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.

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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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Author: MSE Graduate Student Inspired by Interdisciplinary Research to Pursue Entrepreneurship

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of Moe Daeipour

MSE graduate student Moe Daeipour

When Moe Daeipour was in high school, he witnessed something life-changing— a liquid-nitrogen frozen marshmallow. While this may sound insignificant to some, it was the catalyst for Daeipour’s career in materials science and engineering. “I had never heard of material science prior, but the experience was cool enough that I decided to pursue a degree in MSE,” he says.

Fast forward several years and Moe is working on a graduate degree with the goal of soon starting his own company.

In 2017, Daeipour graduated with his bachelor’s degree from UConn MSE and made the decision to stay for his graduate studies. It was during this time that he began working with Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s Research Lab. “What initially caught my interest was that his group members were publishing some really cool papers and clearly developing skills that allowed them to computationally investigate complex material systems at different length scales,” he says.

However, Nakhmanson is not the only advisor Daeipour gets to work with. He also performs casting and solidification research with Professor Hal Brody, in the Institute of Materials Science (IMS) experimental foundry. “Not many students have the benefit of working with two main advisors; some may even consider it a curse, but I see it as an opportunity to learn from two very skilled individuals,” he says.

Part of the challenge and excitement posed when one has two advisors is undertaking two different research projects. Currently, Daeipour is working on a project related to the thermomechanical and thermoelectric behavior of polycrystalline ceramics with Nakhmanson.

“It is difficult enough to develop competence and become a leader in one specific area of research. Moe is doing that in two areas simultaneously – experimental metallurgy and computational materials science – which is a huge undertaking,” Nakhmanson says.

Aside from Nakhmanson, a lot of Daeipour’s interdisciplinary research has been inspired by his work with Brody on casting. “The experience working in the lab with him during my graduate studies has molded the way I approach engineering design problems and conduct experimental research,” he says about Brody.

Brody confirms that the interdisciplinary work which Daeipour embraces stands out. “He volunteers to be involved in and to lead all aspects of our research group’s activities in outreach to K-12, undergraduate teaching and mentoring, individual research and collaborative research with colleagues and with industry partners,” Brody says.

According to Daeipour, the bulk of his current research is focused on the solidification and design of non-ferrous aerospace castings.  This research is meant to decrease the amount of time engineers need to spend in the laborious design stage for new castings. “Ideally, it will help improve the quality and reliability of non-ferrous casting processes by helping casting designers make iterations virtually, rather than on the manufacturing floor,” he says.

According to Daeipour, the hope is that designers and manufacturers will be able to use this research to reduce scrap rates and energy consumption, ultimately saving the company time and money. “It’s satisfying to think that the experience I’m gaining through my research here at UConn can easily be applied to a variety of different fields and industries,” he says.

According to Daeipour, this is the reason he initially became interested in the MSE field. “Although the fundamental research we do is centered on materials science, we use aspects of mechanical, electrical, computer, civil, and chemical engineering to solve the challenges that we are facing,” he says.

Daeipour’s appreciation for the interdisciplinary applications of his work also connects to his interest in pursuing entrepreneurship–something he has had in mind since his undergraduate years. “Just the idea of starting my own company and being my own boss has always appealed to me.”

This past year, Daeipour says he became better acquainted with the world of entrepreneurship when he participated in Accelerate UConn, UConn’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site. The mission of this program is to kick-start entrepreneurial teams whose technology concepts are likely candidates for commercialization. It provides them with the resources they need to start a company and get an idea out into the market. “I felt it was an excellent experience that opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities worth pursuing,” he says.  

Daeipour says he is still working on his big idea. “My research and education in the department and at UConn have helped give me the design experience, motivation, and confidence to actually come up with an idea and apply it,” he says.

“Moe is taking full advantage of the UConn academic experience,” Brady says. Whether Daeipour recognizes the abundance of opportunities a large state university offers, or it is simply in his nature to exercise many fields of interest at once, Daeipour proves that MSE students need not commit to just one passion.

Author: MSE Alumna Appointed CTO of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of alumna Dr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano, Chief Technology Officer of Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies (CCAT)

Alumna Dr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano, Chief Technology Officer of Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies (CCAT)

Ten years after graduating with her doctorate – and a nearly decade-long career at  Raytheon Technologies (formerly United Technologies Corporation) as an engineer and leadership development program manager – Dr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano has been appointed the Chief Technology Officer of Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies (CCAT).

As CTO and lead principal investigator, Garofano will focus on developing and directing new technology projects and programs in collaboration with CCAT’s partner organizations: primarily federal agencies, national labs and consortiums, universities, global industrial corporations and subject matter experts. 

Garofano began her career as a research scientist at United Technologies Research Center. Much of her career was spent solving technical challenges, providing failure investigation, and developing innovative technologies for the company’s aerospace and building industries. She was a driving force behind utilization of combinatorial high throughput methodology to rapidly execute and assess multivariable design of experiments, focusing on materials informatics approaches, for advanced materials development (including additive manufacturing) and corrosion mitigation.

She has 11 technical publications to her credit, including the Applied Physics Letters, the Journal of Materials Science, the Journal of the American Ceramic Society, and Additive Manufacturing, and holds two U.S. patents.

“I am thrilled to join Ron Angelo and the team at CCAT. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to play an integral role in developing the company’s technical vision, strategic direction and future growth,” Jackie says in a CCAT press release.

Author: MSE Alumna Serves U.S. Air Force as NRC Research Associate

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

Every day at 5 p.m., the national anthem plays base-wide at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. At this moment each day, Tulsi Patel is reminded of her duty to her country as an NRC Research Associate with the United States Air Force. “While I am just a speck in this complex ecosystem, having this higher purpose is what inspires me every day,” she says.

MSE alumna Tulsi Patel, PhD (2018)

Just three years ago, the former chemical engineering undergraduate was in the midst of completing her PhD from Materials Science and Engineering (MSE). It was during this time that Patel says Professor S. Pamir Alpay introduced her to UConn alumnus and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) CTO, Tim Bunning. At that time, Bunning was working as the Chief Scientist of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at AFRL. According to Patel, Bunning invited her out to the laboratory for a visit. Once she was there, she says she immediately knew she wanted to work there. 

Patel now conducts her own Air Force related research as part of the ceramics research team in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. From her time at UConn, her research portfolio has expanded from ferroelectrics and ceramics for energy storage and conversion to structural ceramics and composites. Currently, her main project pertains to the design, fabrication, and characterization of multifunctional ceramic matrix composites. This work is an extension of her prior PhD research on integrated functionalities for metallic aerospace components.

According to Patel, she is looking at different modes of structural health monitoring for various materials systems. “One of the five strategic capabilities, outlined by the U.S. Air Force 2030 Science and Technology Strategy, is global persistent awareness. This technological opportunity asserts the need for powerful sensing capabilities including low-cost sensors integrated on distributed platforms. I hope my work contributes to the efforts tasked by our National Defense Strategy,” she says.

Aside from her main research topic, Patel says she has also contributed to many of the ongoing projects within the ceramics research team. This includes advances with preceramic polymers, and polymer/ceramic nanocomposites.

Fabricating nanocomposites and characterizing them with in-situ SEM mechanical testing and TEM tomography is something that Patel says she never thought she would do. But then again, she also never thought she would live in Ohio. Patel had spent over a decade at UConn and the entirety of her life in Connecticut. She describes the decision to leave this life as a big one because she never imagined herself living outside the Northeast.

However, without the ambition to take this risk, she would not have enjoyed the challenge of so many new experiences. Patel’s ability to face the discomfort of change that came with taking the job could not have been possible without the people and places that came before. “Both Dr. Alpay and Dr. Hebert have had a significant impact on the researcher and person I am today,” she says.

According to Patel, her former advisor Professor Rainer Hebert guided her towards experiences like the NSF fellowship in Korea and AAAS science policy workshop in Washington, D.C. “These experiences have shaped me to be a better engineer and citizen in society,” she says.

Patel says that Professor Alpay is to thank for encouraging her to pursue a PhD. “He pushed me to learn everything from ferroelectric modeling to metal additive manufacturing, and most importantly, how to think outside the box,” she says.

“It has been rewarding for me and Pamir to see Tulsi develop her skills as a scientist and engineer as she succeeds first with a prestigious NRC award and now even more so in the field at a government lab,” Hebert says.

However, her former advisors taught her more than just MSE skills. “Dr. Alpay and Dr. Hebert have taught me the importance of humanity and integrity. They always put their students first and were consistently role models,” she says. She finds these traits increasingly important working in a government laboratory, and necessary to be an effective leader. “They are what I strive to achieve in the years to come. I am just so lucky to have had them as advisors and role models to look up to,” she says.

The new opportunities that her mentors pushed her towards have made her a champion of embracing the unfamiliar. “Be open to new possibilities and take risks,” she says. “Don’t pigeonhole yourself to one job, one location, or one opportunity. There is just so much out there—perhaps a job that you may not know even exists.”

According to Patel, stepping outside of her comfort zone during the past two years at AFRL helped her gain confidence in who she is and what she has the potential to do. “It took me ten years of higher education and a postdoctoral position to finally be able to truly identify myself as an engineer and researcher. I have become confident in my skills, expanding on what I learned in undergrad and grad school, knowing that the sky’s the limit,” she says.

Patel says that she realized this opportunity is not present at all in some parts of the world. “During my graduate studies, I had the privilege to live and travel to other countries, learning firsthand that the boundless opportunities available in the U.S. are very much limited elsewhere,” she says. This recognition adds to the immense gratitude she has for her parents, who emigrated to the United States from India to give her these opportunities.

Author: MSE Undergraduate Student Receives a Research Aide Appointment with Argonne National Laboratory

By: Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant

photo of Samuel Schaefer, MSE senior and research aide at Argonne National Laboratory conducting ground truth labeling for AI recognition of irradiation defects

Samuel Schaefer, MSE senior and research aide at Argonne National Laboratory conducting ground truth labeling for AI recognition of irradiation defects

Samuel Schaefer, working alongside members of MSE Assistant Professor Yuanyuan Zhu’s Electron Microscopy Group, uses transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to study problems of importance to electrical power generation and its impacts on the environment and human health. As part of a collaboration between Dr. Zhu’s research group and staff scientists at the IVEM-Tandem Facility at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Schaefer has been offered a Research Aide Appointment. Using TEM techniques combined with machine learning, his work will focus on improving our understanding of the effects of irradiation on materials used in nuclear reactors. He believes that the different settings for collaboration offered by the position at ANL will provide him with new perspectives on research that will be useful as he moves forward in his career.

Schaefer’s project currently focuses on training a machine-learning algorithm to identify and track defects in irradiated nickel samples. The defects can be imaged in real time at nanometer length scales as they form, move, and disappear utilizing in-situ TEM experiments conducted during a reaction process. His task is to go through consecutive images acquired during the process and annotate the defects observed within them to generate a set of ground truth labels. Other members of the research group will then use these labels to train a program to recognize particular defects in these and other images. Working in collaboration with ANL scientists Dr. Meimei Li and Dr. Wei-Ying Chen, the goal is to improve the current state of understanding of factors controlling the formation of defects in structural materials used in nuclear reactor cores.

Now a fourth-year MSE undergraduate student, Schaefer plans to continue his work on materials for energy applications, and hopes to enter a PhD program next year. He has been passionate about  issues surrounding energy and the environment since he began his undergraduate studies, and this passion attracted him to pursue a degree in MSE. He notes that the numerous opportunities available in MSE for conducting research has enhanced his undergraduate experience. “Doing undergraduate research with Dr. Zhu has helped me further my studies in a laboratory setting” he said. Expressing appreciation for the opportunities provided by his research mentors in MSE and at ANL, his career aspirations have grown, and ultimately, he hopes to pursue a career in energy technology that will benefit people in their everyday lives.

Author: Correlated Solutions Inc. Highlights Professor Frame as ‘Woman In Engineering’

photo of Assistant Professor Lesley Frame

Lesley Frame, MSE Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Materials Processing Data (CMPD)

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

UConn MSE Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Materials Processing Data (CMPD), Lesley Frame, was recently featured by Correlated Solutions Inc. on their Facebook page as a part of their ‘#womeninengineering’ series. Throughout the month of March, the company, a leading supplier of Digital Image Correlation (DIC) measurement systems, is honoring Women’s History Month by highlighting women in engineering who use digital image correlation in their research.

Frame was the third highlighted in the series, for the work she has led on alloy manufacturing and processing-property relationships. Her team’s work involves building realistic models that describe the behavior of materials during manufacturing sequences. Digital image correlation is what allows the Frame research group to capture detailed deformation behavior during thermomechanical processing.

In the post, Frame is quoted offering advice to young women interested in pursuing MSE. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Often, you will learn more from doing something the wrong way, than getting it right the first time. Science and engineering is all about asking questions, and the individuals who do well often share a passion for figuring things out,” she says.

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 research interests include metals processing, manufacturing, corrosion, residual stress, phase transformations, and structure-property-processing relationships.

Author: New Addition to MSE External Advisory Board

photo of Dr. Lei Chen, Associate Director and Discipline Chief of Pratt & Whitney

Dr. Lei Chen, Associate Director and Discipline Chief of Pratt & Whitney

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

UConn alumnus Lei Chen is the newest addition to the MSE External Advisory Board. The Board comprises more than 10 industry and alumni representatives, serving to provide guidance on our curriculum, support strategic initiatives, and enhance the entire department at the university, state, and national level.

Chen graduated from UConn in 2006 with his master’s in chemical engineering. He has also received degrees from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, the University of Utah, and Carnegie Mellon University.

With numerous publications and patents, Chen is a researcher, engineer, and entrepreneur. He currently serves as the Associate Director and Discipline Chief of Pratt & Whitney where he leads teams in Surface Engineering and Process Chemistry. In the past, he worked as Associate Director and Project Manager at UTC Climate and spent almost 15 years as a Principal Investigator for the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC).

Lei’s work in the materials engineering industry has been recognized by an R&D 100 Award, UTRC Outstanding Achievement Award, UTC CCS Bravo Award, and UTC, Collins, P&W and Carrier Patent Awards.

Notes Department Head Huey, “As with all of our External Advisory Board members, we are eager to benefit from his expertise, leadership, and advocacy on behalf of our program and especially our students.”

Author: MSE Assistant Professor Wang Wins ‘DURIP’ Award for Advanced Laser System

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang was recently awarded a one year grant by the United States Department of Defense (DOD) for her proposal for “High-Performance Laser Etching System for Multi-Layer Soft Electronics.” According to Wang, the grant will be used to acquire an advanced laser etching system that offers selective, precise, and reproducible patterning capabilities of multi-layer soft materials and electronics. “Such capabilities will allow the design and manufacturing of soft, flexible structures and electronics for applications including power-efficient, pressure-tolerance oceanographic measurements as well as wearable/implantable bioelectronics,” she says.

photo of MSE Assistant Professor Xueju "Sophie" Wang

MSE Assistant Professor Xueju “Sophie” Wang

Wang and her collaborator Biomedical Engineering Professor Yi Zhang were among 150 university researchers who received grants out of almost 800 proposals totaling $50 million under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP).  The highly competitive selection process is administered by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Army Research Office, and Office of Naval Research.

Ultimately, decisions are made with the goal of equipping universities that enable them to “perform state-of-the-art research that boosts the United States’ technological edge, while ensuring that our future STEM workforce remains second to none,” the program’s website states.

As one of the recipients responsible for utilizing this advanced technology, Wang says she is in the process of acquiring an advanced laser and using it for the design and manufacturing of soft, flexible electronics.

In the real world, Wang says her research will be applicable to a number of fields. “Our developed power-efficient, small, and non-invasive electronic sensors are suitable for many platforms including soft robotics and biomedical devices for health monitoring and disease treatment, like neurological diseases,” she says.

The interdisciplinary applications of her research makes sense considering Wang’s multidisciplinary educational background. She received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and did a postdoc in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. Before settling at UConn, she also was an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri, Columbia. “I collaborate with people in electrical engineering, biomedical engineering and the School of Medicine too,” she says.

She is the author of over 20 publications, and she holds multiple patents and disclosures. In addition, her research has been recognized through awards from the professional society, including  ASME Haythornthwaite Foundation Research Initiation Award and Gary L. Cloud Scholarship Award from the Society of Experimental Mechanics.

Her diverse knowledge of scientific fields is something Wang values. “To me, a lot of great research is created at the boundary of different fields” she says.

This belief extends into the Wang Research Lab—her research group which conducts interdisciplinary research on mechanics, materials, and structures for energy and human health applications. Their current research interests include mechanics and materials for multi-physics systems such as energy storage and conversion, design and manufacturing of stretchable 3-D programmable architectures and electronics, and soft materials and systems.

More impressive than Wang just winning the ‘DURIP’ award is that she did so while adjusting as a new assistant professor to UConn during the coronavirus pandemic this past fall. “It has been great despite the pandemic. I still have gotten to interact with our great faculty and students,” she says. “There has been some delay in research due to the materials and supplies, and initially diminished access to some shared facilities. But overall, my students still made some great progress even with the pandemic.”

This semester Sophie teaches MSE 3056 (Mechanical Behavior Laboratory). “In response to surveys of our alumni and our External Advisory Board, in fact Professor Wang is redesigning this class to focus on modelling and finite element analysis, topics of ever-growing importance to the materials engineering workforce,” Department Head Bryan Huey says.

 According to Wang, the class triggers students’ interest by connecting what is being taught in class to real applications including heat transfer and structural design.

Author: MSE Undergraduate Seeks to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission through Research on Air Filtration Systems

By: Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant

Glass fibers suspended in an aqueous solution with various graphene concentrations

Glass fibers suspended in an aqueous solution with various graphene concentrations

Robert Williams is one of 17 students selected for the University Scholars Program (USP), a challenging and prestigious program for undergraduates at the University of Connecticut. Working in the Adamson Research Group under the supervision of professors Douglas Adamson (Chemistry) and Seok-Woo Lee (MSE), he has been conducting research over the past year on a project entitled “HEPA Filtration Through Graphene Addition”. 

Robert accompanied by his custom 3D printed Büchner funnel and two graphene-coated samples

Robert accompanied by his custom 3D printed Büchner funnel and two graphene-coated samples.

What started as an idea conceived during his application for admission to the scholars program has developed into promising research area with the potential to reduce the impacts of the ongoing pandemic. His research centers on improving high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems used to remove pollutants from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Initially, Williams intended to focus his work on improving the efficiency of these filters at certain particle sizes. He later recognized, however, that his research might also have implications for reducing COVID-19 transmission. By combining HEPA filters with electrostatic precipitation technology, Williams seeks to develop a filtration system can capture small airborne virus-containing respiratory droplets. His work on this topic involves a collaboration with Johns Manville, a company based in Denver, Colorado that manufactures insulation, fibers, and other engineered materials, including the nonwoven products used in filters. 

Williams was initially a biology major, but soon realized that his career interests were better aligned with materials science and engineering. He is currently an MSE undergraduate honors student and is pursuing a concentration in biomaterials and a minor in molecular and cell biology. He believes his background in MSE will uniquely prepare him to attain his career goals. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school, and hopes to pursue research in biomaterials for applications in orthopedics. He also believes that graphene, one of the materials used in his USP filtration project, has the potential to pave the way for other advances in medicine. “To be on the forefront of research that I could potentially apply during medical school is really neat” he says. Apart from advancing his career aspirations, Williams says he chose to complete his undergraduate degree in MSE because the department provides a close-knit academic environment where he is able to get to know both his professors and his peers in many one-on-one interactions. 

Williams attributes his success in academics and admission to the USP to his research advisors and other members of the MSE faculty. In particular, he acknowledges Dr. Fiona Leek, Director of the MSE Undergraduate Laboratory, for providing him with valuable experience in a laboratory setting and instilling in him an appreciation for the skills needed in research. His advisors, Drs. Lee and Adamson, were his biggest motivators, giving him the reassurance he needed to realize his potential. Without them, he would not have had the confidence to apply for the scholars program, and so would not have acquired the skills and independence he presently enjoys.  

Williams now recognizes that nearly any idea can have unseen potential, and with proper guidance, may result in a new research direction. Thus, he encourages every student with an exciting idea, and the curiosity and drive to pursue it, to apply to the University Scholars Program.

Author: MSE Graduate Gives Advice to Fellow International Students

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

As graduate student Shuyang Xiao prepares to publish his first lead-author paper by the end of this semester, he reflects on the past three years he’s spent navigating his second degree in a foreign country.

photo of MRS student chapter members Shuyang Xiao, Sharon Uwanyuze, Richard Ortiz Godoy, and Rajat Sainju (left to right).

MRS student chapter members Shuyang Xiao, Sharon Uwanyuze, Richard Ortiz Godoy, and Rajat Sainju (left to right).

When he graduated in Beijing in 2018, Xiao was not like some of his fellow graduates who were unsure of where they wanted to go next; he had his mind set on traveling all the way across the world to continue his academics. “I first had the thought of pursuing my PhD in the United States when I was a sophomore,” Xiao says.

Xiao began his career in 2014 studying at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing where he received his bachelor’s degree in MSE. When it was time to choose where to go, his decision to travel to Connecticut was not random. “UConn has the better climate, security and diversity compared to all the other universities of the same level. Plus, being away from big cities can help me focus on my research and daily life,” he says.

Though his environment completely changed, Xiao found a home within  Dr. Seok-Woo Lee’s Lab. Like most new PhD students, advisor matching occurred during the first Fall semester, when Xiao chose to join Dr. Lee’s lab which focuses on in-situ mechanical characterization of superplastic intermetallic compounds.

“Shuyang has a great sense to capture the most important information from his data. So, I always enjoy listening to what he discovers and seeing how his idea contributes to his research project. It is really fun to work with Shuyang,” Dr. Seok-Woo Lee says.

According to Xiao, finding a group to get involved with is especially important for international students. “It’s not easy for students to spend five years pursuing a hard goal like a PhD degree, not to mention that some of us are thousands of miles away from home.”

Department Head Huey notes, “Professor Lee and many of the rest of our faculty had very similar experiences when we were graduate students—exploring far outside what is familiar, both geographically and also culturally. We know the importance of creating an inclusive space for our students no matter where they come from. 

And that starts in the lab. While participating in research is typical even for MSE undergraduate students, it is important aside from the degree requirements or professional benefits. Research groups also give students a sense of belonging in a close-knit team. “The lab-group helps to make new friends and learn about other cultures and backgrounds. It helps us get over the inevitable homesickness and have a better connection here,” Xiao says.

Two years later and Xiao is glad he made the choice he did. Xiao says that for the past couple years Dr. Lee has provided him with the certainty and confidence that he is going in the right direction in materials science.

Xiao says it is important for foreign MSE students to “be brave and step outside their comfort zone.” He says he did this when he decided to run for president of the Materials Research Society (MRS). His first year at UConn, Xiao was elected as the group’s president. He currently serves as a senator for the chapter.

Xiao also suggests that foreign students find a hobby unrelated to their studies. “Although it’s really important for us to excel academically, we need something to relax ourselves especially in a rural place like UConn. I personally play guitar and video games and they really help me out when I’m stuck with hard problems,” he says.

When Xiao is not playing guitar, video games, or leading MRS, he works on his research which aims to discover new classes of shape memory materials. This spring, he will lead a publication on this work for the first time.

His research can be applied to shape memory materials that are used in aircraft, spacecraft, automotive vehicles, robotics, and more. “In the real world, my research is to replace the applications of old-fashioned shape memory materials that are used nowadays when you need larger elastic strain limits and higher fatigue life,” he says.

“Shuyang nearly finished writing his first manuscript which reports a new superelastic material that exhibits probably the largest elastic deformability among all types of crystalline solids. I strongly believe that his ground-breaking results will make a significant contribution to the discovery of new superelastic and shape memory materials. I hope that Shuyang receives a lot of attention from materials research communities once his paper comes out. I think it will happen,” Dr. Seok-Woo Lee says.

Despite his success in forging his own path in the United States, Xiao says he would like to eventually return to China, especially in the current tense circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

“But who knows what will happen in the future,” Xiao says about his career after UConn. “I would love to work in those high-tech companies like Intel, Qualcomm or Apple which really match my skills of micro nanoscale fabrication and mechanical engineering.”

If the right opportunity comes along, Xiao has no fears of following it— just as he did three years ago when he traveled across the world to UConn MSE.

Author: MSE Graduate Student Researches Alternative Energy Sources

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) graduate student Sara Pedram is from Iran; a country known for its energy exportation — specifically, oil. Ironically, the dependency much of the world has on her home country’s industry, is one of the forces that drove Pedram to focus her graduate research on renewable energy.

photo of MSE graduate student Sara Pedram

MSE graduate student Sara Pedram

Before Pedram ever started this research, the Iranian oil industry had influenced the direction of her undergraduate studies. “I have always enjoyed and excelled in math and science, and because Iran has a big oil and gas industry, I thought becoming a chemical engineer would be the most sensible career path for me,” she says. 

Prior to moving to the United States, she had pursued her bachelor’s and first master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering from Shiraz University and Amirkabir University of Technology, respectively, in Iran. She then worked as a researcher at the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Research Center of Iran (CCERCI) and at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France.

It was during this time in France that Pedram thought she might like to travel again. “I became highly interested in continuing to do work in another country,” she says. “The U.S. is a very diverse country with many opportunities for everyone, so I decided to build a career here.”

While the idea of pursuing highly technical studies in three entirely different countries might scare some, it excited Pedram. In 2017, she packed her bags and moved to the United States to begin looking for jobs related to chemical engineering.

However, according to her, it was very difficult to find a job having no previous work experience or degree from the U.S. “This led me to pursue a master’s degree instead. I already had my master’s in Chemical Engineering, so I wanted to study something related to my background but not the same thing,” she says.

Materials science and engineering was something that Pedram says she had become familiar with and interested in during her past research in Iran and France. “It is a highly interdisciplinary field that deals with a number of research areas, and I found it an appropriate area for my long-term career goals. Through my research, I discovered UConn’s MSE program, which is highly-ranked and well-regarded,” she says.

Ultimately, she decided that UConn’s MSE program would be the best choice. “The main things that attracted me to UConn were the Innovation Partnership Building , which is filled with the latest and newest technology, the department’s deeply collaborative nature with industry partners and amongst professors internally, and the outstanding faculty,” she says.

Aside from her hard work, it was through these opportunities and relationships that Pedram says she has become successful since beginning at UConn in 2018. “I have had many opportunities to collaborate with industry partners, which have led to summer internships and good relationships with industry professionals,” she says. One of these professionals is her advisor and mentor, Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic.

“Professor Jankovic is an extremely supportive and inspiring person, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to join her lab group. I knew that I would not only be working on innovative research but also that Professor Jankovic would emotionally support me,” Pedram says.

The Jasna Jankovic Research Group focuses on advanced imaging spectroscopy techniques, nanomaterials for clean energy applications, fuel cells, batteries, and structure-property- performance correlation.

“Sara is a very mature, smart and responsible student. She is resourceful and always finds solutions for research challenges. I can rely on her to do everything properly and on time. It is such a pleasure having Sara in my research team.” Professor Jankovic says.

Pedram’s research focuses on using renewable energy for transportation applications, specifically proton exchange membrane fuel cells. Fuel cells electrochemically combine hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, with water as the only by-product.

In our modern-day society where almost everything depends on energy, and fossil fuels are exhaustible, Pedram’s work is extremely important. “We must reconsider or innovate our energy sources in order to continue to sustain our civilization for future generations,” she says.

Pedram’s favorite and most recent paper (out of a dozen she has published), “Review on Bio-Inspired PEM Fuel Cells,” was recently published in the Advanced Energy & Sustainability Research Journal and it deals with more on this topic. In the paper, Pedram confronts the climate crisis and addresses the promise and obstacles associated with using PEM fuel cell technology. “It shows how we can design inspiration from nature and implement it into modern-day applications,” she says.

And though fossil fuels can run out, Pedram’s interest in her work doesn’t seem like it will. “Knowing the relationship between the microstructure and properties of materials can allow us to create more useful products with higher efficiency. Using materials characterization techniques to image and visualize from the surface of the material to its atoms is still something that fascinates and inspires me each time,” Pedram says.

During the summer of 2019, Pedram participated in an internship with Giner Inc., a Boston-based electrochemical research and development firm. Professor Jankovic’s group had been collaborating with the company. “It gave me an opportunity to experience an industry environment and see how my research can affect real-life applications, which was really rewarding,” she says.

Pedram is heavily involved with the Center for Clean Energy Engineering, where she conducts her research and where she participated in events to teach high school students the importance of engineering and its role in producing clean energy.

It seems only natural that teaching comes easily to Pedram, as an individual whose unique identity can inspire in so many ways. She has assumed the role of foreigner, immigrant, student, female engineer, environmentalist, and more. The diverse experiences she has embraced have set her up to be successful in many ways.

“Having these experiences in different countries has allowed me the ability to look at problems from many different perspectives. I can solve engineering problems in creative ways because of my exposure to so many research environments. These experiences have also significantly improved my communication and interpersonal skills. When there is a language barrier or culture barrier, you must find other ways to communicate what you want to say effectively,” she says. 

Her worldly experiences translate to her research which ultimately works to solve a universal problem: sustainable energy.

Though Pedram says she decided to pursue her masters in hopes of increasing her job opportunities, her goals have shifted. “I initially wanted to get a job immediately after my masters degree, but my experience at MSE and with Dr. Jankovic’s research group has been extremely rewarding and inspired me to continue into a PhD program,” she says. Sara is currently pursuing her PhD studies to develop a novel design for efficient fuel cells, something that she and Dr. Jankovic are hoping to commercialize in the future.

Author: UConn-Technion Collaboration Develops Model for Affordable Fuel Cell Catalysts

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UConn-Technion Collaboration Develops Model for Affordable Fuel Cell Catalysts

Author: MSE Assistant Professor Receives American Chemical Society Grant

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

Yuanyuan Zhu, Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor and Director of the IN-siTu/Operando Electron Microscopy (InToEM) center at the Innovation Partnership Building, was awarded the American Chemical Society Grant for “Structural Basis for the Optimal Promoter Concentration and Distribution of Metal-promoted Oxide Catalysts for Selective Oxidation of Alkane.”

photo of MSE Assistant Professor Yuanyuan Zhu

MSE Assistant Professor Yuanyuan Zhu

The grant is worth $110,000 and will last two years. During these two years Zhu and her collaborator, Professor Steven L. Suib (the Director of the Institute of Materials Science (IMS)  and Co-director of InToEM) will perform research related to the fundamental understanding of the heterogeneous catalysts used for converting refinery gas (in particular, its components—ethane, propane, and butane) into high value petrochemicals such as ethylene.

According to Zhu, “Conversion to high-value petrochemicals like ethylene poses a dual challenge for heterogeneous catalysis: the catalyst must be capable of activating the first C-H bond of highly saturated alkane, while maintaining a high selectivity.”

This is groundbreaking considering most oxidation catalysts developed so far cannot achieve both. “Using state-of-the-art transmission electron microscopy including our new MEMS-based NanoReactor ETEM system, we are excited about solving this catalyst design problem by establishing a clear structural picture of some of the best alkane oxidation catalysts” Professor Zhu says.

Zhu joined UConn MSE as an assistant professor in 2018. She previously worked as a postdoctoral research associate and later as staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, both in the Physical & Computational Sciences Directorate and the Reactor Materials and Mechanical Design group in the Energy and Environment Division. 

Zhu has already published nearly 50 publications on her research, many of which have won Editor’s Choice awards or were front page and feature articles. She is also a reviewer for the European Research Council’s Scientific Proposals Review Board and for the National Center for Electron Microscopy. She is an active member in the Materials Research Society, the Microscopy Society of America, and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. 

Author: Jasna Jankovic Receives the Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

By Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant

Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic with her graduate and undergraduate students in the Center for Clean Energy Engineering.

Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic with her graduate and undergraduate students in the Center for Clean Energy Engineering.

Two years after joining UConn, MSE Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award. The award will provide funding over 5 years, allowing Jankovic to advance her research on clean energy technologies, as well as to develop educational programs designed to reach out to young audiences. “Earning the prestigious faculty early career development (CAREER) award gives me the means to realize what I envision as novel and transformative research, and helps me to inspire new generations to study and work in STEM fields and clean energy,” she says.

Jankovic’s research focuses on developing novel analytical techniques for characterizing degradation mechanisms in fuel cells, which she will also extend to electrolyzers and batteries. Specifically, her work investigates degradation occurring in tiny fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies that mimic industrial fuel cells. Identical location transmission electron microscopy (IL-TEM) allows for imaging the cells before and after exposure to conditions that stimulate operation in a working fuel cell. Although IL-TEM technique has been used previously, Jankovic will employ a novel, specially designed micro-testing setup used in conjunction with other advanced characterization techniques, such as 3D electron tomography and multi-scale operando imaging.

Apart from her development of advanced imaging techniques and her goal of realizing a clean, zero-emission, sustainable energy future, Jankovic’s other main interests center on revitalizing education to inspire students to reach their full potential. To expose young audiences to research in material science, clean energy, and microscopy, she will develop virtual reality (VR) modules, such as “I LoVR Clean Energy” and “I LoVR Nano”. She also plans to create a training module for undergraduate and graduate engineering students called “Engineering Entrepreneurs—Under the Microscope”, to better prepare them as future leaders in the innovation and commercialization of clean energy technologies. These activities fit well with an ongoing project known as “STEAM TREE”, which is already well underway. Together with UConn faculty collaborators, Professors Chris Sancomb (Art/Industrial Design), Stacy Maddern (Urban & Community Studies), Sung Yeul Park (Electrical & Computer Engineering), and Cynthia Jones (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology), Jankovic has received a UConn STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) Innovation grant to build a solar tree on campus. The tree will serve as a functioning, energy-producing tree, as well as a real-world laboratory, and a gathering place for the university community.

Jankovic’s career started at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she completed her MS in chemical engineering and conducted research on oil heavy upgrading. Following an introduction to fuel cells by one of her respected colleagues, she fell in love with renewable energy technology, thereby refocusing her career aspirations on clean energy. Following her passion, Jankovic conducted research at the National Research Center – Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI) and earned a PhD at UBC in 2011. UConn’s strong focus on initiatives in clean energy, its numerous industrial affiliates, and the availability of some of the world’s best microscopy capabilities, attracted Jankovic to UConn in 2018. Along with the extensive facilities, the supportive research environment at UConn greatly influenced her decision to join the faculty.

Although Jankovic’s research career is rapidly accelerating, one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job is working with students. Her group includes graduate students Amir Soleymani, R. Andres Godoy, Sara Pedram, Aubrey Tang, and Mariah Batool, all of whom are focusing on the characterization of materials in clean energy devices. Her teaching and advising style embodies a holistic approach that not only includes formal instruction in science, engineering and research, but also focuses on practice-oriented education in professional ethics, communication, team-work, and positive thinking.

Her advice for students pursuing engineering is to “be proactive – take that first step; ask for help and offer help to others; leave a great track record in whatever you are doing; keep expanding your network; and show appreciation to everyone who contributed to your success.”

Author: MSE Undergrad Is Paving the Way for Underrepresented Women in the Field of Engineering

By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant

MSE undergraduate student Brittany Nelson

In the field of Materials Science and Engineering, black women are highly underrepresented. When she graduates this Spring, University of Connecticut MSE undergraduate Brittany Nelson will stand for the less than 4% of black, Hispanic, and Native American women who are awarded a bachelor’s degree in engineering in the United States. She will also be the first generation of her family to earn a college degree.

As a young black woman in a field dominated by men, Nelson has found inspiration to work harder. “I see this as an opportunity for change. I would not be an MSE student without the support of those who invested in me academically, financially, emotionally, etc. I feel that it is my job to return the favor by setting an example and being a resource to those who are interested in pursuing MSE,” Nelson said.

The MSE senior has strived to do that since discovering her affinity for engineering in middle school. “In the 7th and 8thgrade, I attended UConn’s Pre-Engineering Program (PEP) and gained an interest in engineering,” she said. According to Nelson, it wasn’t until high school that she learned about MSE by attending UConn’s Explore Engineering (E2) Program. At the time, she was considering Chemical Engineering (CHEG) and Mechanical Engineering (ME). “MSE was not only fun, but it was a perfect combination of the two fields,” she stated.

Her positive experience with the UConn MSE department impacted her decision to study there. “I was specifically impressed by how informed and passionate the MSE faculty and students were about their work. In addition, I gravitated towards the wide range of lab equipment, the friendly atmosphere, and the numerous options of areas to focus on within the MSE program,” Nelson said.

Since deciding to join the UConn MSE program, Nelson has been mentored by Dr. Lesley Frame and she recently joined the Frame Research Group. Nelson enjoys the sense of community the group has. “All of the group members willingly provide support and advice to each other in any way possible.”

Whether it was her mentorship with Dr. Frame, sense of community, passion, ambition, or a combination of all of the above that motivated her, Nelson was able to pursue research as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar during the Summer of 2020. The McNair program prides itself in promoting talented UConn undergraduate students for doctoral studies in (STEM) disciplines, specifically for those from underrepresented populations in our fields, from under-resourced communities, or who are first-generation graduates in their families.

Nelson has also been honored as a Gates Millennium Scholar, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Scholar, Ronald E. McNair Fellow, and UConn Day of Pride Scholar.

The research that Nelson is currently conducting within the Frame Research group focuses on the effects of tempering processes on the mechanical properties of alloy steel. The results of this research will inform fundamental understanding of phase transformations and changes in strength due to tempering process parameters and will also have direct impacts on heat treatment in a wide range of industry applications.

“Brittany has really taken charge of this project. Even though we were operating remotely for much of last summer, Brittany was able to pick up the project, learn the fundamentals of steel tempering processes, and analyze a very large amount of data to discover new trends and materials behaviors. She is currently working on preparing a manuscript on this project for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. I have been so pleased to have Brittany as a member of our team!” Says Dr. Frame.

Though this project and her undergraduate career will end in May, Nelson’s career in MSE is really just beginning. She hopes to continue doing research and is strongly leaning towards graduate school. “It is a bittersweet feeling. Graduation is a huge accomplishment for me, especially as a first-generation college student with parents not born in the U.S. I am definitely going to miss the great people that I have met within the MSE department and the UConn campus,” she says.

Her future continuing research also holds the potential to continue inspiring young underrepresented girls who are interested in MSE. “To any female students interested in materials science and engineering, I would say go for it! Being an MSE student is extremely rewarding. You will learn so much about yourself and contribute to making a difference in the world of STEM,” she stated.  


Author: MSE Graduate Student Tackles the Future of Energy Innovation

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.

By Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant

Third-year MSE doctoral student, Amir Soleymani, working alongside members of Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic’s Research Group, is conducting research at the forefront of energy innovation.

Soleymani began his research career working on ways to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide during the processing of engineering materials. In the course of his studies on this topic, he began to question if his efforts should instead focus on reducing the main source of greenhouse gases—fossil fuels. His subsequent investigations into this challenging problem convinced him to enter the field of renewable energy research.

Soleymani is currently working on the characterization of materials used in clean energy devices, with a focus on polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEMFC). His research seeks to develop structure-property-performance relationships using analytical techniques such as ex-situ and in-situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray computed tomography (XCT), and electron tomography (ET). His main goal is to determine how the structure of a material influences its function in real-world devices. “In materials science it is essential to understand the structure of any material, as it is the bedrock for designing new materials and improving the performance of any device” said Soleymani. Jankovic’s Research Group actively works with both academic researcher and industrial partners to advance clean energy technology. As part of an ongoing collaboration, Soleymani participated in an internship at Ford Motor Company during the summer of 2020. This experience sparked his interest in pursuing a path in the automotive industry. “Fuel cells are the future of energy for stationary power plants and transportation; the heart of the fuel cell is the catalyst layer, and we are looking at the catalyst material to understand its behavior through the structure” he stated.

Soleymani was attracted to the MSE program at UConn because of its state-of-the-art facilities for materials characterization, its diverse connections with industry, and its large network of researcher working in the area of renewable energy. Although opportunities to access exceptional facilities and engage in industrial collaborations were key factors in his decision to join UConn, Soleymani states that the chance to work under the supervision of Professor Jankovic was paramount; “it is important to have a good advisor because they can shape your professional and personal characteristics”. He describes Professor Jankovic in one word as ‘professional’. “She is inspiring and motivates students, making them feel that they are a part of the breakthrough, not just a tool to get to that breakthrough” he adds.

Soleymani anticipates completing his doctoral degree in MSE sometime in 2022. Previously, he earned a BS (2011) and MS (2014) in materials science and engineering at Isfahan University of Technology, and an MS (2018) in mechanical engineering at Tennessee Technological University. Upon completion of his PhD, he hopes to continue his research in clean energy and to land a position in the automotive industry. As he wraps up his dissertation research at UConn, Professor Jankovic states, “Amir was the first student to join my group in 2018. I am so lucky to have him, as he is extremely hard-working, committed and professional in everything that he does. I see a great future for Amir.”

Through his academic work and research activities while at UConn, Soleymani has greatly strengthened his technical, leadership, and collaboration skills, all of which will assist him in his future endeavors. His advice for students considering doctoral work is: “For pursuing a PhD, it is all about curiosity—if you are curious you will be successful. It is a tedious process, if you have perseverance you would finally love what you are doing.”

Author: In Memoriam: Professor Harris Marcus

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Author: MSE Professor Recognized as a Fellow of the Most Established Materials Information Society

By Samantha Bertolino

Pamir Alpay on Aug. 31, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Pamir S. Alpay, Ph.D., General Electric Professor in Advanced Manufacturing; Executive Director of the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park

Professor Alpay, Ph.D., has recently had the honor of being selected by the Board of Trustees of ASM International as a Fellow of the Society. This position recognizes his distinguished contributions in the field of materials science and engineering. It allows a broadly based forum for technical and professional leaders to serve as advisors to the Society. According to the Board, Alpay was elected for his “exceptional contributions and leadership in materials theory, computational materials science, and multiscale materials modeling towards an understanding of aerospace alloys, functional materials, and surface properties.”

Alpay is the General Electric Professor in Advanced Manufacturing in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He joined UConn’s MSE department in 2001 and served as its program director and subsequently as its department head from 2011 to 2017. He is the Executive Director of the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park, leading the University’s efforts to increase strategic partnerships with businesses in a state-of-the-art research and development facility.

He is also an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) and a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) as well as the American Ceramic Society. He is the recipient of several awards including the NSF CAREER grant in 2001, the UConn School of Engineering Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in 2004, the UConn School of Engineering Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award in 2013 and the AAUP Excellence in Career Research and Creativity Award in 2018. Alpay has over 200 peer-reviewed journal publications and conference proceedings, four invited book chapters and a book on functionally graded ferroelectrics.

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

By Samantha Bertolino

MSE graduate student Cassidy Atkinson

MSE graduate student Cassidy Atkinson

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

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

Image of a silicon carbide sigma 3 grain boundary.

Image of a silicon carbide sigma 3 grain boundary.

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

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

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

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

Author: MSE Undergraduate Student Receives Grant to Research Titanium Metallurgy on the Moon

By Samantha Bertolino

Sarah Myrick

MSE undergraduate student Sarah Myrick

Sarah Myrick has just received a $5,000 NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) Award for research she is conducting in MSE. Though she has been pursuing an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering since spring 2018, she works alongside MSE graduate student Sharon Uwanyuze in Professor Schaffoener’s research group, which studies the corrosion and thermomechanical properties of high temperature ceramics for advanced alloy manufacturing.

The work in Schaffoener’s lab has synergy with Sarah’s research, which seeks to investigate the processing of titanium on the Moon, where NASA has found an abundance of titanium ore deposits. Titanium and its alloys are important in aerospace applications, primarily as materials used in structural components. However, current techniques for producing titanium alloys are very cost-intensive and could not effectively utilize the abundant titanium ores found on the Moon. Melts containing titanium and its alloys are very reactive, and the purpose of Sarah’s research is to identify novel ceramic materials that are suitable for use as crucible materials. Limiting the corrosion of the ceramic crucibles may eventually enable NASA to produce titanium cost efficiently on the Moon.

Author: Graduate Student’s Research Aids Green Technology Revolution

Andres Godoy and Professor Jankovic

MSE graduate student Richard Andres Ortiz Godoy and MSE Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic

By Samantha Bertolino

MSE graduate student Richard Andres Ortiz Godoy is hoping his research can be part of the effort to liberate society from fossil fuels. His research focuses on fuel cells, which provide an efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly next-generation energy alternative. Such prospects, however, wouldn’t be possible without access to the advanced research facilities, faculty expertise and dedicated technical staff available to him as a student in the MSE graduate program.

He received his B.S. in materials science and engineering from Universidad del Valle in 2011 before joining the University of Texas (UT) as a research assistant. There Andres was in charge of sample preparation and transmission electron microscopy image acquisition for projects involving Proton-Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC). In 2017, he decided to go back to school. MSE Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic – who would later become his advisor – was the reason he chose UConn. “I got many offers from universities with high rankings and good standing. But Dr. Jankovic assured me that I would be embraced in a safe and caring environment. She is compassionate in her work, something that most people within academia lack. I knew that she would help me to grow . . . not only as a professional, but as a person as well,” Andres said.

Since joining the MSE program, Andres has had the opportunity to expand greatly his knowledge of his chosen field. His research investigates the dominant degradation mechanisms in PEMFCs at the nanoscale level of the platinum (Pt) catalyst, as well as the carbon corrosion that occurs after potential cycling. His research group is also proposing to enhance the stability and durability of fuel cell catalysts by different novel mechanisms, such as shielding parts of the catalyst system with a protective ultra-thin corrosion-resistant film. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is conducted under the supervision of Professor Jankovic at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) and the Center for Advanced Microscopy and Materials Analysis (CAMMA). It is carried out in collaboration with Pajarito Powder, The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and the Colorado School of Mines, among other institutions and private companies. Their research has the potential to provide insights that can unravel the true nature of catalyst degradation, as well as provide a deeper understanding of electrode architecture at nanometer length scales, which in turn can lead to more stable fuel cell operation. 

Andres is driven by the real-world applications of his research to end society’s adverse reliance on fossil fuels. “Our dependency on certain technologies has trapped us in this toxic narrative where the systems we rely on devastate both the environment and our health.” Andres hopes we can eliminate the need for fossil fuels by converting the chemical energy of hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, with water as a by-product. PEMFCs represent promising energy conversion capabilities in transportation, and in stationary and portable applications. This technology, in fact, is currently being employed in countries like Japan and South Korea, which is attempting the construction of three hydrogen-powered cities by the year 2022. The widespread use of hydrogen as a fuel for cooling, heating, electricity, and transportation would be the culminating achievement of the type of research that Andres is conducting.

Andres’s research on this topic has afforded him a range of opportunities for collaboration. He worked for three months at the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) in Portugal, where he also ran several experiments at The University of Porto. This allowed him to learn new techniques in electron microscopy and electrochemistry, as well as to meet and connect with many exceptional researchers. Andres  also tries to stay involved in any activity that includes outreach or assistance to new students. He was a senator in the Materials Research Society (MRS) until this year, and hopes someday to be the doctoral advisor of one of the students he has already mentored.

Together with the rest of Jankovic’s research team, Andres has recently published a paper in Advanced Functional Materials that describes work carried out in collaboration with the Israel Institute of Technology, Istituto di Chimica dei Composti Organometallici and The University of Toledo. He is also writing a review paper on carbon support corrosion in PEMFCs. Additionally – and for the second year in a row – he has received the General Electric (GE) fellowship, which provides Ph.D. students with opportunities for professional development and enrichment. Next year Andres will participate in a 6-month-long NSF funded internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He is also planning to apply for a prestigious fellowship in France, with the prospect of working at either Sorbonne or Grenoble University sometime in the near future. In Europe, Andres hopes to work in a laboratory where he can explore new corners of his research. Once he receives his Ph.D. he hopes to obtain postdoctoral position that will allow him to continue his studies to Asia. His ultimate goal is to secure a permanent position as an academic researcher or a professor.

In advice to future MSE students, Andres highlights the importance of respecting everyone, regardless of their professional status. He warns students to always remember that any published work will have their name attached to it, and will therefore go on public record. It is essential that they always put forward their very best effort and are able to communicate effectively as a team. He also encourages students to make time for themselves. “Your physical health is closely tied to your mental health, and they are equally important. When you are rounded out, you can take yourself wherever you want to be,” Andres shared.

Author: Diverse Experiences in MSE Doctoral Program Help Shape Alumna’s Career

By Samantha Bertolino

Deljoo Bahareh

MSE alumna Bahareh Deljoo, Ph.D. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The MSE program at UConn often announces employment opportunities that are available to graduating students across a wide range of industries. That is how MSE alumna Dr. Bahareh Deljoo (’20) ultimately secured a position at Intel as an integration engineer. Her main responsibilities at Intel involve designing and conducting experiments in order to meet engineering specifications, as well as critically examining production data to maintain yield and identify any production issues. She was initially attracted to the company’s state-of-the-art technologies, in addition to its strong sense of community.

Bahareh found that she was well prepared for the range of technical and interpersonal skills that are necessary for success at Intel. As a doctoral student in the MSE program, she conducted her dissertation research under the guidance of Professor Mark Aindow. In her work as a microscopist, she investigated a number of material systems, which gave her an opportunity to enhance the research and problem-solving skills that are now essential in her work in industry. She also collaborated with researchers both within the university and at other universities, and networked with industry affiliates. These interactions helped her to delve deeper into her research topic, develop her career vision, and hone her communication skills.

In addition, Bahareh was an active participant in several student-lead organizations, many of which facilitated new connections with students of varied backgrounds and fields of study. She served on the board of the Student Organization of Graduate Engineers (SAGE) and on the Graduate Student Senate (GSS). Her membership in these organizations promoted a great deal of professional and personal growth. “You learn about different people and make great friends. From there, you can start to build a powerful network. Those groups were the perfect addition to my graduate life,” Bahareh stated. While many technical subjects can be mastered in a semester or two, certain skills take much longer to build. In this regard, the varied experiences available to Bahareh during her time in the MSE program played a key role in helping her to build competencies in networking, leadership and teamwork.

In her advice to current MSE students, Bahareh noted that a career in materials science allows ample room for a person to both explore their interests and grow their skills. She urges students to take their time investigating the different career paths that can be taken. “The connections that a person will make throughout their academic career will become very valuable in the future.”

Author: Garofano Named a Woman of Innovation


MSE alumna Dr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano, (M.S. ‘09; Ph.D ‘11)

The Connecticut Technology Council and Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology announced the winners for the sixteen annual Women of Innovation® during a digital awards ceremony on November 12. The winners in 10 categories were selected from 50 finalists, drawn from 150 women who were nominated earlier this year.

Jacquelynn Garofano was one of the finalists in the Large Business Innovation and Leadership Category.  “As a CT native and fierce STEMinist, this achievement means so much,” she says. “It’s been a goal of mine to be named WOI again in my professional career.” Garofano has, in fact, been honored twice now, having received the collegian award back in 2011. At that time, she was finishing her doctorate at the UConn School of Engineering and preparing to step into a career at UTC as a research scientist.

Earlier this year she received the Women in Science Leadership Award from the Petit Family Foundation as part of the Connecticut Science Center annual STEM Achievement Awards.

Author: MSE Graduate Student Develops Novel Hybrid Convolution Neural Network

By Samantha Bertolino


MSE graduate student Rajat Sainju

Rajat Sainju, a third-year MSE doctoral student, has quite literally broken the mold of typical semantic segmentation for electron microscopy images, a technique that his research group has since applied in the development of computer vision-based algorithms for microscopy data. The opportunity to work in this new field would not have been possible without the support of his advisor, assistant professor Yuanyuan Zhu, and the MSE department. In fact, Rajat found the resources existing within UConn MSE to be crucial in guiding him toward his career goals, providing him with access to many renowned academics and a dedicated staff, and with opportunities to present and discuss his ongoing research in a highly collaborative, engaging environment. Utilizing these resources, Rajat co-authored one of the top 100 most downloaded materials science papers published in Scientific Reports in 2019.

The paper, entitled, “Deep Learning for Semantic Segmentation of Defects in Advanced STEM Images in Steels,” focuses on the development and application of deep learning-based semantic segmentation algorithms, which can be used to automatically identify and segment nanoscale crystallographic defects in electron micrographs. Semantic segmentation involves the process of assigning each object – a type of defect in this case – to a corresponding class. The algorithm is able to make a prediction of all pixels that represent or belong to an object. Depending on the type of material, the defect type, and the number of defects, labeling each pixel manually in an image can take hours, even for seasoned researcher.

In this particular study, however, Rajat worked with his collaborators to develop a new convolution neural network architecture ‘DefectSegNet,’ which is now able to learn and identify any type of defect (such as dislocation lines, precipitates, and voids in steels) from a set of very small yet high-quality Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy (STEM) images. When compared to the manual quantification of defect metrics, the prediction of defect-maps by DefectSegNet is significantly faster, and can now be completed reliably within seconds. These automated image analysis capabilities were demonstrated using micrographs acquired on HT-9 martensitic steel.

Rajat’s paper on DefectSegNet has become the foundation of his future research. The lessons learned while demonstrating the feasibility of deep learning-based semantic segmentation for identifying defects that form under a complex-contrast mechanism have also opened exciting avenues for other applications of computer vision to S/TEM-image processing.

His current research focuses on the development of computer vision-based algorithms for automated high throughput analysis of images. Specifically, he seeks to understand material dynamics by combining in-situ environmental S/TEM and deep learning-based analysis. Depending on the experimental conditions and the information that needs to be extracted, a given project may include solving a combination of vision-based challenges such as object defection, object tracking, semantic, and instance segmentation. This can be used to better understand the fundamental processes and reactions within materials, like redox reactions, defect motion, catalysis, and phase transformations to name a few. These scientific tools contribute to reliable extraction of statistically significant, high-quality information from microscopy data. The implementation of deep learning algorithms removes human subjectivity, making the measurements robust, reliable, replicable, and comparable. Being able to take advantage of such algorithms will “save a lot of human hours.”

“The bigger picture is to understand the material dynamics and behavior under various conditions.” Rajat says of his work when applied to the real world, “Our hope is to create a positive impact through fundamental researchon the lives of as many people as possible.” The driving force behind his work is to continue developing such tools, and he aims to make them accessible to people across different fields. Building these image-processing tools is not limited to the materials science domain, but can also be applied to medical images, robotics, and satellite imagery, among other things. With this in mind, Rajat hopes to attain a job as a researcher in academia sometime soon.

He thanks his advisor, Dr.  Zhu, for helping him to get this far. “She is a great role model with an infectious passion for materials science,” he says. Her vision for the future of in-situ electron microscopy and the integration of deep learning/computer vision for the advancement of microscopy has deeply influenced his research. “Becoming a scientist requires a broad range of scientific skills, critical thinking, imagination, integrity, independence, and of course, a very supportive mentor. By providing an environment of growth, Professor Zhu has helped me to acquire those skills and build an aptitude for scientific discovery.”

Author: MSE Alumna Jacquelynn Garofano Honored from the Society of Women Engineers

MSE alumna Jacquelynn Garofano was awarded the 2020 Spark Award for fostering long-term mentorship grounded in mutual empowerment; and for positivity and motivational drive that spurs others, especially women, to pursue success on their own terms. Additionally, she received the Patent Award Recognition for the two patents that she holds, the first patent is from her time at UCONN. Read more.



Author: Rajiv Naik Hired to Advance Education on Composites

By Samantha Bertolino

Rajiv Naik

Rajiv Naik, Visiting Professor SoE

Professor Naik has recently joined the School of Engineering (SoE) as a Visiting Professor, after serving as an adjunct professor in MSE for almost 4 years.

Naik obtained his Ph.D. from Old Dominion University, and has been teaching graduate engineering courses in the field of composite materials for over a decade, while simultaneously working full-time at a major aerospace company as well. With this teaching and industry background, Professor Naik hopes to impart his vast knowledge and experience in the field of composite materials to the next generation of engineers. 

This new position within SOE involves teaching and developing new graduate level courses in the Composites Engineering Certificate program here at UConn. In it, Professor Naik “hopes to advance the education of composites engineers in the local area and grow the CEC program to be one of the finest in the state and beyond.”

Author: Dr. Cato Laurencin Named Recipient of 2020 Herbert W. Nickens Award

By Samantha Bertolino

Cato Laurencin at his office at UConn Health in Farmington. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Cato Laurencin at his office at UConn Health in Farmington. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

University Professor Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD, has distinguished himself throughout his 40-year career as an outstanding physician-scientist and a courageous leader in social justice, equity and fairness.

Through his combined national, regional and community efforts, Dr. Laurencin has worked towards reversing racial and ethnic health disparities in medicine and science. He co-founded the W. Montague Cobb/National Medical Association Health Institute, which works to address such health disparities. Dr. Laurencin was also among the first to publish a peer-reviewed article on COVID-19 and black Americans, and is the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, now in its seventh year. He worked with the Young Innovative Investigator Program for Black and Latino students, and the UConn Presidential M-1 Mentoring Program, where he mentored over 200 scientists- and physicians- in-training. Throughout these mentorships, Dr. Laurencin helped to guide individuals underrepresented in medicine, and worked to found several programs and initiatives improving diversity in the sciences. He has been recognized for his great work in medicine and the sciences throughout the years, and most recently has been the recipient of 2020 Herbert W. Nickens Award.

The Herbert W. Nickens Award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to promoting justice in medical education and health care equity in the United States. The awardee has the opportunity to present the Nickens Lecture on November 18th in a virtual setting at Learn Serve Lead 2021: The AAMC Annual Meeting.

Author: MSE Doctoral Student Benefits from Collaboration with Aerospace Company

By Samantha Bertolino

Hannah Leonard

MSE graduate student Hannah Leonard

Hannah Leonard knew early on that she wanted to study materials science in graduate school, and found UConn has a vibrant MSE program. The large number of industry partnerships ongoing with the department specifically caught her attention. In fact, her current research is conducted in collaboration with Collins Aerospace, and investigates a new generation of rapidly-solidified aluminum alloys that form metastable phases and microstructures resulting in an unusual combination of properties. Though her research on this problem is now coming to fruition, it took lots of time and effort to get there.

While Hannah was an undergraduate at Stony Brook University, she had the opportunity to spend two summers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as a participant in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program. During that time, Hannah studied electrode materials for electrochemical reactors, which was her first experience getting truly involved in scientific research. She claims to have enjoyed being able to “fully invest herself” in a research project, and that she loved “both the pursuit of knowledge, and the creativity it involves.” She also reflected on the inspiration she drew from one of her research mentors in the program, who served as a role model and helped “spark the desire” in her to pursue graduate school.

Now Hannah is a fourth-year doctoral candidate conducting research on a Collins Aerospace sponsored project that investigates phase stability and micro-structural development in powder-processed aluminum alloys. Working in MSE Professor Mark Aindow’s research group, she is seeking to develop a quasi-crystalline dispersion-strengthened aluminum alloys reinforced with dispersions of icosahedral quasicrystals, which could be potentially used as lightweight, high-strength structural materials for aircrafts, particularly in external applications where good corrosion resistance is also needed. Her dissertation research focuses mainly on the microstructural characterization of these alloys using electron microscopy techniques, but also examines their thermo-mechanical properties.

Upon completing her degree, Hannah hopes to continue working in the aerospace industry, but is also receptive to other opportunities. Professor Aindow has helped her to make many connections, including through participation in a virtual internship with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) this past summer. As her dissertation nears completion, she offers a piece of advice to current undergraduate students of MSE, challenging them “not to be afraid of moving out of their comfort zone.” This is something that Hannah sometimes struggles with as well, but the times where she pushes herself are usually met with “some of the most rewarding experiences.” She says of these, “you would be surprised at what you are capable of if only you give it a shot.”

Sequence of bright field scanning electron microscopy images acquired during in situ heating of a quasi-crystalline dispersoid in an A1 matrix to 500°C for 30 min.

Sequence of bright field scanning electron microscopy images acquired during in situ heating of a quasi-crystalline dispersoid in an A1 matrix to 500°C for 30 min.

Author: Dr. Laurencin Named Recipient of 2020 Von Hippel Award

By Samantha Bertolino

University Professor Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD

University Professor Cato T. Laurencin, MD, Ph.D., has been widely recognized for his exceptional achievements in engineering, science, medicine and technology.

Most recently he has been named the 2020 recipient of the Materials Research Society’s Von Hippel Award, the organization’s highest and most prestigious honor. This award is made to recognize an individual with qualities most prized by materials scientists and engineers—brilliance and originality of intellect, combined with vision that transcends the boundaries of conventional scientific disciplines. It is presented annually at the MRS Fall Meeting, where the recipient is invited to speak at the Awards Ceremony.

Dr. Laurencin’s accomplishments span a wide range of fields. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering and received the Simon Ramo Founders Award for his work. He is also an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, and received the Walsh McDermott Medal for his profound leadership within that role. Dr. Laurencin is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well, and was awarded the Philip Hauge Abelson prize for his significant contributions to the advancement of science within the United States. He is also a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, and received the highest honor for technological advancement in America, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, from President Barack Obama in ceremonies at the White House.

Author: MSE Alumna Receives Women in Science Leadership Award

By Samantha Bertolino

MSE alumnaDr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano, (M.S. ‘09; Ph.D ‘11)

MSE alumna Dr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano, (M.S. ‘09; Ph.D ‘11)

MSE alumna Dr. Jacquelynn (Jackie) Garofano, (M.S. ‘09; Ph.D ‘11) has been named the 2020 Petit Family Foundation Women in Science Leadership Award Honoree.

This award recognizes a woman working in STEM who is both a leader in her field and a significant contributor of efforts made to encourage young girls in the sciences. Garofano’s aim has been to share her own journey with others, and to provide a platform in which women in engineering can be seen and heard.

She is the program manager of the prestigious Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at Raytheon Technologies. In this role and in her community leadership, Garofano is committed to mentoring and empowering the next generation of engineers and scientists who will shape our future. She has served as a community leader for United Way, Women United, and has recently been appointed to the Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts in Connecticut and is a member of its diversity, equity and inclusion committee. She has been named one of Connecticut’s Women of Innovation® twice. First, as a recipient of the Collegian Innovation and Leadership award in 2011 and, most recently, as a finalist in the Large Business Innovation and Leadership Category for 2020. Garofano also earned the unique distinction of landing on the Forty Under 40 outstanding young professionals list for Connecticut Magazine (2013) and Harford Business Journal (2015). She is recognized as an active member of the Society of Women Engineers and was named the 2018 Future is NOW awardee by the CT Women’s Education and Legal Fund for her work to advance women and girls in the STEM field. Garofano strives to be someone that young women – especially those in under-served communities – can look up to. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” she says.

Author: MSE e-Bulletin 2020

Welcome to our 2020 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 
7   Department News
9   Undergraduate Students
14 Senior Design Day
17 Graduate Students
18 Alumni


Author: MSE Graduate Student Discovers Career Path During Difficult Times

By Harrison Raskin

MSE graduate student Marco Echeverria

Third year MSE graduate student Marco Echeverria spent a second highly productive summer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Echeverria says his research focused on using simulations to model the generation of metal ejecta from high-energy experiments with metals and lasers.

“The focus of the simulation effort is to provide an atomistic insight on the process, and to study the microstructural and defects effects on the ejecta formation. Results such as strength values, dominant dislocation types and free surface morphology can be then used in higher length-scale simulations, such as continuum mechanics, to fill the gaps these models have due to their larger scale”

LLNL physicist Alison Saunders, Echeverria’s internship supervisor, said that gaining a better understanding of ejecta interactions has a broad range of applications including spacecraft shielding, cold-spray welding, additive manufacturing and understanding material strength at small scales.

These findings will contribute to LLNL’s primary responsibilityof ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the United States’ nuclear deterrent. The research laboratory is focused on using applied scientific and engineering advancements to support breakthroughs in counterterrorism, nonproliferation, defense and intelligence, energy and environmental security; a few of the many ways in which work such as Echeverria’s can improve the world beyond the laboratory.

Echeverria likes that his work with LLNL is now a direct component to his PhD research. “My (PhD) work focuses on the behavior of materials under extreme environments, such as laser excited shock loading and piston loading. The ejecta studies with LLNL are another type of outcome in similarly extreme mechanical environments, so it all fits together well.” At UConn Echeverria works under the guidance and advice of MSE Associate Professor Avinash M. Dongare, principal investigator of the Dongare Computational Materials and Mechanics research group. Echeverria says that Professor Dongare recommended he attend the 2019 Stewardship Science Academic Programs (SSAP) conference in Albuquerque where he connected with scientists from LLNL. Marco’s graduate research at UConn is part of the Center for Research Excellence on Dynamically Deformed Solids (CREDDS) that is funded by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA). Dongare notes, “One of the top priorities of CREDDS is the ability of the students to engage with NNSA labs.

Marco has been a success story for the center wherein he has worked with the scientists at LLNL to build a strong direction for his PhD research. This is truly impressive for a graduate student.”

Echeverria was one of millions of American students who found their academics restructured by COVID-19. Despite a shift to virtual research jeopardizing positions in most laboratories, Echeverria was able to obtain a completely remote internship.

Illustrative microstructure showing nucleated voids and ejecta jet, with a cloud breakout as the jet expands. The microstructure is colored based on particle velocity increments.

“My work is in molecular dynamics, so I can do that even if I only have a computer and internet connection. LLNL did an amazing job with all the interns, especially with the tech-support and being remote.”

The laboratory prioritized virtual communication by implementing weekly team meetings and daily interactions with mentors.

Returning to UConn this fall, Echeverria describes some difficulties with virtual research.

“It makes it a little complicated giving it 100 % while always staying in the same environment. Personally, I like to have a place of work and another of leisure. Now, after so many months, I’ve gotten used to having an agenda while working from home, although it is always hard not to take a nap after lunch!”

The positive internship experience also has Echeverria considering working within a national laboratory as a career option.

“I really like the close connection between experimental work and modeling that’s possible in a national lab research environment,” Echeverria said. “It’s exciting to be able to reverse-engineer simulation codes based on experimental results.”

Echeverria received his bachelor of engineering degree in mechatronics engineering from the Central American Technological University of Honduras in 2015, and his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico (Mayaguez) in 2018. Echeverria joined UConn in the fall of 2018 as a graduate student pursuing a PhD in the MSE department, and is currently the secretary of the UConn Materials Research Society Chapter. His research focuses on the atomic scale modeling of the deformation and failure response of multiphase metallic materials under shock loading conditions.