the World’s Largest Aluminum Rolling Mill

By Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of photo of MSE alumnus Dr. Maddala, Lead Rolling Metallurgical Engineer, Arconic Davenport Works

MSE alumnus Dr. Dharma Maddala, Lead Rolling Metallurgical Engineer, Arconic Davenport Works

While working on his doctorate, Dr. Maddala had been inspired by his advisor, Professor Rainer Herbert, to continue research after obtaining his PhD. “Professor Hebert always mentioned the importance of translating fundamental research into applied research and real-world problem solving” he said. His doctoral dissertation focused on “Pathways to improve the sliding wear behavior of bulk metallic glasses: A case study of Cu- and Fe- based bulk metallic glasses”. This work focused on optimizing the microstructure by thermal treatments, in order to grow a controlled number and size of nanocrystals in the amorphous matrix and/or adding suitable alloying elements to improve the wear behavior. This introduced him to the field of Tribology, which he works with even today.

After graduation at UConn, he took a role as a Senior Scientist at the Alcoa Technical Center in the Tribology and Surface Science group supporting process improvements in rolling. “This job opportunity was possible due to the connection that Professor Brody provided. That is the value of having strong industry connections. The UConn MSE program does a great job in establishing those industrial relationships” he said. His role at Alcoa Technical Center was initially an extension of what he researched at UConn, so his education provided a jumpstart to his career. It provided him with a good understanding of tribology, and especially structure-property-processing relationships. But in addition to his fundamental knowledge, the emphasis on real-world applications was critical as he established himself in industry.

His work at Arconic Technology Center (previously Alcoa Technical Center) resulted in numerous internal publications, 7 trade secrets, and 4 patents. After almost seven years in the research center, Dr. Maddala decided to move to manufacturing. “At the tech center, we worked on great projects, but the success rate of commercialization was low. I wanted to understand what is critical for manufacturability. To get that experience and take the learnings back to R&D I moved to a manufacturing role. Happily, I had strong support from the leadership to make this career move” he stated.

Dharma’s current role at Arconic Davenport Works, as the Lead Rolling Metallurgical Engineer, supports quality across the entire rolling department. His team helps develop and optimize process parameters to manufacture product on a commercial scale, serving customers in aerospace, automotive, and industrial markets. Experience in R&D, manufacturing, and operations has furthered his career greatly. Dr. Maddala is now pursing an MBA with certifications in Leadership and Business Analytics at the University of Iowa with sponsorship from Arconic. This is providing more in-depth business knowledge, which will assist him with his goal of becoming an executive at the Arconic Corporation for Technology Development and Commercialization.

From graduation to his current role at Arconic, Dr. Maddala is grateful for the UConn MSE department in helping him get established in the industry. “It is so important to have a good professional network. UConn’s Materials Advantage club, and participation in other professional society activities, helps establish that platform” he stated. Following his UConn graduation and moving to Pittsburgh, he immediately joined the local ASM chapter as a volunteer. Very quickly he took on several leadership roles, ultimately as the chair for one of the largest chapters of ASM international. This experience helped him further develop his leadership skills, and brough him recognition with two prestigious awards from ASM International (Emerging professional achievement award in 2015, and Bronze Medal in 2019).

“MSE is proud of Dr. Maddala, as we are of so many of our alumni, as they continue to rise in their professions and contribute to their professional societies,” relates Department Head Bryan Huey. “While our undergraduate program is a little over 15 years old, UConn has been training masters and PhD materials engineers for more than 50 years. Dharma is a terrific example of what is possible for our students and the impact they can make as graduates.

Author: Graduate Student Contributes to Innovation in the Aircraft Industry

photo of MSE Graduate student Ummay Habiba at Additive Manufacturing Center (AMC) lab

MSE Graduate student Ummay Habiba at Additive Manufacturing Center (AMC) lab

By: Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant

Habiba always had a fascination about experimental and laboratory-based research work. Her attraction to research started during her graduate studies in her home country, Bangladesh, which focused on ferromagnetic materials for cancer treatments and for ecofriendly refrigeration systems. While conducting this research, she realized that the impacts of materials scientists in our society are not confined just to engineering, but actually in every sector of life either directly or indirectly. This influenced Ummay in pursuing a career in materials science and engineering (MSE).

Habiba earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in applied physics, electronics and communication engineering at the University of Chittagong, Bangladesh. As her research drew her interests towards materials science and engineering, she decided to continue her education at the UConn MSE department. She had also been attracted by the department’s large pool of talented faculties and the state-of-the-art research opportunities. Although Habiba entered the PhD program with a non-materials science background, she felt that the core courses were structured appropriately for students like herself. “The comprehensive nature of these core MSE courses helped me well in settling in to MSE based research,” she said.

Habiba’s current work is exploring the application of additive manufacturing in the aircraft industry. Working under the supervision of Professor Rainer Hebert, she especially focuses on the surface and thermal properties of powder using the ESI Additive Manufacturing system. This is a prototyping software which simulates a product’s behavior during testing, manufacturing and real-life use. Powder spreading in particular is a crucial part of the additive manufacturing process, which if implemented well can diminish the weight and cost of various aerospace components and hence can strongly impact the industry.

Habiba shares that, “I have an 8-month-old boy. There is a myth for women that they have to choose between PhD degree and a family. Many people think that if they want a family, they do not have what it takes to be a successful researcher. This simply is not the case. There are many women and men who are both devoted parents and partners, and also highly successful researchers.”

Habiba’s career goal is to do something significant and revolutionary for the aircraft industry through her current research. In addition to the inspiration which comes from her research topic, and the broader support from UConn’s MSE department, she appreciates the expert guidance from her advisor Professor Herbert. “I am very fortunate to get the opportunity to work with a very supportive and professional supervisor, who has provided us a very positive work environment with strong connections to industry” she said. “I absolutely love what I do, and I am lucky to be able to work on what I love.”

Author: Parachutist Shatters State Record At Ellington Airport

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Author: MSE Graduate Student and Army Soldier Facilitates Mass Vaccination Site

photo of Fazzino Group at Covid Site

Healthcare workers and military personnel at Middletown mass vaccination site

By Gabby Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

As much of Connecticut becomes vaccinated against the coronavirus, many of the mass vaccination sites are handled by not just healthcare workers but also military personnel. Materials Science and Engineering graduate student Michael Fazzino is one of the soldiers who ensures the safety and efficacy of the Middletown mass vaccination site.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2019 from UConn MSE, Fazzino took a semester off to undergo military training before he would continue as both a member of the armed services and a UConn MSE graduate student this past winter.

Though this was a progression in both his academic and military careers, managing the two roles was nothing new to Fazzino. He had been managing higher education and a role in the army since he began both in the fall of 2015. He started the latter as a member of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps or ROTC.

This decision may seem overwhelming to some, but Fazzino was driven by an important influence. “My uncle was the main reason I joined the Army, as he is a veteran and a large influence on my life,” he says. 

Quickly, Fazzino was thrown into both graduate research and his work for the military. “I got orders the first week of February to assist with the vaccinations in Connecticut, and our Middletown Wesleyan mass vaccination site opened about a week after that,” he says.

Fazzino then assumed his role as ‘Officer in Charge’ or OIC by day, and graduate researcher by night. “On an average day I will spend most of my time at the vaccination site, and I do what I can when I get home,” he says. He is responsible for managing all of the soldiers at the site. “I act as a bridge between the soldiers and civilians, and as a point of contact at the site for other military personnel,” he says.

As an MSE graduate student, Fazzino has been focused on an Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) project with Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s research group collaborating with the Additive Manufacturing and Materials Data for Manufacturingteam.

Fazzino’s main research project involves simulating various aspects of additive manufacturing processes with Discrete Element Method (DEM) software. This is in partnership with Professor Rainer Hebert’s research group. Simultaneously, he is involved in activities for the Metal Casting Group under the guidance of Professor Harold Brody.

“I am very impressed by Mike’s dedication to his duties both as a grad student and an Army officer, as well as his eagerness to learn as much as possible from MSE faculty and peers,” Nakhmanson says. According to Nakhmanson, though he appreciates Michael’s service, he hopes he will return as a full time student once his duties are complete.


Author: MSE Alumnus Tackles Aerospace Industry Issues With Aero Gear in AFRL and UConn Collaboration

By Gabby Esposito. Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of Patrick Brueckner

MSE Alumnus Patrick Brueckner (B.S. 2013), Materials Engineering Manager at Aero Gear

When your car breaks down, one typically pulls to the side of the road and the day might be ruined. However, a plane does not have this option. “We have a saying that ‘there is no breakdown lane at 30,000 ft,’” Aero Gear engineer Patrick Brueckner says.

Brueckner graduated from UConn Materials Science and Engineering in 2013 and has since worked at Aero Gear, an aerospace engineering and manufacturing company based in Windsor, Connecticut. As a materials engineering manager with the company, Brueckner oversees much of the crucial work done to ensure air travel’s safety and success. “Our gears are flying all over the world in different applications in helicopters, fighter jets, and commercial planes. An engine is set up in such a way that if one of our gears fails the engine loses power. So, we take our job really seriously to make sure those parts never fail,” he says.

While the significant impact of the company can be simply conveyed, the complex work that Brueckner encounters every day is harder to appreciate. According to Brueckner, his confidence took a hit when he first joined the company because of this. “When you leave school you don’t know what you don’t know, so you can get humbled really quickly,” he says.

Ironically, what got Brueckner hired was his familiarity with a specific technology with which Aero Gear was not experienced. In fact, he brought an entirely new background as the first materials science engineer hired by the company.

When he joined Aero Gear in 2013, the company was interested in using a new carburizing machine. Through carburizing, gears are made harder and more wear resistant. The old way of carburizing was through an ambient atmosphere furnace while the new system employed a vacuum furnace. Brueckner says he did not have much experience with the vacuum furnace, but his experience as an MSE graduate was considered valuable in helping the company understand processing with the new machine.

Since then, he has gone from an engineer developing processes for the new vacuum furnace to managing the engineers and operators who work on the furnace. He also manages their metallurgical lab.

The progress he has made is even more impressive given his background. Up until his sophomore year at UConn, Brueckner was unsure of what he wanted to do and was leaning towards a business degree. According to Brueckner, it was when his parents showed him an MSE article that he thought, “this is cool” and the decision was made.

Brueckner quickly immersed himself into UConn MSE joining Professor Pamir Alpay’s research group and working with Professor Harold Brody on castings. “Both had a huge and lasting impact,” Brueckner says.

Less than two years after joining the major, Brueckner had the confidence to travel abroad to continue his undergraduate research there. Having been born in Germany (moving to the U.S. when he was eight), it made sense that he go back to his roots. In 2011, he worked as a research assistant with Lifetex Safety in Germany, a company that produces technologically sophisticated protective clothing for a wide range of applications.

Though the material he learned during his internship is not related to what he does now, Brueckner says the experience was valuable and is something he recommends for all MSE students. “It is definitely a good life experience. You must be open minded. People around the world approach problems differently. and seeing how someone else approaches a problem may help you in the future,” he says.

Aside from studying abroad, Brueckner recommends students take the time to immerse themselves in activities outside of MSE. Having played soccer all his life, he found time to continue his hobby throughout and after college as a referee and coach in his free time. According to him, doing so can be extremely tough in college especially for MSE majors.

However, it is also very important. “Keep in mind that you have to be a well rounded person. Half of your job in industry is interacting with people. You could be book smart but if you don’t know how to interact with the boss or coworkers then you won’t really get anywhere. So, soccer and other hobbies or extracurriculars help you develop those skills,” he says.

His confidence in MSE has solidified since college and become his guide through extremely complex projects. “Some of the parts are hilariously complicated,” Brueckner says. “You go from this problem that seemed insurmountable–like there is no way you can figure out how to make it to the point where we could get to full production mode–and we are one of the main suppliers for some of these parts. I think that is one of the coolest aspects of the work I get to do.”

Brueckner recalls one of his toughest experiences in which Aero Gear was hired by a company to work on creating a particular part. “We found a way to manufacture it that the company didn’t even know was possible. Aero Gear made it and it was such a shock to the company that they actually ended up changing the blueprint for us,” he says.

Currently, many of the projects he is involved with at Aero Gear have been in collaboration with UConn and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). ‘Project Daedalus’ is an expansive effort by UConn and the AFRL to build relationships with small and large Connecticut businesses in the aerospace industry to tackle bigger industry challenges. The project also hopes to educate and foster interest in these issues among Connecticut students.

According to Brueckner, within Project Daedalus, Aero Gear has focused on gauging the impact of stress during manufacturing on how a gear performs. This is mostly being done through simulations, according to Brueckner. “This is a significant problem as determining and overcoming the impact of residual stress is a time and cost-intensive process,”UConn Today says in an article about the project.

Author: Jumping for a Cause | Skydiver hopes to Break State Record to Raise Funds for Local Fire Department

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Author: MSE Seniors Redesign Alloy Casting of Senior Souvenir


photo of Marin Bolko  and Megan Hurley in pouring gear

Marin Bolko (left) and Megan Hurley (right)

By Gabby Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

During their final semester as UConn, Megan Hurley and Marin Bolko decided to do something different for the final project they would do as undergraduates. Due to COVID-19, their final year was anything but normal and nothing UConn had experienced before, so the mission to redesign the traditional senior souvenir was a fitting project.

The classic souvenir is a brick casting which reads ‘UCONN.’ Hurley and Bolko decided that they wanted to transform this version into a sand casted brick which would instead read ‘UCONN MSE ‘21.’ This brick would be handed out to all MSE graduating seniors.

Hurley and Bolko had taken Professor Harold Brody’s Alloy Casting course the year prior which was when the project commenced. At the time, Brody had suggested a project to Hurley and Bolko which would involve comparing sand casting to investment casting of the souvenirs based on quality of the cast and efficiency of production.

The project, like the bricks before sanding, was not a smooth process. Difficulties began not long after the project’s idea came to light, when the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the process. According to Bolko, the bricks were supposed to be for the MSE graduating class of 2020. Unable to continue the necessary in-person work, Hurley and Bolko put the project on hold.

However, instead of letting the project completely end, Hurley and Bolko picked up their work for the 2021 seniors; the class that they would also be graduating alongside.

Aside from the pandemic, Bolko and Hurley admit they confronted other obstacles throughout the project’s process. The design went through three iterations before the final design was successfully tested and put into production.

Despite any difficulties, the project became a success and the moments of frustration left Bolko and Hurley with more experience. “Things won’t go the way you planned, expect something to go wrong the first time you do something new,” the two wrote in their project summary.

They finished making plaques just in time for the School of Engineering commencement ceremony. The souvenir plaques could not be distributed in the typical way to MSE graduates in Rentschler Field because of pandemic health precautions. Instead, graduates drove to a nearby parking lot near the field before the ceremony where Hurley, Professor Brody, and MSE Department Head Professor Bryan Huey waited to distribute plaques and to congratulate the 2021 MSE graduates.

Ultimately, the impact of the project will last beyond the brick itself. “Marin and Megan set what I expect to be a tradition for MSE majors: to design, fabricate, and distribute UConn-MSE plaques to the graduating class. We can expect each graduating class will improve on the prior year’s design; and like Megan and Marin they will learn that making things is fun and that manufacturing is both art and science,” Brody says.

This coming fall (with souvenirs in hand), Hurley will be entering the PhD program in MSE at the University of Florida and Bolko will be joining Haartz Corporation in Acton, Mass. as a Process Engineer.

Author: MSE Alumnus and Current GE Engineer Returns Virtually to UConn Through MEng Program

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of James Kos

MSE alumnus James Kos

In spring of 2015, James Kos was an MSE senior participating in the UConn Spring Career Fair. According to him, he never would have expected that by the end of the day he would have an offer letter from General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Six years later Kos is no longer a senior in college but instead a Materials Application Engineer in the R&D division of General Electric Aviation in Cincinnati. He has also recently received his Masters Degree through the UConn Masters in Engineering (MEng) program; a graduate engineering program often preferred by professionals who are already employed.

In between his current successes and those six years ago, Kos has enjoyed four different roles within General Dynamics Electric Boat and General Electric Aviation. While some might view his job switches in a negative light, Kos does not see it that way. “There’s an impression that jumping between roles is bad for your career, but I found it was quite the opposite. The cross training and connections have helped propel my career trajectory,” he says.

The necessity to adjust to a new environment and colleagues when switching roles can be unattractive to some. Moreover, being challenged with the discomfort of the unknown is an experience most tend to shy away from. To Kos, however, discomfort and the unfamiliar are to be embraced. “I would actually suggest deliberately seeking out roles and tasks you are uncomfortable with, it forces you to learn and grow.”

Kos may not have given the same advice a couple years ago; this mindset and his confidence have developed with each job experience. “I’ve become less concerned about appearing ‘smart’ to my peers and trying to give answers to people right away. Learning how to say ‘I’m not sure, but I’ll get back to you’ without feeling guilty, even when I’m 90% sure, took some time. I learned that you aren’t judged or punished for doing that, and it is in fact encouraged to go take the time to double check and maybe get a 2nd opinion,” he says.

Working in teams in the MSE department, students are typically with others who have relatively similar academic skills and interests. Kos says this is not the case in his current job where he often works in teams where the others have very different skills, interest, and roles. “Being a materials representative on design projects—sometimes the only one—really pushed me to learn how to work in multidisciplinary teams. This taught me the importance of self-study, as well as knowing when to seek out help from other materials engineers and mentors,” he says.

In his current role as a GE Aviation Materials Application Engineer, his two major responsibilities involve performing materials development (i.e. design of experiments, testing, failure analysis, and characterization), and acting as a bridge between research projects and the design teams.

Kos is most excited by the work he does on additive manufacturing or 3D printing for metallic components. “It may seem strange but the most exciting thing to me is how far the technology has left to go,” he says. According to Kos, getting to be a part of the future of materials and knowing where and what they will be used for is one of the best aspects of his job. “I get to look at a GE engine and know what my part was in its design. It makes it very real and satisfying,” Kos says.

With his success in the engineering workforce, Kos sees any opportunity to further his education as valuable. Many see advanced degrees as further stepping stones to a different job or higher level management. But for Kos, his choice to pursue a masters was purely for the sake of learning itself.

“Continuing education is incredibly important,” Kos says. According to James, moving on from college does not mean a person will stop being a student. Being confronted with new skills and tasks everyday is a part of any job. Opportunities to further oneself should be valued and not dismissed.

The chance to do so through formal higher education was even more appealing to Kos given the job benefits available to him at the time. Tuition reimbursement is something James recommends students look for when seeking employment.

The UConn MEng program became the perfect fit as it gave James the opportunity to pursue his degree online and at his own pace. According to Kos, it was helpful to be able to tune in to classes online, or asynchronously if he had a work conflict. Additionally, he says, the MEng program has a lot of flexibility, and the core classes are professionally very valuable.

“I would highly suggest the program, it was incredibly helpful both technically and intellectually. It also allows you to take classes and develop skills for the job you want, not the job you currently have,” Kos says. According to him, the program is to thank for his success in his current job.

“My time as a MEng student at UConn was a fantastic ride, and really helped advance me professionally and personally. I learned a lot of new skills, learned from fantastic professors and had an all-around great experience,” he says. 

Author: MSE PhD Student Reflects on Industry Internship Across the World

By Gabby Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

(Left to right) Hiroyuki Kondo, Keigo Suzuki, and Thomas Moran. Kondo worked with Moran on the vacuum AFM system while Suzuki was Moran’s host.

(Left to right) Hiroyuki Kondo, Keigo Suzuki, and Thomas Moran. Kondo worked with Moran on the vacuum AFM system while Suzuki was Moran’s host.

During his graduate research, Materials Science and Engineering PhD student Thomas Moran stepped out of his comfort zone and into the eastern hemisphere when he decided to pursue professional industry experience in Japan. With the help of his advisor, Department Head Bryan Huey, Moran was able to join the Japanese electronics manufacturer Murata as a Research and Development Intern.

Moran received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Union College in 2016. He realized his interest in materials science during this time. “I got involved in undergraduate research that dealt with materials, and by the time the research was ramping up, I took a Junior-level materials science course and from there I was hooked,” he says. He ended up pursuing a self-designed interdisciplinary minor which enabled him to focus his research on solar cell materials using atomic force microscopy (AFM).

Moran enjoyed his studies related to materials science so much that he decided graduate school was the next step. “I was pretty sure I wanted to pursue MSE, but while I had some research experience, I didn’t have a whole lot of coursework past the basics,” Moran says.

In 2016, he chose to officially continue his education at UConn. “I liked the industry connections, and the focus I saw being put on the MSE program,” he says. “I met Bryan on my accepted students’ visit, and with the combination of shared research interests and my experience with AFM as an undergrad, joining his group was a natural next step,” Moran said. 

Since joining the group, Moran has been led by Huey with what he calls a perfect balance between a hands-on and hands-off approach. “He has found a way to be actively involved while not overbearing, and affords us the freedom to conduct lab operations as we see fit so long as we continue to produce results,” Moran says. Through his mentorship style and every other impact, Moran says that he considers himself very lucky to have found his way into his lab. 

According to Moran, some of the most exciting work he has done in Huey’s group has been an ongoing project related to the development of a technique called Tomographic Atomic Force Microscopy (T-AFM). AFM is classically a surface-only technique where a sharp AFM tip touches the sample’s surface to measure nanoscale topography and properties. However, with T-AFM, Moran says it can be extended into the 3rd dimension. It works by using the AFM tip to not only measure properties, but also to simultaneously dig away material. Over time, the subsurface features of the sample are exposed, and the dataset produced during the milling process is used to reconstruct through-thickness properties that are important to the functionality of nanoscale materials.

Using this method, Moran has been able to successfully perform analyses of a number of systems as part of collaborations with several companies and academic institutions. “By doing so, I like to think that I’ve done my part in furthering the reach and standing of UConn MSE and spreading the word about this exciting new technique,” he says.

Aside from this, the ultimate impact could change the nature of modern electronics. “Every cell phone has some 1,000+ capacitors inside it, and every year trillions of these components are made for the electronics we’ve all come to rely on. The number of components on each electronic device continues to multiply as technology advances, and this necessitates a miniaturization of materials into the nanoscale,” Moran says. According to him, this has been a major focus for industry and academia alike, and his research, analyzing phenomena that occur only at extreme scales, is a part of these efforts. 

Though this research has been for Huey’s own lab, arguably the most significant opportunity that Huey catalyzed for Moran was his internship with Murata. Moran had already been collaborating with the company, who both funded the research and provided extensive guidance through their dielectric materials development team. It was Huey who influenced Moran to inquire about an internship. “My plan following graduation from UConn has always been to move to industry, and so when I expressed my interest in finding an internship to gain some industry experience, Bryan suggested we ask Murata,” Moran says.

Professor Huey notes, “I personally have had several incredible experiences working with industry, in internships, and in short-term positions abroad, so I and really all my colleagues in MSE try to facilitate similar opportunities whenever possible. This one really came about because of Tom’s hard work, independence, and the professional relationship he had established with our partners at Murata over the preceding few years of joint research. Tom repeatedly impressed them with his insight and hard work, and was a wonderful host when they visited our labs, so it was no surprise that they welcomed him for an extended stay. He came home having learned a great deal and made important contributions as well, both scientifically and personally.”

The work with Murata in Japan was related to their joint project at UConn. “I worked primarily with my colleague Hiroyuki Kondo, using a high vacuum AFM system to study charge injection and dissipation phenomena and compare it to behavior observed at UConn in ambient or inert atmospheres,” Moran says.

According to Moran, he also gained experience with new areas of research learning about the synthesis of the materials, including producing samples himself. “I found this really valuable, as most of the work we do in the Huey group involves studying incredible materials and devices from elsewhere in the world, rather than us producing the materials,” he says.

Aside from the different nature of his research, Moran also was exposed to a new work environment. “It was interesting to see the differences between professional life in the USA and in Japan,” he says. According to him, everyone who works there wears a uniform and there is a much more structured work schedule. Despite being out of his comfort zone in this new environment, Moran says he quickly adapted thanks to his hosts and coworkers. Moran particularly remembers great experiences at restaurants and rock-climbing. “I never felt too overwhelmed, even in such a different environment traveling alone for the first time, and this is no doubt mostly due to my fantastic hosts. Regardless, I feel that I’ve grown in my ability to communicate, and I hope to bring this with me to whatever comes next,” he says.

In particular, Moran spent a lot of time working closely with Dr. Keigo Suzuki, another member of the materials science team and the lead at Murata for the joint work with UConn. Suzuki became someone he also spent time with outside of the lab. According to Moran, his favorite experience in Japan was a trip he took with Suzuki and his family to Aichi prefecture. “After seeing a Japanese baseball game, we went to Keigo’s parents’ house, a traditional Japanese home, where we ate an amazing homemade meal, and brainstormed with his parents and kids how to write my name in Japanese characters,” he says. Later, Suzuki’s father painted the characters in calligraphy, Moran’s most treasured gift from the entire experience. 

Though the trip only lasted a few months, the experiences, relationships, and growth that came with them will last Moran a lifetime. “It can be tough to be away from your comfort zone, but take the opportunity to embrace it,” he says.

One of the lasting impacts of his trip materialized in March when Moran’s first first-author research paper was published in the Journal of American Ceramic Society, presenting some of his work with Keigo Suzuki and Murata.

To those who decide to step out of their comfort zone and into an internship, even in another country, Moran suggests learning as much about that local culture as possible—including the language. “People love to talk about their culture and if you express a genuine interest then you can get along with most anyone,” he says. “While I picked up enough phrases to manage on my own in town, Google translate is a truly great invention.”

Author: Professor Dongare Discusses Developments as part of ‘CREDDS’ and the UTC Professorship

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of photo of Avinash Dongare

Associate Professor Avinash Dongare, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Professor Avinash Dongare joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at the University of Connecticut in 2012, almost a decade ago. Over these years, he has transitioned from an Assistant to an Associate Professor, been appointed to prestigious positions, expanded his research group, and collaborated with various institutions and organizations. Dongare has witnessed many changes in this past decade as part of the growth of the MSE Department. “MSE was a program in a joint department when I joined in 2012. Within a few months, the MSE department formed and has been accelerating ever since. Unfortunately, so did my receding hairline,” reflects Avinash.

Notably, the department has grown in the number of faculty, adding to the research diversity in materials at UConn. Dongare mentions that the MSE Department is “a young and dynamic department that provides creative and novel research platforms to many researchers, students and collaborators across the country. This growth reflects the excellent leadership and guidance of Professor Pamir Alpay, previous Department Head; Professor Bryan Huey, the current Department Head; Professor Steven Suib, the Director of the Institute of Materials Science; and Dean Kazem Kazerounian of the School of Engineering. Of course, the contributions of the staff and the students of the department form the foundations of the success.”

Over the years, Dongare’s innovative research has received recognition nationwide. He has expanded his research portfolio, increased the number of members of this research team, and taken new leadership roles. After receiving his tenure and being promoted to Associate Professor in 2018, Dongare’s recent success story includes the Center for Research Excellence on Dynamically Deformed Solids (CREDDS) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA). CREDDS is one of four new Centers of Excellence at universities across the nation and received 12.5 million dollars over five years. Dongare serves as one of the four principal investigators as UConn partners with Texas A & M University (lead), University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“Our focus at UConn is to understand the role of interfaces in structural multiphase metallic materials when subjected to extremes of shock and high strain rate deformation,” Dongare says.  This development aims to revolutionize such materials, fabricated using advanced manufacturing methods. “Computational methods which can explore the phase space of materials and their responses in extreme environments allow us to run numerous virtual experiments at a fraction of the cost, letting us especially focus on new materials development and design,” Dongare adds.

photo of Dongare's Research Group

The Computational Materials and Mechanics Group (CMMG). Back: Marco Echeverria, Avanish Mishra, Sumit Suresh, and Professor Avinash Dongare. Front: Ching Chen, Shayani Parida, Sergey Galitskiy, and Ke Ma

CREDDS research has led to several new developments in Dongare’s research group, the “Computational Materials and Mechanics Group” (CMMG).  Postdoctoral researcher Avanish Mishra and graduate student Marco Echeverria are the researchers from his team involved in CREDDS. They run virtual experiments of shock deformation of metallic materials and use simulated diffraction patterns and misorientation maps to characterize defect structures equivalent to experimental measurements. Such atomic-scale simulations, and the virtually generated diffractograms and maps, complement the interpretation of experimental in situ characterization of deformation modes (slip, twinning, phase transformation) under shock loading conditions performed by CREDDS collaborators and scientists at several Department of Energy national labs. “This ability to compare the results of our simulations with experiments, for the same microstructures and under identical extreme conditions, is critical for the validation of the computational methods that exist today to guide the experiments of tomorrow,” Dongare mentions.

Also in 2018, the School of Engineering named Dongare as the United Technologies Corporation (UTC) Professor in Engineering Innovation. The professorship was established in 2000 to recognize exceptional achievements among young faculty exemplifying excellence in the impact of their research, teaching, and service contributions. This professorship provides a three-year funding award for professional development and growth. “The UTC professorship has enabled me to add certain flavors of research to my group over the past couple of years,” Dongare says. The funding award sponsored a Senior Design Project that used machine learning methods to identify layered materials for battery applications. The students ultimately won the 1st prize in the 2018-2019 Senior Design Competition. Continuing this research direction, graduate student Shayani Parida is currently working on a machine learning model to discover and design new layered materials for battery technologies. 

Dongare’s research group especially focuses on developing modeling capabilities that can be compared with those of experimental collaborators at UConn and nationwide. This often requires modeling the behavior of materials at the mesoscale, such as the quasi-coarse-grained dynamics (QCGD) developed by Dongare. Graduate students Garvit Agarwal, Sergey Galitskiy, Ke Ma, Sumit Suresh, and Ching Chen used the QCGD simulation method to understand material responses during shock deformation, laser-material interactions, and cold-spray deposition, all at the length and time scales of real-world experiments. Dongare emphasizes the need for collaborations with researchers nationwide and especially at the national labs as a career development opportunity for the students. Dongare says, “We have active collaborations with several research groups in academia and at the US national labs. These collaborations have evolved over time and provide students excellent opportunities to publish with scientists and engineers from across the country. I try to make sure every member of my group gets such an experience, ideally as a summer intern or a visiting researcher at the labs. This helps give them exposure to opportunities for the future.”

As to the pandemic crisis, Dongare mentions that it brought some unanticipated challenges but also opportunities. For example, throughout his career Dongare embraced traditional classroom teaching—he enjoys deriving thermodynamic equations on the board, and more recently with an iPad. Department head Bryan Huey notes that he regularly hears compliments about Avinash’ classes from undergraduate and graduate students, whether it be core classes like thermodynamics or more focused electives on modelling or mechanical properties.

Over this past year, Dongare ‘flipped’ his classes as part of the necessary transition to virtual teaching starting last March. Students watch recorded lectures in advance of class sessions, so that the time ‘together’ can be spent actively discussing course topics and problems instead. This helps to leverage the online format and encourage student discussion and participation. Interactions with his group have also had to shift. “While we interact virtually all the time, the inability to be in the lab together or visit collaborators is difficult. Especially as a mostly-modelling group, though, we’re more used to it and it’s not really slowing down my hard-working students,” Dongare shares.

Looking ahead, the future is bright to Associate Professor Dongare. The MSE Department and the Institute of Materials Science have become a home. The growth in research capabilities and the research over the past decade have been especially exciting. Dongare reflects, “In my heart, I feel like I joined UConn just yesterday. However, when I see myself in the mirror and see the completely receded hairline, I realize a lot has changed. And while there is always a challenge related to establishing new directions, the interactions with my colleagues in MSE and IMS encourage me and help me every day. There is also an unparalleled sense of satisfaction in seeing my students graduating with a Ph.D. and being successful in their own careers.”

Author: National Academy of Sciences Elects Two More UConn Scientists

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National Academy of Sciences Elects Two More UConn Scientists


Author: UConn’s STEAM Team: Solar Trees and the Power of Community

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