By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant
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.
By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant
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.
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.
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.
By: Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
By: Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.”
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.
By Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant
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.”
By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant
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.
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.”
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By Samantha Bertolino
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.
By Samantha Bertolino
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.
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.”
By Samantha Bertolino
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.
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.
By Samantha Bertolino
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.”
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.
By Samantha Bertolino
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.”
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.
By Samantha Bertolino
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.”
By Samantha Bertolino
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.
By Samantha Bertolino
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.”
By Samantha Bertolino
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.
By Samantha Bertolino
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.
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.
7 Department News
9 Undergraduate Students
14 Senior Design Day
17 Graduate Students
By Harrison Raskin
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.
“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.
By Harrison Raskin
We are pleased to welcome our newest faculty member Xueju “Sophie” Wang who joins our department as an assistant professor this fall.
Wang brings an impressive academic background to MSE. 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.
Wang’s research group 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 in energy storage and conversion, design and manufacturing of 3D stretchable, programmable architectures and electronics, and soft materials and systems.
Wang 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.
“I am very excited about joining the MSE department and the Institute of Materials Science at UConn. I look forward to interacting with our great undergraduate and graduate students and collaborating with our faculty members”, Wang says.
Her expertise and extensive research interests will prove essential for our department’s growth and development. Please join us in welcoming her!
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By Ben Crnic
For sophomore Elise Bessette, materials science was always intertwined with her hobbies and interests. Being passionate about 3-D printing, Bessette was already familiar with various materials exhibiting different properties. She became fascinated with learning more about why they behaved the way they did, leading her to MSE.
“I don’t think it was any single material that got me interested in MSE. Rather, it was the breadth of materials that grabbed my attention,” Bessette said. Polylactic acid (PLA) is commonly used with 3-D printing because it can be annealed to increase part strength due to its somewhat crystalline nature. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), on the other hand, is sensitive to temperature changes and produces fumes during the printing process.
Learning about MSE also aided Bessette with her robotics team experience while in high school. She was fortunate enough to take some UConn engineering classes at the Storrs campus during this time, giving her some knowledge about plastics which she applied to the robots developed by her team. In particular, she advocated for the use of polycarbonate instead of aluminum for a certain assembly due to its availability, price, and desirable properties. This assembly ended up lasting the entire competitive season. From this experience, Bessette knew she had a passion for studying materials.
Now an MSE undergraduate at UConn, Bessette works in the lab of her advisor, Assistant Professor Lesley Frame. She helps with projects focusing on failure analysis and process improvements, many in connection with the Industry Affiliates Program (IAP) which is run by the Institute of Materials Science. The IAP assists regional industry with short-term materials-related research and production projects, especially providing tools and expertise which companies may not have. She is also enjoying her MSE classes–her favorite this Spring was “Introduction to Structure, Properties, and Processing of Materials II (MSE 2002)” taught by Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Serge Nakhmanson.
“The lectures are always good, and the homework always helps to reinforce the course content. It is also structured so that you have to go and find out further details for yourself,” Bessette said. Of course from the faculty’s perspective, that’s a key part of being an engineer—utilizing what you’ve learned, discovering and applying more, and then assimilating it to achieve a goal.
As for what comes next, Bessette wants to return to her initial passion for materials and begin researching 3-D printing.
“It is a big hope of mine to be able to work with 3-D printing in the future. While it’s rewarding doing it as a hobby, I would love to be able to advance the science and applications of this rapidly evolving field,” Bessette said. She encourages other MSE students to contact faculty about research regarding their interests.
“If you see an opportunity for research in your email that sounds interesting, reply! There are plenty of professors who are looking for undergraduate students to assist in research,” Bessette said.
By Ben Crnic
Megan Hurley was drawn to engineering and materials science from a young age. In 4th grade, she was already carefully inspecting the different materials inside rocks she had broken open, and in high school she found chemistry and math appealing. When it came time to pick a college major, she knew she wanted to be involved in something to do with materials, and she began to explore UConn’s MSE department. When she discovered the camaraderie and how tight-knit the department was, she knew that it was a perfect fit for her.
“I really like the community and the smaller class sizes. You get to know people and what they like to do, and there is better interaction with the faculty as well. They are all enthusiastic about what they teach, and everyone is nice,” Hurley said.
She was made aware of the MSE department while she was participating in UConn’s BRIDGE program before her freshman year, a five-week summer program designed to prepare students for the rigor of the engineering curriculum at UConn. During this time, she spoke with her tutor at the time, Francis Almonte, who she credits with helping her make the decision to become an MSE major.
Now a junior, Hurley is certain this was the right decision, and is heavily involved in the MSE community. She volunteers for the Engineering Ambassadors, a network of students dedicated to inspiring the next generation of engineers through volunteering at events that promote STEM. She volunteers at events held by the Society of Women Engineers as well, which supports the professional interests of female engineering students as they pursue their degrees at UConn. Hurley also helped younger MSE majors through working with incoming freshmen at the BRIDGE program during one of her summers, and currently assists them through her position as The Major Experience (TME) Mentor for the MSE department. Incoming students are able to reach out to her and ask questions about the major, and she will be assisting with further outreach activities in the future.
Hurley finds it easy to be involved in the community for her major. She is fascinated by her classes, and there has never been a dull moment throughout her time at UConn.
“I think everything I’ve learned so far is cool, even if it’s a less exciting topic to me,” Hurley said.
One such course that struck her interest was MSE 3004 Mechanical Behavior of Materials, which was taught by Assistant Professor Seok-Woo Lee. In one class, Professor Lee gave a demonstration of the effects of shear force on a single crystal created at the nano-scale, which is a sample where the crystal lattice is continuous throughout. The demonstration involved a tensile tester which pulled apart the dog-bone shaped sample and recorded how the individual atoms in the crystal responded to the applied shear forces. Hurley was captivated by this demonstration.
“I’ve always liked how slight changes to a material can alter a multitude of its properties and characteristics,” Hurley said.
Once the UConn campus opens again for research after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she intends to perform a nanoindentation study on shock-compressed magnesium single crystals. The investigation will focus on the hardness of the material, specifically how it is influenced by the presence of twin boundary defects that form from prior mechanical shock. Studying the hardness in this way is valuable because it provides knowledge of the connections between materials properties, processing, and applications. The shock loading will be performed at two different speeds and will impact the samples with two different orientations, which should create a variety of defect distributions in the structure for further analysis.
Such research is essential because single crystals are often used in engines or turbines, where uncontrolled defects can be disastrous. It is therefore crucial to understand how the material responds to stresses similar to those encountered during normal operation in the typical environment, and how the properties of the material are altered as a result of this stress.
Hurley has some advice for the newer MSE majors she mentors: they should not be afraid to reach out to professors about their own research interests in order to explore ways to pursue such subjects.
“Just reach out, it might seem daunting and scary but once you start talking to professors after class it can open doors. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself doing research,” Hurley said.
She would also like to share her life motto, which she repeats to herself when she faces difficult challenges and urges others to do the same:
“You got this, even when you don’t think you do.”
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By Ben Crnic
MSE Alumnus David Wikholm (2013) is used to being on the front lines of innovation: he currently works on pioneering robotics technology in his position as Product Manager and Research Engineer at Formulatrix Inc. in Bedford, MA, a company that develops laboratory automation solutions, including the next generation of liquid handlers using microfluidic technology. Wikholm considers his MSE background invaluable in preparing him for his professional life and giving him a unique perspective on the engineering problems he encounters during his projects, as well as giving him the skills needed to make breakthroughs in his work.
“The MSE department emphasized engineering problem solving as a process in the context of materials science. Through my studies in the department, I learned an approach to solving engineering problems that is transferable to any division of engineering. I would say that this, combined with the research-oriented nature of materials science, prepared me well for a career in research and development in any engineering field,” Wikholm said.
One of the projects to which Wikholm is applying his problem solving skills is called the Rover, a mobile robot that helps with lab automation and serves to connect instruments together to move materials between them. The Rover assists with moving experiments between the different instruments, and is packed with sensors that make it smart and aware.
Another project Wikholm is developing is called the FLO i8 liquid handler, a robotic pipettor that transfers specific volumes of liquid to perform experiments in labs. Wikholm contributed to one of the first major developments on this project, which was a novel pipette tip design with two conductive strips down the sides and resistance-based sensing to enable real time tracking of the liquid level as it rises and falls in the container.
During his undergraduate career, Wikholm carried out research in the lab of his academic advisor, MSE Professor Puxian Gao, which centered on evaluating the behavior of certain cells when exposed to nanomaterials. He also explored methods to create uniform growth of zinc oxide nanowires on microbeads for use in the cell biology experiments.
The focus on biology fit Wikholm’s interests, as he first became fascinated by MSE through biomaterials, and was interested in the concept of creating 3D structures to grow tissues or entire organs in a lab. Professor Gao looks back fondly on Wikholm’s research and is proud of his work.
“David is one of the very dedicated students who got involved in our materials research during his sophomore year. I am very glad to see the continued devotion and success in his young career,” said Gao.
Ultimately, Wikholm ended up choosing MSE as a major because he viewed it as an essential field.
“I saw that materials science and engineering as a subject is quite fundamental and relevant to many fields of engineering, especially in various fields of cutting-edge research that I find interesting. I am captivated by the ability to unlock totally new applications and solutions by creating new materials,” he said. His favorite course during his time at UConn was MSE 3002, Transport Phenomena in Materials Processing, taught by Professor Harold Brody.
“This course really taught me how to navigate any real-world engineering problem and work through a solution. It was a major challenge, but it was rewarding,” Wikholm said.
Wikholm ended up completing a 5-year dual degree program called EUROTECH, which leads to BA in German and BS in engineering and is designed to emphasize national strengths in particular engineering fields. In order to complete this program, he spent a year abroad in Stuttgart, Germany, taking classes for one semester and working as a research intern at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology for the other semester.
“I had always wanted to study abroad and had also been interested in learning and using a second language. It seemed like a great opportunity to achieve both of those goals,” Wikholm said.
At his internship at the Fraunhofer Institute, Wikholm worked in the materials lab to research methods and materials to disperse nanoparticles in a solution, and carried out experiments to lay the groundwork for a study of the toxicology of nanoparticles. He credits his work in Germany as giving him the ability to recognize and navigate cultural differences, especially in a professional and technical environment.
“Ultimately, I believe this has helped me be successful in my role at Formulatrix, where I manage and work with teams of engineers based in Indonesia,” Wikholm said. After his work at Fraunhofer, he took another internship at Precision Combustion, Inc. in North Haven, Connecticut, where he assisted with preparing, performing, and analyzing experiments to evaluate new catalytic formulations.
Wikholm views all of these experiences as crucial for his success, and he believes the field of MSE is vital for the whole of engineering.
“I see the UConn MSE program as a hidden gem. It is a fundamental crux to almost any engineering field. It’s great for learning the essentials of engineering problem solving,” he said.
He recommends that other students interested in engineering consider becoming an MSE major.
“An MSE background can bring new perspectives to develop solutions for problems in other engineering fields,” Wikholm said.
By Ben Crnic
During his time at UConn, MSE alumnus Ryan Noraas decided to take MSE 5310 DFT Materials Modeling, and became fascinated with predicting fundamental material properties using atomistic simulations. This budding interest carried him to the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and ultimately led him to his current projects in his position at Pratt & Whitney. He is currently a staff engineer in the Materials and Processes Engineering lab.
“Sometimes, all it takes is a single spark to help you find a field of study,” Noraas said.
At Pratt & Whitney, Noraas works with the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) on projects related to machine learning algorithm development. He also focuses on materials modeling and quantification of process-microstructure-property relationships for jet engine applications, especially with titanium and nickel-based superalloys. He enjoys the teamwork that comes with the position, in addition to the flexibility to work in a wide variety of interesting projects.
“In general, most of our engineers are in a unique position to not only develop technology for the future, but also to support critical production and field issues as they arise. It’s an interesting work environment that always keeps you on your toes. It provides a unique opportunity to network and learn about many different materials systems,” Noraas said.
Noraas cites UConn’s proximity to Pratt & Whitney as a reason for choosing the school to complete his master’s degree.
“Pratt & Whitney and UTC have a great working relationship with UConn, so it was a natural choice,” Noraas said. He graduated from UConn in 2016 with a Masters in MSE, and his advisor was MSE Department Head Bryan Huey.
Similar to the way he discovered machine learning, Noraas can trace his introduction to MSE to a single experience that ignited his passion for the subject. During a high school field trip to Pennsylvania State University, he witnessed an experiment where two heat-treated ball bearings, one rapidly quenched and one cooled in a furnace, were dropped simultaneously on a solid surface. The furnace-cooled bearing bounced once or twice before coming to rest and produced a dull sound upon impact, while the quenched bearing bounced up and down like a rubber ball and produced a high pitched ring. The starkly different effects of heat treating provoked Noraas’s interest, and from that day on he knew he was to be an MSE major.
He encourages current MSE students to take a wide variety of classes with topics that may be unfamiliar to them, as they may find a new direction just as he did with machine learning through taking MSE 5310.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ So strive to keep learning, and try new things–you may discover entire fields of study and opportunities that were ‘invisible’ or unknown to you at the time,” Noraas said. He also has some more specific, practical advice for MSE majors:
“Learn how to code. Materials engineers work with a ton of different types of data, so learning how to code and automate things with Python or Matlab will assuredly save you and your company a lot of time and money,” Noraas said.
By Ben Crnic
MSE assistant professor Stefan Schaffoener was recently inducted into the Young Academy, which was established by the Academy of Sciences and Literature | Mainz in Germany to support promising young scientists as they pursue their careers. The academy seeks to assist young scholars in developing their scientific talent and expanding their scientific networks, as well as to promote dialogue across both disciplinary borders and generations.
Schaffoener is looking forward to working with people in disciplines outside of engineering on his future research projects.
“Because humanity has been involved with materials for a long time and MSE is a rapidly advancing field, we can connect it to a lot of other research that has a large impact on society,” Schaffoener said. He cited as one example of these connections how research into changes in geographic mobility overlaps with research on how changes in transportation affect greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the demand for certain enabling materials and other technologies, thereby bringing together investigators from a variety of fields.
Membership in the Young Academy is limited to a period of 4 years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the induction ceremony has been postponed to November.
On his hopes for the next 4 years, Schaffoener said, “I would like to do excellent research at UConn and work on projects that go beyond my field, which hopefully will improve the well-being of other people.”
On May 1st, 13 teams of MSE seniors virtually presented their Senior Design Projects for the annual Senior Design Day. These capstone projects, each sponsored by industry, state, or federal grants, demonstrate the engineering skills students have learned throughout their undergraduate careers. This includes the principles of design, how ethics affect engineering decisions, how professionals communicate ideas, and the day-to-day implications of intellectual property. The students research a problem, brainstorm potential solutions, and travel to the sponsoring company’s site to learn more about them and the project. Throughout the two-semester project timeline, student teams maintain contact with their industrial and faculty mentors, continually reevaluate their designs, write progress and final reports, and give presentations summarizing their outcomes. Summary videos of the MSE projects are available here.
The top three Senior Design projects were awarded by a team of industry judges and alumni, as summarized below:
We are grateful to this cohort for their commitment to our program, and more broadly for all of our project mentors and sponsoring companies/agencies.
As department head Bryan Huey notes, “The winning projects and students represent just a few examples of the knowledge, skills, creativity, poise, and determination which our MSE graduates carry to the next stage in their careers.”
1st Place ($400): Preparation Of 3D Printed Plastic Components For Waterborne Environments
By Riley Blumenfield, Christopher Choi, and Aidan Walsh
Sponsored by: Naval Undersea Warfare Center
Sponsor Advisor: James LeBlanc
Faculty Advisor: Rainer Hebert
This project focuses on finding a 3D printable material with high mechanical properties and UV resistance, as well as a coating that prevents significant degradation of mechanical properties during exposure to seawater.
2nd Place ($300): Controlling Residual Stresses In Alpha Beta Titanium During Manufacturing
By Kevin Sala and Cameron Sanders
Sponsored by: Pratt & Whitney
Industry Advisor: Vasisht Venkatesh
Faculty Advisor: Lesley Frame
This project focuses on a better understanding of the surface and subsurface residual stresses and microstructural damages that occur during machining of titanium alloys as well as the design of manufacturing processes that limit the residual stresses and subsurface damage.
3rd Place ($200): Optimization Of Adhesion Between Kapton Tape And EPR In Motor Lead Extension Cables For Use In Electric Submersible Pump Cables
By Eric Krementowski and Katelyn White
Sponsored by: Marmon Utility Co.
Industry Advisors: Michael Norton, Dan Masakowski
Faculty Advisor: Bryan Huey
This project focuses on assessing the adhesion between Kapton® tape and EPDM rubber of Chemlok® 250, Chemlok® 6150, 3M® 4799, and 3M® Primer 94 with 3M® 9485PC adhesive tape with a T-peel test in order to identify the optimal adhesive, prioritizing adhesion strength while considering ease of use and safety issues.
More information on these and the other 10 MSE projects can be found on the Senior Design Demonstration Day website.
By Ben Crnic
A team including MSE assistant professor Stefan Schaffoener was awarded a 3-year grant from the Norwegian Research Council that aims to strengthen collaborations in research and curriculum development between UConn and several other participating US and European universities. The $430,000 grant is part of the Program for International Partnerships for Excellent Education, Research, and Innovation (INTPART).
The collaborating universities span three countries on two continents, and include UConn, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway, the University of Virginia, the University of Pittsburgh, and RWTH Aachen University in Aachen, Germany. The research will look into materials used in extreme environments, such as alloys and coatings for space and biomedical applications. Exchanges are planned to facilitate curriculum development that will incorporate these research topics into MSE education.
The ultimate aim of the grant is to strengthen UConn MSE’s relationships with the other participating universities, as well as to promote collaborative research and joint publications.
“I’m very excited because this grant gives us more opportunities to collaborate with experts from Norway, Germany and the United States. It also gives our students more perspective with their research and more opportunities to exchange ideas and research, as well as more opportunities to attract students to UConn,” Schaffoener said.
Schaffoener joined UConn MSE in the fall of 2018 after his postdoctoral fellowship at NTNU in Trondheim. He earned his doctorate in 2015 from TU Bergakademie Freiberg in Germany, a premier STEM university in Germany.
By Ben Crnic
After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Jessica Maita came to UConn as a master’s student in MSE. After her first year here, however, Maita was instead determined to pursue a Ph.D. She is now a doctoral student in MSE professor Seok-Woo Lee’s group, where her research focuses on the multi-scale microstructural characterization and mechanical properties of nanocrystalline magnesium aluminate ceramics, materials that are of special interest for transparent armor applications.
When she is not spending time on her research or serving as president of the UConn Materials Research Society (MRS) Chapter (https://mrs.engr.uconn.edu), Maita volunteers for outreach activities that assist high school students in the process of applying to college. These activities are conducted with the help of the UConn School of Engineering’s Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) Fellowship Program, which supports African American, Hispanic and/or Native American students pursuing graduate degrees in STEM.
As one example of her outreach efforts, Maita participated on a BD-organized graduate student panel that addressed low-income, underrepresented students in the Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation Program (ConnCap) Program at Danbury High School.
“Previously being in their position, I knew the students could benefit from advice we could provide. It is common for students from this background to feel pressured into specific career paths but we were able to provide information on the many career options they have as well as all the opportunities they should take advantage of while being an undergraduate student,” Maita said.
Maita believes that it is crucial to reach high school students before they move on to college.
“Though I am a strong supporter of the programs available at the university level, I believe support needs to be provided sooner. The earlier you can reach students the sooner they can prepare for success,” Maita said.
Her background makes her sympathize with students who may be in a position similar to the one she was once in, and it motivates her to participate in these outreach activities.
“I know how it feels to have to go through the college experience with very limited help from your family. Their minimal English and elementary level education made it difficult for my parents to help me, whether that be financial or emotional help. I want to provide the information students need to be successful, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities I didn’t know about,” Maita said.
“This fellowship made it possible for me to pursue my graduate degree without the financial burden I was originally going to shoulder,” Maita said.
After joining MSE, Maita formed a close bond with other BD fellows.
“Not only did I receive financial support but I also gained a family at UConn. All current BD fellows meet on a biweekly basis to discuss our professional and personal development. BD provided a group of friends that are experiencing similar issues as me and which I know I can turn to when I need help,” Maita said.
Maita plans to continue with her outreach activities in the future.
“When an opportunity presents itself, I make an effort to help,” she said. Ultimately, after completing her Ph.D., Maita would like to work in industry.
Professor Lee wants other MSE students to learn from her example.
“Jessica is a truly wonderful student who takes care of others a lot. She has already made a significant contribution to outreach as well as university-level service more than any other student I know. I hope that many students will look to Jessica as their role model and follow Jessica’s career path. I really appreciate her considerate leadership.”
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By Ben Crnic
MSE professor Rainer Hebert recently led a study in collaboration with the Collins Aerospace Center for Advanced Materials at the UConn Tech Park. Collaborating partners also included Pratt & Whitney, Schlumberger Reservoir Completions Technology Center, and UTC Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. The study, entitled “Novel Al-X alloys with improved hardness,” centers on high-strength aluminum-based materials for use in 3-D printing, an additive manufacturing process.
This research is of strong interest to the aerospace industry because materials such as aluminum that are light and strong are used to manufacture small aircraft parts with complex geometries that are difficult to produce with traditional manufacturing.
“Working with Collins and Pratt & Whitney helped us remain focused on the end goal of aerospace applications, and their input is invaluable for bridging the gap from fundamental research to applications,” Hebert said.
The Collins Aerospace Center, established in 2016 and directed by MSE professor Pamir Alpay, is the result of continuing collaboration between UConn and Collins Aerospace, one of the world’s largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and defense products. The center offers funding for studies that focus on areas related to materials development and characterization. It also provides an opportunity for firsthand interactions with an industrial partner whose technologies are used in advanced aerospace and defense applications.
This study is one of several related to 3-D printing that UConn MSE has conducted with the help of the Collins Center. Hebert expects that more collaborations will occur.
“We will continue on this trajectory and have new initiatives underway to collaborate with industry,” Hebert said.
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By Ben Crnic
Graduate students Ayana Ghosh and Dennis Trujillo co-authored a research paper with MSE faculty members S. Pamir Alpay and Serge M. Nakhmanson that has become one of the top 100 most downloaded papers on physics published in 2019, according to a list compiled by Scientific Reports. The paper is entitled “Electronic and Magnetic Properties of Lanthanum and Strontium Doped Bismuth Ferrite: A First-Principles Study.”
The study focuses on using first-principles theory to investigate the effect of A-site dopant (lanthanum and strontium) on the changes in the electronic and magnetic properties of bismuth ferrite (BFO), which is a well-studied multiferroic material. The correlation between these properties of transition-metal oxide materials such as BFO has many technological applications, including tunable multifunctional spintronics, magnetoelectric random access memory devices, and various kinds of electronic sensors and optoelectronic devices. Since BFO thin films exhibit low electrical resistivity which limits its application in designing novel multifunctional non-volatile random access memory devices, the research featured in the paper contributes towards understanding how dopants like lanthanum and strontium can help overcome these shortcomings.
The research was performed in collaboration with Honchul Choi and Jian-Xin Zhu, both scientists from the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). This collaboration grew from a mutual interest in working on a perovskite material such as BFO, as well as Ghosh’s visits to LANL in 2017 when she was hired as a graduate research intern. Both Ghosh and Trujillo are currently also working on other projects and publications together.
On being a part of one of the top 100 most downloaded papers on physics, Ghosh said, “It is good to know that this paper is well-received by the research community and gaining attention. It will be great to see a few extensions of this research in the future as well.”
Trujillo said, “It was amazing to be recognized for our work and to see that people were interested in our research. It validates the hopes we have from the beginning of any project that our work will be well received and have some impact on the community.”
“Both Professor Nakhmanson and I have enjoyed working on this project with Ayana and Dennis who have done a great job with the calculations, the analysis, and the presentations of the results,” Alpay said.
By Ben Crnic
We are very proud to announce that one of our students, Riley Blumenfield, has been selected by the School of Engineering to be the Student Commencement Speaker for the virtual ceremony in May. Blumenfield is an Honors Program STEM Scholar and served as the president for the engineering sorority Phi Sigma Rho. She has also been involved in research on regenerating human limbs with MSE professor Cato Laurencin. In her sophomore summer, she interned at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI, where she worked with polymer nanocomposites.
Professor Fiona Leek, who has managed MSE undergrad labs and lab classes since October, said, “Riley TAed with us for all 3 of the last semesters. She has been a truly invaluable resource for me and many of the students and projects in the labs. She shared insight on the current classes from both a student and TA perspective and we’ve had great fun bouncing ideas around for possible future labs. I will definitely miss her next year.”
In the future, Blumenfield hopes to continue her research in regenerative engineering. Congratulations Riley!
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By Ben Crnic
Many of the materials that UConn MSE Assistant Professor Seok-Woo Lee works with in his research are invisible to the naked eye. In order to even see them, an electron microscope is required. Some samples are more than 100 times thinner than a human hair. Despite this, the nanomaterials that Lee researches are crucial to producing mechanically robust devices and structures.
According to Lee, creating resilient small materials is important for smaller machines.
“In order to develop a mechanically reliable robot or machine at the nano-/micro-meter scale, we need to know how to create a strong and tough ‘small’ material,” Lee said. His research group is working on understanding how characteristics of materials can influence mechanical behaviors of substances including metals, ceramics, intermetallic compounds, and polymers.
One such way to control mechanical behavior is reducing the size of materials. As a material’s size decreases from macro to nano-/micro-meter scales, it usually becomes much stronger and tougher. However, this can change as temperatures become more extreme. Part of Lee’s research involves exposing micromaterials such as metals to very cold temperatures, where they become brittle and fracture easily. Lee is attempting to find a way to avoid this.
It is important to understand how materials may respond in extremely cold environments for applications such as the vacuum of space. One example is called a cryogenic shape memory material, which can recover its original shape even after being largely deformed. The process of recovering its shape by expanding or contracting can be used to create mechanical motion.
“This long-range motion can turn on an electrical switch for a cold, dormant satellite in deep space once it meets a heat source such as a star. Also, this material can be used to move a mechanical component to control a robotic arm or telescope lens that is used under cold environments such as the shadow area of the moon,” Lee said.
Although Lee is dedicated to his research, he mainly sees himself as a teacher.
“Teaching is very important to me because I have always believed that I am basically a teacher. Once a student receives a good lecture, they can remember what they learn for a longer time,” Lee said.
Lee has received multiple awards for his teaching, including the UConn Mentorship Excellence Award in 2019 and UConn MSE Teaching Excellence of the year in 2017 and 2018. Lee is proud of being recognized for educating.
Lee has both undergraduate and graduate students, and over time, he has learned that they both require different approaches. According to him, the major difference is independence when it comes to performing research.
“A graduate student can design and perform experiments by themselves. However, I usually assign a simple and relatively straightforward research topic to undergraduate students because they are very busy due to their classes. I usually give step-by-step instructions to an undergraduate student, then they can learn the details of the research even without much prior experience,” said Lee. The graduate students Lee works with handle the microscopic material that he researches and are able to “pull and push a sample with an extremely precise control of force,” Lee said. An electron microscope has to be used in order to see these samples, as they are too small to be visible in a regular optical microscope.
According to Lee, it is fun for him to work with the three undergraduates and five graduate students who are part of his research group. He feels his MSE students should be especially proud of their major.
“I want to tell our MSE students that their decision to study MSE is a great choice. More and more I see that technological breakthroughs require the development of new advanced materials. Creating high-performance engineering devices such as micro-processors, airplanes, satellites, etc. requires sophisticated materials design and processing. Because of this, studying MSE becomes more important in overcoming our technological limits. So, I really think they should be proud to be MSE majors,” Lee said.
In addition to his work with students, Lee also collaborates with other faculty members on research. One such project is a cold spray project for the US Army, which he is working on with MSE professors Avinash Dongare, Mark Aindow, and Harold Brody. Lee enjoys these collaborations, which helped influence his decision to come to UConn.
“I chose UConn because of great people here. All of the faculty and students I met during the interview were very nice and friendly to me. I always believe that working with wonderful people is very important, and I thought (and still think) that those people are here at UConn,” said Lee.
Lee discovered materials science when he was in high school. He always wanted to combine his love of physics and chemistry with “making something useful,” which was fulfilled by materials science and engineering.
“I found that materials science and engineering is the best program because I can do both science and engineering! Also, I always wondered how matter was formed after the beginning of the universe, and I thought that it would be wonderful if I could design and create a special matter under my own control,” Lee said.
This interest followed Lee to his current career, and he is optimistic about his students also being a part of the MSE field.
“They can use this knowledge of materials to improve our world,” Lee said.
By Ben Crnic
When UConn MSE undergraduate student Alexander Perkins was in the spring semester of his junior year, he noticed he had some free time in his schedule. He decided to fill this open spot by joining a research project. This led him to MSE Assistant Professor Lesley Frame, and a corrosion research project that caught his attention. Perkins, now a senior, is working on predicting material loss rates for active corrosion on bridges.
According to Perkins, the main goal is to identify corrosion products as a function of environment and time for different steel compositions and with different protective coatings. Frame’s group is looking at specific corrosion products and characterizing them in order to understand the material loss rates better. They are collaborating with CEE assistant professor Arash E. Zaghi and MSE Associate Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s research groups on aspects of this project.
“This project will help us understand how to better protect against corrosion of the steel that is used in bridges and how that corrosion impacts the lifetime of the bridge,” Perkins said.
Perkins’ specific role in the project is preparing samples for corrosion tests, as well as planning the designs of the experiments for these tests.
Because corrosion is something that is often commonplace, it is Perkins’s main research interest.
“It’s something you see every day, so I want to know more about it and what causes it,” Perkins said.
This fascination was influenced by his MSE classes. Perkins’s favorite class so far has been MSE 3020 Failure Analysis, which he took with MSE alumni (Ph.D. ’02) and Adjunct Professor Daniel Goberman. Corrosion, in addition to being widespread, is a common cause of failure in materials. This makes Frame’s project a perfect fit for Perkins’ academic interests.
Perkins became interested in materials science right before he arrived at UConn. While he was in high school, he attended an open house and talked to one of the students at the MSE booth. The demonstrations at the booth caught his attention and MSE seemed more interesting to him than other forms of engineering.
Now towards the end of his undergraduate career, Perkins is starting to look towards the future. After graduation, he plans to enter either the medical device or aerospace industries.
For MSE students who want to start researching but do not know where to begin, Perkins has some straightforward advice.
“Just go talk to any professor who you think you’d like to do research with. All the professors in MSE are really approachable and support undergraduate research in their labs. If their lab doesn’t end up being a good fit they can recommend another professor to talk to,” Perkins said.
By Ben Crnic
MSE alumnus Dr. Neal Magdefrau is the newest addition to the MSE External Advisory Board. The Board consists of eleven industry representatives and serves to assist the department in accomplishing its three-fold mission in research, teaching, and service, and in strengthening its ties to industry and the community.
Magdefrau, a UConn MSE Ph.D. graduate, is a research scientist, engineer and entrepreneur. As a research scientist in the Measurement Science Group at the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) his work focused on the application of advanced characterization techniques to the solution of materials-related problems. In addition, Magdefrau founded Electron Microscopy Innovative Technologies in 2014, a company that rents out Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEMs) − the first and only such business in the U.S. that gives customers the option to rent these instruments.
Dr. Magdefrau is an award winner as well. In 2012, he was a recipient of the United Technologies Senior Vice President’s Award for outstanding service, given to a small service group by the Chief Technology Officer. Magdefrau holds ten patents, and has more invention disclosures pending. He is also a Division Editor for Volume 10 of the new ASM Handbook, “Materials Characterization”, which was released in early 2020.
“I’m truly honored to be selected as the newest member of UConn’s MSE External Advisory Board. As a graduate of UConn‘s 2nd MSE undergraduate class in 2005, I feel that I’ve been in a position to watch the department grow over the past 15 years,” says Magdefrau.
“Having grown up and spent my entire career in Connecticut, I have a lot of drive to help the MSE department continue to produce top-notch materials scientists. Connecticut is also in the midst of a technology industry revitalization and I believe that the UConn MSE department will be a key to providing top talent now and into the future.”
By Ben Crnic
Two MSE students, Ayana Ghosh and Lucas Enright, won awards at the 11th annual Electronic Materials and Applications (EMA) Conference. The conference was organized by Electronics and Basic Science Divisions of the American Ceramic Society and was held in Orlando, FL at the end of January 2020. Ghosh, a graduate student, was awarded Best Poster for her research on organic ferroelectrics, and Enright, a senior, was recognized as the Best Student Speaker for his talk in the session devoted to 5G telecommunications.
Both Ghosh and Enright attended the conference as part of a larger group of UConn MSE students, and were accompanied by MSE faculty including Associate Professor Serge M. Nakhmanson (Ghosh’s Ph.D. advisor) and MSE Department Head Bryan Huey.
Ghosh’s winning poster was dedicated to designing novel organic ferroelectrics. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms governing the emergence of ferroelectricity in these materials. She uses machine learning and data-driven approaches both to search for potential novel organic ferroelectrics and to establish design principles for achieving new functionalities.
“I try my best to understand what type of information is the most important/suitable to share during poster presentations that would engage the listeners and stir interest surrounding my research,” said Ghosh.
Meanwhile, Enright’s award-winning talk was on a project he conducted on the measurement of dielectric properties of ceramics at low-millimeter (W-band) frequencies. Originally, his research investigated heating in these materials occurring during the absorption of millimeter waves, but the focus was later shifted to applications in 5G technologies.
Enright’s research was conducted in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was an intern during the summer of 2019.
On winning the Best Student Speaker Award, Enright says “I am honored and flattered. It is really touching to be so well accepted by what seems to be a close-knit technical community who have been extremely welcoming and helpful.”
Associate Professor Nakhmanson says “I am delighted by how well our students represent UConn and the MSE department at the annual EMA conferences, which are increasingly becoming a premier international venue for cutting-edge research in ceramics. We go to that conference in numbers pretty much every year and have been fortunate to receive some awards before. However, I consider this visit especially successful, bringing home the best poster award, as well as a special award received by an undergraduate student. This sort of peer recognition clearly shows that UConn MSE is a good place to get your graduate or undergraduate degree in materials science.”
Due to the recent university announcements regarding COVID-19, unfortunately, we need to cancel the MSE Banquet scheduled for Friday, 4/3. If you have already registered for the event, please contact Jennifer Steszewski at email@example.com regarding your registration reimbursement.
By Ben Crnic
Before even coming to UConn, MSE sophomore Theresa Nosel was already very much accomplished. After all, she had two internships with NASA under her belt before transferring to the university from Manchester Community College (MCC) for her sophomore year, an achievement that anyone would consider impressive. Ultimately, she put the experience she gained with NASA to good use, as these internships set her on a path to majoring in MSE.
Nosel was able to get her first internship with the help of a program called the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Even though this was an online program, Nosel was able to go on-site in Virginia, to the NASA Langley Research Center, and then to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, for a week each as a continuation of the online program. At the latter facility, she met an employee from the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi who was helping with the program. Nosel applied to be an intern there for the spring 2019 semester, and was accepted.
During this internship, Nosel worked in the Office of Education, where she would speak to the community about STEM and the different programs NASA has available for students.
In her summer 2019 internship at NASA, Nosel delved more deeply into research and was first exposed to materials science. In an organic chemistry laboratory at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio, her research focused on making a material called polyimide aerogels and their use in additive manufacturing processes.
“To be honest, materials were never something I thought I would be interested in, but then I worked with aerogels and I got a small taste of the incredible things that can be done with materials,” Nosel said.
After her internship at Glenn, Nosel transferred to UConn from MCC, where she was originally a chemical engineering major. However, after her experience researching aerogels, she was interested in adding a minor in MSE at UConn. She managed to change her schedule so that she could fit in an introductory course, MSE 2001 (Introduction to Structure, Properties, and Processing of Materials I), which was taught by MSE assistant professor Yuanyuan Zhu. As her first semester at UConn went on, she realized more and more that she wanted to work with materials as well as chemical engineering, and become a double major.
“The MSE class was very interesting and my professor was wonderful, and the more I looked into the applications of materials science, the more I wanted to learn,” Nosel said.
Last month Nosel became an MSE major. She thinks her internship programs prior to UConn prepared her for her MSE classes.
“I went back to Glenn over the winter break to continue research for a few weeks, and going back I felt more confident in what I was doing than before. I knew a lot more about the fundamentals with what was happening in my research than over the summer because of the classes I had taken during the fall semester,” Nosel said.
As for now, Nosel is not currently involved in any research at UConn but hopes this will change soon.
“I think being an undergrad is an excellent time to really explore as many options for research as possible so as to make the most informed decisions on what you want to do afterwards,” Nosel said.
When it comes to her plans beyond her undergraduate career, she expects to pursue a doctorate degree, although she still has to decide her preferred field of study. Currently, she is interested in polymer science.
In addition to inspiring her choice of major, Nosel’s internships have influenced her possible career choice as well, as she would be interested in continuing her work at NASA.
“I really enjoy everything I have done at NASA and would be very happy if I could continue that,” Nosel said. “In the end, I want to do research and advance science in terms of exploration and sustainability.”
From her experiences at NASA, Nosel has also gained some valuable lessons. She encourages other students to seek out opportunities that they might be interested in, and go for them when they find them, even if they have doubts.
“When I first applied to NASA (and actually every time I have applied for something with NASA) I had every doubt in the world. I never imagined I would be accepted, and I actively prepared myself for the rejection I thought was inevitable. I am still in shock with the opportunities I’ve been lucky to have been given with NASA, and it is all because I pressed that ‘submit’ button.”
By Ben Crnic
MSE Assistant Professor Lesley Frame was recently voted Vice President of the Heat Treat Society (HTS). HTS is a professional organization that serves members who specialize in thermal processing, whereby metals, ceramics, and other materials are heated and cooled to improve their performance and durability. HTS is an affiliate society of ASM International, one of the largest associations of materials engineers and materials scientists in the world.
According to the November/December issue of Advanced Materials and Processes (AM&P), an ASM International publication, Frame is the first woman in an HTS Officer role. Frame is also the immediate past chair of the HTS Technology and Programming Committee and current chair of ASM’s Women in Materials Engineering Committee.
As Department Head Bryan Huey notes, “Lesley’s election is another great example of UConn MSE faculty being recognized by their professional peers for their leadership and expertise.”
By Ben Crnic
Four students represented UConn MSE in the Fluxtrol Student Research Competition at Heat Treat 19, an event in Detroit organized by the Heat Treat Society (HTS) Technology and Programming Committee. Seniors Indranie Rambarran, Kevin Sala, and Cameron Sanders, as well as 2nd year Ph.D. student Kevin Zhang, each presented posters of their research to international professionals in thermal processing from both academia and industry.
Indranie Rambarran was one of six students selected by the panel of judges for the semi-finalist round of the competition, and one of only 2 undergraduates who made it this far from the entire nationwide field. In her ensuing oral presentation, Rambarran presented research she is conducting with her advisor Lesley Frame. They are focusing on examining residual stresses in a Titanium alloy (Ti 6Al-4V) following heat treating and machining. It is crucial to understand such stresses especially because such titanium alloys are widely used by the aerospace industry. Undesirable residual stresses can result in premature failure of critical parts. “Residual stresses are notoriously difficult to measure accurately, and Indranie’s hard work over the summer allowed her to identify ways to reliably measure these stresses in the experimental samples,” says Frame.
Her presentation focused on comparing two methods of characterizing the residual stresses. Rambarran first spent a summer collecting X-ray diffraction measurements on the Rigaku SmartLab at the UConn Tech Park. She then spent the fall 2019 semester collecting measurements with a Pulstec X360s X-ray analyzer. The Rigaku used the sin2ψmethod, while the X-ray analyzer used the cos α method. She then compared the two approaches to determine which one measured stresses most effectively.
Rambarran discovered that the cos α method allowed more accurate measurements of residual stresses in the titanium samples than the sin2ψ method. This is partially because it takes the texture of the material microstructure into account.
“I would personally like to thank Dr. Frame because without her, none of this would have been possible! Although I did not win the final prize, making it as far as I did was enough for me to know my research meant a great deal,” Rambarran said.
“I am thrilled that UConn made such a good showing at Heat Treat 2019 and I am very proud of Indranie. She was up against Ph.D. students presenting their dissertation research and she did very well in the final presentation round,” says Frame.
By Ben Crnic
MSE sophomore, Ryan Gordon, has been offered a competitive summer internship at Oakridge National Lab in Tennessee as part of the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) Program. As an intern, Gordon will be conducting research on the use of molten salts as coolants for nuclear power plants. Specifically, he will investigate the corrosive properties of these salts.
The SULI program offers undergraduate students 10-week summer internships at one of 17 participating laboratories. Students select their preferences for laboratory assignments when they apply to the program. Once they are accepted, they are assigned to a mentor at the lab they are sent to. Since the program is offered to undergraduates, students without extensive prior research experience can still obtain internships.
Gordon will be performing his research alongside Dr. Stephen Raiman and his team. As part of his internship, he will be presenting his work at Oakridge National Lab in front of other SULI participants. His internship culminates with a final written laboratory report detailing his findings.
“I would just really like to thank Dr. Lesley Frame. She was able to offer me research last year as a freshman with absolutely zero experience. Because of the opportunity she gave me, I was able to learn a tremendous amount and really grow as a student. If it was not for this research position, I never would have been able to get this outstanding internship, and I am extremely grateful,” said Gordon.
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By Ben Crnic
Ching-Chang (“BB”) Chung, a 2014 alumnus of UConn’s doctoral program in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), recently became a laboratory manager at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in the Analytical Instrumentation Facility (AIF). As lab manager, Dr. Chung manages X-ray diffraction (XRD) and micro/nano-CT laboratories. He also trains students on the instruments in the lab and assists them with their research, allowing him to work on a wide variety of materials with researchers from diverse fields.
Since Chung is exposed to a wide array of research topics, he constantly learns about new materials. Since becoming lab manager, he has worked with materials ranging from semiconductor thin films to insects.
“On a lucky day, I could be characterizing the crystallinity of polymer fibers in the morning and working on CT imaging of a dinosaur fossil in the afternoon,” said Chung.
Dr. Chung notes that transitioning from researcher to lab manager certainly had its challenges. Because he is often involved in fields that are completely outside his background, Chung struggled at first with tackling problems in areas of materials research with which he was unfamiliar.
“In the beginning it was very challenging, but with the accumulation of experience, I have become more confident with different materials,” he said.
Chung also enjoys the networking opportunities that his exposure to a diverse range of research projects affords him. He collaborates with researchers from across the globe, many of whom he now regards as friends.
Chung describes his work as “a perfect way to build a strong international network.”
As lab manager, Chung doesn’t only learn about new materials. He also teaches researchers about how to work with their materials.
“It is fairly important to help people, especially those without an engineering background, to understand the principles of XRD and micro-CT, the limits of their materials and what their data means, etc.” said Chung.
Of course, explaining the theoretical underpinnings of XRD and micro-CT to those with no materials science and engineering background is no easy task. Since only a certain number of researchers who use his lab have such background, Chung is constantly trying to improve the way he explains the applications of these techniques.
Chung typically spends half of his day in the laboratory interacting with researchers and explaining to them how to use the XRD equipment. He also helps them design their experiments and perform measurements, and even assists them in interpreting their results. He devotes the rest of his time to his own research and collaborative projects. Much of this research focuses on functional oxides, especially ferroelectrics. Eventually though, Chung wants to shift about 50 percent of his research to the applications of XRD and micro-CT analytical methods to other materials.
During his time at UConn as a graduate student, Chung’s research also focused on ferroelectrics, but he also had a passion for materials characterization. Since UConn’s MSE faculty are well known for their research on both ferroelectrics and analytical materials characterization techniques, UConn was a natural fit for Chung when the time came to select a graduate school. He ultimately chose UConn because of the active research environment, as well as because of its beautiful campus.
Chung believes that he learned many important skills at UConn.
“Aside from the knowledge and technical skills I obtained during my Ph.D. training, the most important transferable skills that I gained that helped me transition to the real world were critical thinking and problem solving,” Chung said.
He also benefited from his experiences as a teaching assistant. Indeed, teaching is an important aspect of his duties in his current position.
Chung still keeps in touch with his UConn mentors, especially his dissertation advisor, MSE Associate Department Head George Rossetti.
“So many years after, we still keep in close contact with each other and continue to collaborate on research projects,” said Chung.
After graduating from UConn, Chung joined the research group of Professor Jacob Jones , who directs the AIF at NCSU, and was one of Rossetti’s research collaborators at the time.
“BB’s doctoral dissertation research work was especially challenging, involving ceramic processing, analytical characterization, electrical property measurements and the phenomenological theory of ferroelectric materials,” said Rossetti. “Given that BB excelled in each of these areas, it was no surprise that he was immediately snapped up for a post-doctoral position in Professor Jones’ group at NCSU.”
At first, Chung spent half of his time as a postdoc in Jones’s lab, and the other half at AIF managing the lab. Working with Jones exposed Chung to a wide range of research projects and expanded his professional network.
Chung’s decision to stay at NCSU was motivated by the school’s research opportunities. NCSU has an excellent School of Engineering and research there is only expected to grow. Yet, Chung still looks back fondly on his days at UConn. He even has advice for future students:
“Find out what you want to do with your MS/Ph.D. degree early on at graduate school and have a plan in mind as to how to get there.”
Chung also believes that students should take advantage of the many resources UConn provides and attend career fairs to make important connections.
“Reach out to alumni, network and talk to people that hold positions that you might be interested in, ask about their career pathways,” Chung said.
As for the future, Chung wants to stay involved in many different research projects and to continue learning new characterization techniques.
“Working with broad research topics will push me out of my comfort zone and diversify my knowledge and analytical skill set.”
He doesn’t have a specific position at NCSU that he is working towards.
“Rather than aiming for a job title that sounds impressive, I am more interested in the science itself,” said Chung.
By Amanda Song
As a sports fan looking for a college major, Ryan Keech became interested in the design and processing of football helmets and baseball bats in high school. Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) stood out as the right profession for developing improved materials for sporting goods. Then, Ryan learned that UConn has an MSE program, and applied. He completed his bachelor’s degree at UConn in 2011 and received his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Penn State University in 2016. Today, he works on developing new materials for Intel, a leading technology corporation.
As a Module Integration and Device Yield Engineer at Intel’s Portland Technology Development campus in Oregon, Ryan works in a state-of-the-art nanofabrication facility developing new materials to “optimize transistor device performance.” With new materials and processing techniques showing performance improvements, he then has to ensure they be manufactured in high volume. Though he’s far from his original goal of developing new materials for sporting goods, Ryan has found his true passion.
“It has been most exciting to me to work at the leading edge of science and technology. I work with other experts in various fields across electrical engineering, materials science, and materials characterization to extract as much data and learning as possible from an experiment to position our team for success in our program goals.” Ryan and his teams at Intel have already received numerous U.S. patents and filed invention disclosures for the materials and devices at the core of the processor chip technologies used today for communication, travel, and medicine.
“Learning the fundamentals through undergraduate study at UConn MSE was necessary to be prepared for professional work, but there was much more afforded to me and my classmates in the MSE program,” Ryan said.
When Ryan first learned that UConn, his preferred school, had an MSE program, he immediately applied. Then, after hearing Professor Bryan Huey present about the field in his freshmen Intro to Engineering course, he knew he chose the right major.
“I just loved the campus, the sports programs, and opportunities which UConn offered. Once I found my interest in MSE, UConn was the clear and perfect fit for me,” he said.
While Associate Professor Rainer Hebert was his advisor, Ryan built relationships with all of his professors. One thing he liked about the program was that professors designed open-ended assignments with real world applications and opportunities for team work.
“Professor Brody taught me how to be an engineer – how to solve a problem when you don’t have all of the information given to you. Professor Alpay and Professor Hebert challenged us to define our own problem statements (and find their solutions) from general, open ended questions. Professor Huey encouraged thinking outside the box to link various methods of problem solving together,” Ryan said.
Overall, Ryan and his classmates learned the materials processing and characterization techniques that are the foundation of their field.
But even with such thorough preparation for the professional world, there was a learning curve at Intel.
“At a major company like Intel, there is emphasis on collecting and sharing data and ideas as quickly as possible,” Ryan explained. There are many acronyms and project-specific terminologies used to accelerate experimental planning and interpretation, which can be confusing for new hires. “But overtime you become fluent in the new shorthand language just like the rest of your colleagues,” Ryan said.
One practical outcome of Ryan’s work is improving clock speed, drive current, and power consumption for chip architects at Intel to have the “best materials and transistors available as building blocks” for their computer processors. “Those chips deliver new capability to innumerous technological efforts around the world,” Ryan said.
His time at UConn was filled with countless memories from the lifelong friendships he made. Perhaps the most valuable thing Ryan learned as a student in UConn’s MSE program was learning to ask “why,” and then finding a way to answer that himself.
“The loop of questioning what I thought I knew and then proving it to myself helped me understand the classroom lessons from different perspectives. The sooner a student starts down that path, I think the more success they’ll have,” Ryan said.
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By Amanda Song
Congratulations to recent MSE graduate Abhinav Poozhikunnath, Ph.D! Just five days after defending his dissertation, his work was selected by Journal of Materials Science for publication as the cover article for the print issue to appear in February 2020.
The journal cover shows the reactive spray deposition technology (RSDT) process Abhinav used to synthesize Pt-free electrocatalysts described in his research article titled “Characterization and evaluation of Fe–N–C electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction directly synthesized by reactive spray deposition technology.” The article has already been published online.
“There is no greater joy for me than to see my students doing well,” his advisor and Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship, Radenka Maric, said in an email. “Seeing the cover page of the journal with our equipment and the flame spray process, one we built from scratch with my students in the Center for Clean Energy Engineering, I cannot express how grateful I am to Leonard Bonville for keeping our students safe and teaching them the best engineering practices while I am serving as a VPR.”
“Talk about perfect timing,” Abhinav wrote when he shared the news on LinkedIn. “This cover picture represents the culmination of 5 years of research at UConn as part of the Maric research group! It has been a thrill working with Radenka Maric, Leonard Bonville and the team. Now, it’s time for me to start the next phase of my career!”
By Amanda Song
Andrew Levin wanted to research technologies that could combat climate change. Majoring in Materials Science and Engineering united his interests in nature and technology. Joining the honors program provided him with an opportunity to build on those interests. Now, he’s investigating materials for renewable energy.
As a seventh semester senior in the honors program, Andrew has had research and internship experiences that helped him to narrow his interests in materials science and engineering (MSE), and to advance his career goals. One thing he wants students to know about the honors program is that it “better prepares you for the future.”
The honors program has helped Andrew transition from a student who consumes information, to one who acquires knowledge as an aspiring research scientist. He is now pursuing graduate study and applying to Ph.D. programs. His long-term career goal is to use advanced materials characterization techniques to improve solar cells, batteries, fuel cells, and thermal energy devices that can enable more sustainable sources of energy.
“Nature has always inspired awe in me, and I want to do all that I can to both understand and protect it. Materials science and engineering allows me to study the physics, chemistry, and fundamental sciences of what controls materials, and to apply the fundamental science to solve real-world problems.”
Andrew entered the honors program when he was admitted to UConn. However, rising sophomore and junior students can also apply to join the program, which provides research, funding, and other enrichment opportunities that enhance the student experience.
Participation in the honors program comes with challenges. “It has been a good challenge being an MSE honors student. Each semester, one MSE course is designated as an honors course, and I have to complete an honors thesis,” Andrew said.
Nevertheless, the work is rewarding. Andrew has become more confident in his understanding of MSE concepts. “Honors classes generally involve some sort of long-term project that builds upon course material. The projects have consistently improved my understanding and knowledge over course material,” he said. For his honors thesis, he chose to write a comprehensive research paper. “It required hard work and was very beneficial in bettering my technical writing skills.”
“Andrew is one of the most self-motivated students I have ever seen,” said his advisor, Assistant Professor Seok-Woo Lee. “He knows what he needs to do for his career. I hope that he becomes a leader who contributes to the development of new renewable energy materials and leads advances in energy technologies.”
The summer after his junior year, Andrew completed an internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. As part of the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), students are paired with scientists at a DOE laboratory to guide them through a research project related to the students’ interests. Andrew worked with a mentor to research perovskites, a class of materials that are of intense interest due to unique properties that make them suitable for applications in solar cells, light-emitting diodes, and other electronic devices.
“I gained experience working with a wide range of advanced fabrication and characterization techniques. A research environment such as a national lab promotes constant learning, through discussion with fellow scientists and a constant spreading of knowledge,” he said.
The DOE internship, as well as other unique experiences Andrew had as an MSE honors student, really helped him to focus on his future career goals. Going into the MSE honors program, Andrew struggled to clearly define his goals for combatting climate change, and to find ways to achieve them. But after taking honors classes and completing challenging research, he began to see that graduate school is one way to get there.
“The UConn MSE environment has made me confident and directed in my career goals. I feel that my foundational knowledge in MSE is strong and that I will be ready for the more advanced coursework in graduate school,” he said.
Currently, Andrew, a Holster Scholar, is drawn to working with renewable energy materials and technologies, including solar cells, fuel cells, and thermal systems. “I am enticed by the mysteries of energy materials and their future potential. I aim to complete a Ph.D. in materials science, concentrating in advanced characterization techniques,” he said.
For students considering the honors program, Andrew added: “It is a challenge but it is well worth it. It will be stressful at times, but in the long-term your learning experience is enriched and you are better prepared for future challenges.”
By Amanda Song
Two hundred years ago, one could find a blacksmith in every town or village in America. Handcrafting metal objects, from cooking utensils and candle holders to nails and weapons, was the only way to supply these commodities. Today, machines manufacture most of these products. Shows like Forged in Fire and YouTubers who provide tips and tricks about metalworking stoke the lingering interest in this craft for most. Nevertheless, blacksmithing remains a niche hobby.
However, one student at UConn is trying to expand interest in the historic trade. UConn Materials Science and Engineering undergraduate Sam Bedard launched the Metalworking Club this year to teach people about the craft of blacksmithing and casting in an environment where they can get hands-on experience, and learn about MSE at the same time.
“People within and outside of MSE are thinking about blacksmithing again,” Sam said. “It’s rewarding to work with your hands and make something, and I think this is part of the overall maker movement.”
With the help of Assistant Professor Lesley Frame, who has experience with metals processing and manufacturing, Sam started the Metalworking Club (also known as the Blacksmithing Club) in spring 2019. “It has been wonderful working with Sam on this club. He is so motivated about blacksmithing. All I do is provide the conduit for access to department and other University resources and Sam does just about everything else!” says Frame. This semester, they have over 200 interested students and 50 active students in majors as diverse as business and CLAS. It has been necessary to limit club activities and projects to small groups of students at any given evening meeting due to space constraints in the MSE Foundry – where the blacksmithing and casting activities take place. As the student interest grows, the Club has been working with the MSE department to find creative ways to expand to accommodate more students.
Sam, a former environmental science and English double major, became interested in blacksmithing around the same time he switched to an MSE major. He realized he wanted to major in something more hands-on, where he could see the products of his work. He got a research position in Professor Mark Aindow’s lab and learned more about metalworking, then enrolled in a summer class. “I set up my own tools and equipment from watching YouTube videos and started making tools and knives on my own,” he said.
However, blacksmithing requires a specific set of tools, and these days, things like anvils are a lot harder to come by.
“Getting an anvil is extremely expensive because most of them were melted down for steel production during World War II,” Sam said. “Now they sell for $500 each.” Theirs cost $450 and weighs 150 lbs. Sam invested his own resources the first semester, but the cost did not stop Sam from putting together a makeshift forge in his own backyard to practice at home.
“A charcoal forge is a lot easier to set up than a propane forge,” Sam said. He began with an old grill he had at home. He cut an opening so he could drill a steel tube inside and use it for the central unit airflow. Then he added insulation and refractory cement to withstand the high heat it takes to forge steel. “I ordered some items from Amazon, and got the rest from home,” he said.
On campus, they build and borrow equipment for projects. In fact, prior to purchasing a propane forge, Sam and the Club members built their own forge from scrap pieces and a propane burner. Professor Hal Brody has worked with the students to provide access to the MSE foundry, and even critiques of their work. Because of the high-interest from students, they usually need to divide group members during meetings: one group works on heat treating, one does metalworking. In addition, they hope to collaborate with the School of Fine Arts to borrow their ceramic heater. While waiting for funding approval from the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), the MSE department has provided funding for startup items like the anvil and a propane forge, and Sam is providing tools from his own resources.
“Once I’d been doing that for a while, showing lab mates, friends and family my work, they recommended I do the bladesmithing competition at TMS,” Sam said, referring to the annual meeting of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.
While managing meetings with 30-40 group members requires working out a lot of logistics, Sam has experience as the vice president of UConn Material Advantage Chapter. He also participated in environmental campaigns with UConn PIRG (UConn’s chapter of the Public Interest Research Group)and the Husky Ambassador Program.
“I’d be doing all this stuff on my own anyway, so I kind of like teaching people and it’s nice seeing others interested in this stuff. We’re all having fun. It’s a good group.”
Sam, a fifth-year senior, hopes the group can make it to the annual TMS bladesmithing competition, even if it means he won’t be around to see it.
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By Amanda Song
MSE undergraduate Michelle Such is searching for ways to create aircraft parts more efficiently using 3D printing. Since 3D printing has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry, Michelle’s research is right on the money. But exploring new ways to use additive manufacturing for aerospace parts also enables engineers to create custom aircraft parts faster and more cost-effective than before. Ultimately, this allows for lighter aircraft with reduced carbon emissions, and helps speed repairs for older aircraft. Below, Michelle explains how MSE guided her toward this career path.
What first attracted you to the UConn MSE program?
The welcoming faculty attracted me to the MSE department. The professors and lab staff welcome students and encourage us to learn, do research, and find what interests us most in the MSE department. I chose to study Materials Science and Engineering because there are many different career opportunities and industries one can go into with this degree. One acquires a wide range of scientific skills that will help you grow as an engineer.
How did research help you find a specific interest within MSE?
Casting has really caught my interest in the Materials Science Department. Professor Harold Brody provided his expert advice on the subject during my independent study project and I gained a wealth of knowledge in his alloy casting course (MSE 4038).
During 2018, I conducted research under the advisement of Dr. Harold Brody and Adam Wentworth. I researched additive manufacturing technology, capabilities, and limitations, focused on applications in the local aerospace industry with a case study and hands-on experience with FDM 3D printing. Additionally, I researched the investment casting process including: work piece preparation, investment mix processing, mold design, casting defects, microstructure, surface finish, and post processing techniques.
How did your experience as an MSE undergrad student prepare you for industry?
As an MSE undergraduate student, we complete a great deal of hands-on projects in the Materials Laboratory. These projects assist with student learning because we work in teams to solve complex engineering problems. For me personally, these projects and the MSE department as a whole have helped me to excel as an engineer, making my undergraduate experience challenging but exciting.
Parts for airplanes have been investment cast for many years. However, some companies are now researching ways to additively manufacture parts to obtain them with feasible geometries.
What are your career goals, and how has UConn MSE helped you achieve them?
After graduating in May 2020, I will be going into industry to be exposed to Materials Science and Engineering in a different environment. Ideally, I would prefer to go into the aerospace industry since my independent study research is heavily used in this industry. I plan on getting a Master’s Degree part-time while working in industry full-time. The MSE department has helped me gain experience in multiple areas of Materials Science while being placed in challenging situations.
How else have you been involved in the community?
Earlier this year, I was inducted into the Materials Science and Engineering Honors Society, Alpha Sigma Mu. I am Vice President of Alpha Sigma Mu and I am a member of Materials Advantage (UCMA). For volunteer work, I am The Major Experience (TME) Mentor for MSE which involves actively answering undecided students’ questions about MSE and advise if the major will be a good fit for them. I have also volunteered for YESS (Young Engineering Science Scholars) and the Explore Engineering Programs, where I presented to high-schoolers about 3D printing and investment casting, instructed and supervised them in the Materials Laboratory, and gave presentations on material classes and applications.
How was your overall experience as an MSE undergraduate?
The UConn MSE department strongly promotes student learning. Professors are always eager to answer student’s questions and frequently hold office hours for students to go for extra help. The MSE faculty are truly motivated to help students learn and want to see everyone succeed.
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Welcome to our 2019 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.
5 Data Mining for Critical Research Traits: Perseverance and Ability to Handle the Unexpected
7 A Microscope as a shovel? UConn Researchers Dig It
14 Ulbrich Steel’s MSE Alumni Foster Collaboration and Partnership
16 Undergraduate Joe Podbielski Juggles Class, Lab Duties and Working on Blackhawks
24 MSE Research Partners in $12.5M DOE Research Center
41 2018-19 Alumni Briefs
Sharon Uwanyuze, a Ph.D. candidate in Assistant Professor Stefan Schaffoener’s lab, was one of three students nationwide who received The Refractories Institute Award at the 2019 Fall Institute Meeting in Columbus, Ohio November 6-7.
The award includes a one-time grant of $5,000. They are given based on academic merit and the student’s interest and experience in the field of refractories, according to The Refractories Institute (TRI) announcement.
“My thesis is closely tied to TRI’s mission: advancing and supporting students who want to further their knowledge in refractory ceramics and then apply that in industry,” Sharon said. “They are called ‘refractories’ because they have great high temperature performance.”
Currently, Sharon’s research focuses on materials processing of refractory ceramics for titanium metallurgy, with an emphasis on corrosion and mechanical behavior at high temperatures. When she was looking at graduate programs, Sharon spoke to three professors at UConn’s MSE department. One of them was Stefan Schaffoener, who works with ceramics and composites focusing on corrosion, and high-temperature materials processing for aerospace applications.
“He works at the interface of ceramics and metals during titanium alloy casting,” Sharon said. “At high temperatures, molten titanium can oxidize rapidly.” This is a problem for Schaffoener’s lab group, because current ceramic casting molds do not sufficiently limit oxidation. Once titanium picks up more than 0.2 wt% oxygen, the toughness at the metal’s surface is drastically reduced and it will no longer be suitable for most aerospace applications. Therefore, this surface layer is currently milled away mechanically or chemically. However, if researchers could sufficiently understand and control the melting process and the refractory ceramic composition, this oxidation problem could be mitigated.
“That challenge initiated the research I’m working on. I synthesize the materials of the ceramic casting molds that titanium is melted in and analyze their properties and performance,” Sharon said. For instance, if they use a ceramic mold that forms a barrier between titanium and the ceramic material itself, that prevents further diffusion of oxygen from the mold into titanium, and vice versa. While zirconium oxide-based molds work well with other metals, zirconium tends to diffuse into highly reactive metals like titanium alloys and contaminate the metal.
“We’re now working on other ceramic materials such as calcium zirconate. Zirconia has a high melting temperature and excellent stability. By doping it with other elements we can make it even more stable with titanium,” Sharon said.
Earlier this year, Sharon completed a summer internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), working on ceramic matrix composites for energy-producing (nuclear) applications. She used her knowledge of ceramic processing and properties to work alongside Dr. Stephen Raiman, a Research & Development Associate in Corrosion Science at ORNL.
But her path to the TRI scholarship wasn’t always this clear.
“It was exciting to win. I had tried to apply for that scholarship as an undergraduate while working in an Advanced Ceramics laboratory, but I didn’t get it. Now they can see I’m truly focused on refractory ceramics.”
As an undergraduate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Sharon was a research assistant in an advanced ceramics lab, which was unique in their metal-focused program. She worked on synthesizing yttria-stabilized zirconia for ceramic applications.
“While working as an undergrad research assistant, I was encouraged by my advisor to pursue grad school because I was research-driven and had good grades. It was great advice, and I like to speak to undergrads and show them that grad school is a great possibility,” Sharon said.
She had the chance to speak directly to undergraduates when she participated on a panel at UConn’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in October.
“It’s important to me because I was shocked to learn that on average, less than 5 percent of Engineering bachelor’s degrees go to black students. Our undergraduate program is very diverse, but I think a lot of students may think graduate school is not an option, especially if they’re first-generation college students.”
Sharon is the first in her family to do a Ph.D., and feels that UConn is a great institution for her. “Here, we have a lot of library resources, top-notch equipment, and a whole building dedicated to characterization and microscopy,” she said, referring to the UConn Tech Park. “So we want to encourage undergraduates to look into that too.”
Sharon added that the professors in the MSE department are very approachable and willing to mentor students. “In Dr. Schaffoener’s group, we currently have three undergraduate research assistants, one of whom I help mentor. I was once in this position as an undergrad, and having research mentors is truly a phenomenal resource,” she said.
Sharon plans to use the grant money to invest in a high-power desktop computer for her lab, so she can improve her studying and experiments.
By Amanda Song
Materials Science and Engineering undergraduates won awards totaling $1750 for dome design and research presentations at the annual Materials Science & Technology conference in Portland, Oregon September 29 to October 4.
UConn Materials Advantage (UCMA) goes to MS&T each year to provide undergraduate members with the opportunity to explore MSE topics they might be interested in, and to see what kinds of research and research teams are out there.
UCMA undergraduates Amanda Agui, Samuel Bedard, Lucas Enright, and Justin Hewitt competed in the Geodesic Dome Design Competition against eight teams from universities across the U.S, with a 3D-printed ABS plastic dome.
“Winning best in destruction was not our objective, but I suppose it shows that we optimized our dome for the criteria of the competition,” Lucas said.
The domes were judged based on aesthetics, strength-to-cost and strength-to-weight ratios, a presentation and poster, and overall mechanical strength. While they weren’t aiming for it, the UCMA team’s dome shattered in an impressive explosion that earned them the Best in Destruction award for $500, while the weight-cost-strength ratio of the dome earned them Runner up for $750.
“We realized the advantages of 3D printing and the design created by the 2018 team, which included Zachary Putney, Iwona Wrobel, Jordan Gomes, and Justin Hewitt (also on this year’s team). We modified their design and optimized the processing parameters of the dome after printing,” Lucas said.
Modifying the prior years’ design turned out to be a major advantage. “Many teams casted their domes from molds or had other one-and-done sort of solutions and if they discovered a weakness in their design, it would be expensive and time consuming to correct. We, on the other hand, could tweak our CAD file over and over,” Lucas said.
Additionally, Victoria Reichelderfer, a seventh semester MSE undergraduate, won first place in the annual Material Advantage Undergraduate Student Speaking contest. The contest is designed to encourage undergraduate students to present technical papers and to improve their presentation skills.
The award, which includes $500 for first place, recognizes Victoria’s presentation on “Phase Field Modeling of Corrosion.” In addition to the award, Victoria gained an invaluable experience that will prepare her for her future in graduate school and beyond: she got to present her research in a professional setting for the first time.
“I’m applying to graduate schools now, and I wanted to expose myself to the experience of presenting at a conference,” Victoria said. “It was a good experience because I’m going to have to do that in the future.” It was her first time attending a conference as an undergraduate.
Her presentation was the culmination of a project she started last spring, while taking her advisor Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s graduate level course on phrase transformations of materials. Traditionally, it is challenging and computationally expensive to model phase transformation and corrosion. Victoria’s research aims to address this by using computational models to track phase transformation, which helps researchers deepen their understanding of the process.
“Professor Nakhmanson gave me some general advice about presenting. Another grad student, Lukasz Kuna, is a great presenter and he gave me a lot of tips about the look of the presentation, and presenting in a professional setting,” Victoria said. Moe developed a video simulation of dendrite corrosion that Victoria used in her presentation, which she believes helped her stand out from the others.
“I have an interdisciplinary goal. I like biomaterials, but I’m also really interested in the cell biology side and what happens when cells and tissues interact with materials,” Victoria said. While her list of six potential graduate school programs is not yet solidified, Victoria plans to use some of the $500 award to fund her applications.
“Our work in MSE was practically everything that lead to this win,” Lucas said. “Our collective backgrounds in materials science gave us knowledge of materials processing and the engineering process as it applies to materials. We knew the properties of the dome we were trying to maximize, and our MSE background made 3D printing a brittle polymer an intuitive choice.”
After spending four consecutive days with her peers at the conference, Victoria feels grateful that the MSE program’s small class size helped her bond with her classmates.
“I’m excited for what comes after graduation, but I’m going to miss UConn. I chose MSE as a major because the program was small. I know everyone in my classes and there’s always someone I can study for an exam with or ask for advice. I hope to find this kind of community again,” she said.
Victoria used a video in her presentation that demonstrates the modelling of phase transformation and corrosion. Her labmate, Moe Daeipour, created the video.
By Amanda Song
After spending years analyzing the reasons why helicopter parts broke, Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) alumna Rheanna Ward has learned that failure is rarely the end. In fact, many successful designs and products have resulted from failure. After being involved for several years with analyzing why parts break, Rheanna wanted to transition to the front of the problem by designing blades which can operate under harsh conditions and help rescue people.
“My personal goals are intertwined with work so it would be difficult for me to separate the two. I put a lot of effort into my work and I want to make an impact on the engineering community,” Rheanna said.
Since graduating UConn with her BSE in 2015, Rheanna has worked at Sikorsky, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, first in Materials & Processing (M&P) conducting failure analysis on aircraft parts (identifying how and why part of an aircraft broke during test, flight, or development), and now in Blade Development designing blades for commercial and military use. Throughout her four years working at the company, she has continued to build on lessons learned in MSE, forge relationships with her coworkers, and learn “more than she could have imagined.”
“I enjoyed working on composite failures the most because they were different and not as well documented or understood as metal failures,” Rheanna said. “We looked at parts under the light microscope, in the SEM, and pieced everything together to come up with a story on how parts failed.”
“There are people who understand the processing, performance, and structure for composites in depth, but the knowledge is not as widespread as it is about metals,” Rheanna said.
During her time in M&P, Rheanna often worked with the Blades Engineering Department, and got to know the manager and team there well. When a position opened up in Blades Development, the manager approached Rheanna and asked her to join their department.
“I had never designed anything before, yet he insisted I would learn how and thought I would like the group. I’ve been in this position for about a year,” Rheanna said, adding that she’s happy she stepped out of her comfort zone to delve into blade designing.
In Blades Development, Rheanna and her team take broad requirements about new developmental aircraft and design blades for the appropriate lift and operating conditions. “We rely on other groups to give us input such as how much the blade must lift, if the aircraft will be in a harsh environment (excess sand or saltwater), and if there are certain materials to use,” she said. “It’s pretty neat to see all the new technologies emerge and see the final product you worked on in the end.”
Rheanna credits the group work her MSE instructors assigned as some of the best preparation for industry work. By working together to dissect challenging problems and work out the solution, Rheanna got her first taste of what it would be like after graduating.
“No one designs anything alone, and learning to talk to people and respectfully disagree and present facts on why things should be done a certain way is important.” This collaborative effort has enabled her to come up with new ideas for designs or materials. “These new discoveries are allowing us to push the limits of materials and design better, longer lasting parts. I look forward to when we can design parts that have an infinite life.”
Rheanna’s cohort while in MSE comprised about 30 people per class—today, it’s grown to 40 students per class. This small group of students all knew each other well and worked on homework together. “I was able to have class with my best friends every day which was really special. Some of my best memories were sitting in E2, studying with our group, and ordering wings and watching YouTube videos to take a break from our work,” Rheanna said.
“My advisor, Professor Alpay, was always there to support me and give me direction whenever I was questioning myself. I owe a lot of my success to him because of all the positivity he offered me when things got tough.” Such advice is particularly useful to Rheanna today, as she is pursuing a master’s degree part-time, while also working full-time. Rheanna thinks of it as “short-term pain for long-term gain.”
After earning her MS and becoming a better designer with CATIA, the design software suite she uses for computer-aided engineering at Sikorsky, Rheanna wants to manage a development program and become an Integrated Product Team lead for the entire helicopter rotor system, which extends beyond blades.
“When I think of where I started four years ago, I believe in five years I will be ready for a whole new set of challenges. We are lucky that Lockheed Martin (who owns Sikorsky) has so many different divisions. I can see myself rotating to Lockheed Space or Missile and Fire Controls at some point,” she said.
Since graduating UConn, Rheanna has remained involved in the UConn community. She helped develop senior design projects on behalf of Sikorsky, gave tours to Bridge students—a five-week intensive summer program to prepare students underrepresented in engineering fields for their studies in UConn Engineering—and helps recruit at UConn whenever Sikorsky attends a career fair. She looks forward to Material Advantage Banquets as an alum as well, an event close to her heart because she helped initiate the annual banquet when she was Vice President for Material Advantage in 2014.
When asked what advice she would give future undergraduates, she said, “I try so hard to do everything perfect the first time that sometimes it’s difficult to accept I may fail. Ask your peers and teachers for help when you can’t figure something out. Not everyone expects an answer immediately. If I don’t know the answer to something, I know enough to say, ‘I don’t know, but I can find out.’ And my MSE degree gave me the foundation to then go and solve the problem.”
By Amanda Song
As one of the first graduates of the newly-formed MSE program in 2005, and a subsequent MS and Ph.D. graduate of the program in 2013, Neal Magdefrau has watched UConn’s MSE department grow from five students and a few faculty, to 41 faculty and over 250 students.
In the coming year, he will return as the newest member of the External Advisory Board, joining ten other industry partners in working to strengthen the visibility of the UConn MSE Department at the university, state, and national level, and to assist with strategic planning.
During his 12 years at UConn, Neal served as President of the UConn Material Advantage (UCMA), and as a member of ASM and TMS. He completed his Ph.D. thesis titled “Evaluation of Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Interconnect Coatings: Reaction Layer Microstructure, Chemistry and Formation Mechanisms” under the advisory of Professor Mark Aindow.
The three-time MSE graduate is now a small business entrepreneur and staff engineer and research scientist in the Measurement Science Group at UTRC. He works part-time at UTRC while cultivating his company Electron Microscopy Innovative Technologies, which is the first and only business in the U.S. offering rentals of desktop Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEMs).
“I believe the technology industry in Connecticut is at the beginning of a resurgence, and small technology startups are going to have a major impact in repairing the state’s stagnant economy,’ Neal said. His business has grown “about 30 percent year-over-year,” he said, adding two new SEMs to their rental fleet and recently opening a second office location in Tolland, CT.
Neal has spent most of his time at UTRC working on high temperature materials and coatings for ceramic matrix composites, as well as running programs at UTRC in the areas of bulk metallic glasses (BMGs) and atomic layer deposition (ALD). But what excites him most is working with cutting-edge equipment to solve problems.
“The best days are those where I can help a customer solve an issue that they haven’t been able to resolve without using advanced materials characterization. The reason I started my business is to put more powerful microscopes in the hands of more companies to help them address their R&D and manufacturing needs.”
In 2012, Neal received the Senior Vice President’s Award, given by the CTO to their small service group for outstanding service. He holds eight patents and has more invention disclosures pending.
In September, Neal was invited to join the External Advisory Board after alumna Alexandra Merkouriou stepped down to continue her research at UConn’s Airforce Research Laboratory—Research in Advanced Manufacturing, and to pursue a Ph.D.
Please join us in welcoming Neal Magdefrau to the Board!
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By Amanda Song
The Department of Materials Science and Engineering is pleased to welcome Fiona Leek, Ph.D., a UConn alumna and long-time employee of UConn’s Institute of Materials Science, as an assistant professor-in-residence.
In her new role, Leek will teach undergraduate lab courses and manage the MSE laboratories. She will work with other MSE faculty to enhance student research, coordinate outreach programs, and mentor senior design projects.
After earning her BA in Museum Science & Archaeology at Wesleyan University in CT, Leek worked as textile conservator treating historic textiles including those owned by major museums such as the Metropolitan and the Smithsonian. It was this that sparked her interest in materials science. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Textile Science and Engineering from North Carolina State University and master’s and doctoral degrees from the Polymer Science Program at UConn.
Thereafter, Leek worked as a technical expert in the thermal analysis of polymers, foods and pharmaceuticals for T.A. Instruments in Delaware. She later moved to Massachusetts to become a Senior research scientist in corporate analytical at Millipore Corporation, a multinational company providing advanced filtration products to food and pharmaceutical industries and analytical sciences. Here she managed the polymer analysis facilities and provided polymer expertise for R&D, Manufacturing, QC, Technical Services and Supply Chain,
In 2006, Leek returned to UConn’s Institute of Materials Science (IMS) where she 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. During this time, she also served as a co-advisor for several MSE Senior Design teams and as a mentor for the Society of Polymer Engineers (SPE) Polymer Graduate Student Chapter and the UConn Connects program. In 2016, she joined Travelers’ Risk Control Lab as a Senior Forensic Scientist where she investigated materials failures as they relate to loss of property, business and personal injury.
Please join us in welcoming Fiona Leek to the MSE Department.
By Amanda Song
The Department of Materials Science and Engineering extends a warm welcome to new staff member Jennifer Steszewski, who takes over as the Administrative Services Assistant for MSE.
Jennifer joins the department with a strong background in education and administrative services, and a passion for helping others. After graduating Roger Williams University in Rhode Island with a B.A. in Elementary Education and Psychology, Jennifer worked as an elementary school teacher in North Carolina for five years, teaching 4thand 5thgrade students. There, she worked with faculty and staff to implement Professional Learning Communities to monitor student growth, in addition to participating in the School Improvement Team.
Later, as a Service Instructor with Because Early Education Matters, Jennifer provided specialized instruction to children ages birth to three years with global developmental delays. She continued to pursue early childhood education as a Service Coordinator and Developmental Specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, Winston-Salem Children’s Developmental Services Agency. There, she transitioned into a more administrative role, coordinating targeted family service and case management, maintaining billing records, and educating colleagues and families on early intervention topics.
In July 2018, Jennifer moved back to New England, where she joined UConn as an Office Assistant in Dining Services, where she developed a streamlined business process to improve coordination between the sales and business office departments.
Jennifer has certifications in teaching English as a second language and elementary to 6th-grade education, and as an infant-toddler family specialist. She was recognized as the Technology Teacher of the Year at Liberty Drive Elementary School in 2011.
She is married to Craig, a 7th grade math teacher, and is mother to their three-year-old son, Jacob. Jennifer is very excited to join the MSE team.
Please join the department in welcoming Jennifer!
By Amanda Song
Pamir Alpay, Materials Science and Engineering GE Professor in Advanced Manufacturing, has been appointed as Associate Dean for Research and Industrial Partnerships at the School of Engineering (SoE). Dr. Alpay will continue as the Executive Director of UConn Tech Park, with the dual roles enabling him to lead engineering centers and applied research initiatives.
Dean Kazem Kazerounian announced the new title last week in an email to the SoE community.
“We are thrilled to have someone with Dr. Alpay’s experience taking the lead on our industry relations and research development,” Kazerounian said, adding that he is “excited for the future” of the school.
As Executive Director of UConn Tech Park, Dr. Alpay leads the University’s efforts to increase strategic partnerships with businesses in a state-of-the-art research and development facility. Dr. Alpay joined UConn’s MSE department in 2001 and served as its Program Director and subsequently as its Department Head from 2011 to 2017. He received his Ph.D. in 1999 from the University of Maryland.
He is an elected member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) and a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and 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. Dr. Alpay has over 200 peer-reviewed journal publications and conference proceedings, four invited book chapters and a book on functionally graded ferroelectrics.
Based on an email by Dean Kazem Kazerounian
By Amanda Song
Exploring ways to strengthen lightweight structural materials in order to withstand deformation and survive under extreme environments is understandably complex. But this scientific process motivates Sergey Galitskiy, Ph.D. student in Associate Professor Avinash Dongare’s lab, to continue his research on modeling the material response of metallic systems under conditions of impact/shock loading. When he does produce results, the chance to share that with the Materials Science and Engineering community is thrilling.
Sergey’s research focuses on investigating the mechanisms of fracture for Al and Mg based materials under shock loading conditions that result in very high strain rates (~107 – 1010 s-1). His primary focus is examining how these Al and Mg structures react on the atomic scale to plate impact or laser induced shock, which has not previously been theoretically investigated. The work uses classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to investigate the evolution of defects (dislocations) and phase transformations (melting) during failure.
“What we’re doing is modeling the irradiation of a thin film by an ultra-fast laser, generation of a resulting shock wave, and usually the consequential fracture of the material,” Sergey said. “There are pros and cons of investigating a material’s strength with laser-induced shock. On the one hand, very high temperature leads to material ejection. On the other hand, in comparison to high-velocity flyer (explosive) approaches, lasers provide precise control of the energy deposition which can more readily be compared to our theoretical work.”
The understanding of material behavior (fracture) in such extreme conditions can be useful for the defense and aerospace technologies. For instance, if they can create an aluminum-based structure that is both lighter and stronger than what is already used to build airplanes, they could potentially reduce fuel costs and enhance maneuverability.
Sergey’s first article, highlighted on the cover of the Journal of Applied Physics, demonstrates the ability to model the spall failure under laser shock loading. He and Dr. Dongare were able to investigate how laser loading conditions and crystal orientation result in variations in dislocation density evolution and failure behavior.
“One challenge in the applicability of the MD method is that one can usually only model systems with sizes of a few hundred nanometers,” Sergey said. But his advisor developed a technique that scales the MD simulations to model large systems, up to tens of microns. This method, Quasi Coarse Grain Dynamics (QCGD), is able to retain the atomic scale characteristics of the defect evolution, phase transformation behavior, and failure behavior, all for a fraction of the cost of running MD simulations.
“We have extended the capability of the QCGD simulations to model laser interactions with metals, allowing the modeling of systems and phenomena that are relevant for laser shock loading and additive manufacturing.”
Building on some of his predecessor’s work is part of what makes the scientific process exciting for Sergey. The opportunity to meet and work with pioneers in the MSE field, including the chance to work with his advisor, Dr. Dongare, was a major factor in his decision to join UConn’s MSE program as a Ph.D. student.
Before coming to UConn in 2016, Sergey earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Physics from South Federal University in Russia, and was working as a Research Assistant at the University of Kassel in Germany, experimenting with organic atomic systems.
“During my last project in Kassel, I worked in modelling the processes in neuron cells on the atomistic level. There, I gained experience in MD simulations, and I wanted to continue my scientific work with this method,” Sergey said.
When Sergey discovered that Dr. Dongare’s group is also doing MD simulations—with metallic, rather than organic, systems—he knew he had to join them. When he eventually joined the lab, he got to build on his experience working with a Two-Temperature Model (TTM), which describes laser radiation interaction with matter on an atto – femto second scale of (10 ^-18 – 10 ^-15 seconds), and extend the model to some metallic systems.
But transitioning from Physics to MSE, and from consuming others’ research to meeting the researchers and producing his own theories, isn’t easy. Sergey credits UConn’s MSE program for helping him develop as a scientist, providing him with the training and MSE courses to become successful in his research, and providing professional development opportunities.
“When I started my scientific career in Russia and Germany, I never spoke to the scientists who came before me. I just read their books,” he said. “But here, at TMS conferences, for instance, scientific book authors came up to my peers and were introducing themselves. Those people who created the field, who are on the tip of the science, you get to meet them,” he said.
“To me, appreciation is one of the best gifts in scientific society.”
By Amanda Song
Byung Jun, Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. student, received honorable mention in this year’s 3MT® Three Minute Thesis Competition, for presenting his research to a general audience.
“My presentation discussed the effect that sand in the air can have on jet engines and their durability,” Byung said. “My work is on analyzing this interaction between contaminants in the air and specifically, the high temperature resistant coatings that the jet engines have.”
Each year, the UConn Graduate School hosts the school-wide competition, encouraging doctoral students to present their research in an impactful and condensed three-minute version. The winning presentation is then submitted to the global competition to compete against universities from around the world.
Condensing years of research and, often, many complex scientific terms into a three-minute speech for a non-technical audience is a challenge. But it’s an invaluable experience and a beneficial skill for many STEM researchers.
“The biggest benefit is in improving one’s ability to communicate with the rest of the world. It’s no use if you can’t tell people what amazing work you’re doing, right?” Byung said. “It’s hard to take that step back if you’re always surrounded by the same professionals who share that same language with you.”
Byung hopes to work in a teaching position in the future, where “any public speaking practice is good practice.”
“The notion of parsing through the content to adjust to your audience is an important lesson that I believe is applicable anywhere,” Byung said.
This year’s winner was Pharmaceutical Sciences doctoral student Koyel Sen with her presentation on custom-built drug dosages using 3D printing techniques.
Lesley Frame’s guest editorial on Heat Treatment in education in ASM’s May/June Materials Solution Publication.
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By Amanda Song
The Materials Science and Engineering Department is pleased to welcome Dr. Sonia Tulyani as the newest member of the External Advisory Board. She joins ten other industry partners in working to strengthen the visibility of the UConn MSE Department at the university, state, and national level, and to assist with strategic planning.
As the new Senior Director for Collins Aerospace, Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Tulyani plans to expand materials innovation by developing a network of experts and increasing communication across UTC’s many business units. Collins Aerospace is one of the world’s largest suppliers of technologically advanced aerospace and defense products, designing, manufacturing and servicing integrated systems and components for the aerospace and defense industries.
For over 15 years, Dr. Tulyani has led materials innovation in various roles at United Technologies. With a background in high temperature materials and coatings and experience working in experimental and simulation settings, Dr. Tulyani has worked on the development of coatings, catalysts, lubricants and gearboxes for UTC’s business units. She has earned five US patents and two Outstanding Achievement Awards, the highest awards granted by United Technologies Research Center (UTRC).
Driven by a desire for learning about new products and how to improve their performance with materials engineering, Dr. Tulyani earned her B.S. in chemical engineering at MIT, her M.S. in chemical engineering at Princeton University, and her Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
MSE Department Head Bryan Huey is especially pleased to welcome Sonia as the newest member of the board.
“She has already been very supportive of our department, and her insight into the needs of local industry are invaluable as we in MSE continually improve our educational and research program,” Huey said.
Dr. Tulyani will replace Dr. Venkat Vedula, Executive Director, Additive Manufacturing, UTC, who served on the board for five years.
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By Marlese Lessing
Sean Ketchum, a 2008 UConn MSE alumnus and director of metallurgy at Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals, was one of the first UConn MSE graduates to work at the world-renowned Wallingford steel company, and he certainly won’t be the last.
Sean, along with Samantha Brantley (B.S. 2015), Samuel Guerra (B.S. 2017), Allie Kelley (B.S. 2015), and Keith Grayeb (B.S. 2009), are all alumni of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and are all working full-time at the company with their degrees in materials science.
Keith, currently senior process metallurgist at Ulbrich, was the first intern at the company, working there over the summer between his sophomore and junior year in 2007. When he graduated, he worked at Sikorsky for a year before Ulbrich reached out to him with an offer, where he has been working for eight years since.
Sean, on the other hand, started his position as he graduated, based on a recommendation from a professor.
“I really liked the flexibility of Ulbrich, in terms of being able to chart my own course,” he said.
The other graduates began to trickle in, as the company began to have a greater presence in UConn’s career fairs, and began supporting Senior Design projects for MSE.
Allie Kelley, an associate process metallurgist at the company, was hired at Ulbrich after the company funded her Senior Design project.
“When they interviewed me for the job, I realized I loved the group I was going to be working with,” Allie said.
Since Keith’s internship and Sean’s hiring, the two have made an effort to include UConn in hiring new graduates, and in including Ulbrich in UConn’s growth as a premier STEM-based university and research hub for Connecticut.
“It feels that the UConn presence has grown with the materials science program size,” Sean said. “From there, we’ve followed the progression of the program. We’ve funded more Senior Design Projects, we’ve hired more interns from MSE, we’ve recognized our need to have young, technically-educated people in our company. MSE has grown to meet that need.”
“We’ve developed this manufacturing-academic relationship with UConn MSE,” Sean said. “We know the professors, we get to know the students through their Senior Design projects and internships, it’s been an interesting progression.”
It’s not just projects and hires that Ulbrich is looking at now, Keith said. Soon, the company will start to use UConn MSE’s new resources at the Innovation Partner Building.
“We’re expanding beyond just a pipeline of internships,” Keith said. “UConn has a lot of resources in analytical equipment, like AFMs, to test new products. Now with the Innovation Partnership Building, we’re hoping to form a further partnership with UConn for using, and training with, the analytical equipment MSE has to offer. This equipment will help Ulbrich be able to better adapt to the market.”
“In order to best serve our customers, we need to look at things the same way our customers do- and they often have the analytical equipment that UConn does,” Keith said.
As the University continues to adapt and expand towards Connecticut’s industry needs, companies like Ulbrich are given more opportunity to partner with the university for R&D, creating a two-way road between businesses and the academic world, Sean said.
“UConn MSE’s expansion into market and company services is beneficial to Connecticut-based manufactures like Ulbrich,” Sean said, “that may not have the room or resources for the analytical equipment they need. UConn funding so much equipment and expertise at the IPB is a great fit, which means we can begin to create that knowledge here.”
As Ulbrich continues to look to expand its relationship, the company plans to keep on hiring interns and MSE grads—both in due to the quality of MSE’s education.
“We all had different backgrounds and internships, but we’re all in the same kind of mindset,” Sean said. “When we come into manufacturing, we’re able to bounce different ideas off of each other. We have a desire for connectivity. We all just want to exchange information.”
Even though many of the alumni have different ideas and experiences, many of them have gone through the same courses that Sean and Keith went through 10 years ago. “Those classes are a way of proving that an applicant has an acceptable work ethic,” Keith said. “Hard classes that we all took have a way of breeding critical thinking, which help foster the mindset that we’re looking for.”
Sean added that many of the concepts and contexts that his fellow MSE graduates are taught are easily relatable, even though many of the graduates are in different departments of the company.
“Being able to reference a common experience or example that a professor taught us, really helps with understanding,” he said.
For many of the alumni, their professors and advisors were a keystone in their development as engineers and dedicated students.
“Professor Harold Brody is the fundamental reason I began at Ulbrich,” Sean said. “Professor Brody knew directly of an opening at Ulbrich that fit what I was looking for. By Friday morning of that same week I had an interview, and by Friday afternoon I had an offer. Our small graduating class reflected as we parted MSE on how our advisors had all worked to support our professional or academic transitions.”
For Samantha, the support her advisor, Professor Pamir Alpay, gave her during her time at UConn helped her through her journey as an MSE student, and have her contacts for her career in Ulbrich.
“Professor Alpay always encouraged me when the MSE curriculum tested my stamina,” Samantha said. “If I had a month of rigorous workload ahead, he would frequently check-in and even schedule weekly meetings for support. Pamir has a well-established network and would often recommend that I get in contact with his colleagues currently in industry. The professionals I met through his guidance made the differences between academia and industry clear, providing me with the confidence a minority in STEM needs. By creating an open and honest mentorship, Professor Alpay truly influenced my career path for the better.”
Overall, Sean said that he is grateful for the experiences that MSE was able to provide for him and his team of MSE graduates. Sam Guerra, associate process metallurgist, said that without the University, he wouldn’t be as successful as he is today.
“The MSE program was able to give us so much stuff we wouldn’t be able to access normally,” Sam said. “It’s really great to see my company hiring people from the same program, and to see that they’ve been able to keep up with the industry.”
“The MSE department is really positioned to care about what happens to alumni after they graduate,” he said. “They get students ready to enter, and succeed in, the workforce.
MSE junior Victoria Reichelderfer is paving new paths for interdisciplinary leadership through a ‘Legacy Leadership’ experience, connecting her love of biology, teaching, and materials science and engineering through the opportunities provided by this prestigious program.
UConn’s Legacy Leadership Program aims to help students deepen their abilities as leaders, develop their connections with both peers and alumni in their given career paths, and prepare to make a better future for themselves and others as selfless, practical, responsible, and forward-thinking individuals. The program requires nomination by a faculty member and an extensive interview process to be accepted—in this case, she was nominated by MSE department head Professor Bryan Huey.
It’s a well-deserved position for Victoria. With a passion for biomaterials, she’s devoted her time to doing research in Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s lab since her sophomore year working on simulations for nanomaterials.
Professor Nakhmanson calls Victoria an “exceptional, very hard-working student.”
“I was involved in the Legacy Leadership Program nomination process for Victoria and I am very happy to hear that she finds this program enjoyable and useful for the development of her career,” he said. “Considering how closely we work now on multiple research topics, plus with Victoria currently taking my graduate-level class on phase transformations in materials, it is amazing how she finds extra time to participate in all of these outreach and leadership activities – and that is without drinking any coffee…”
On top of her research, Victoria also teaches prisoners physics at a correctional institute since her freshman year through the ‘Second Chance Educational Alliance.’
The prison education program helps reduce recidivism, Victoria says, and gives the prisoners a goal to work towards. Aided by two teaching assistants, Victoria visits her students once a week.
“That’s probably my favorite thing I’ve done in college,” Victoria says. “I make all the homeworks, and I get notes from my previous teachers and professors. It’s a little different than a traditional school environment, but we make it work. The prisoners love it. They are amazingly smart and motivated, which motivates me, and it’s why I like it so much.”
As a member of the Legacy Leadership Program, Victoria further develops those skills through meetings and activities. Once every two weeks, she meets with other members of the program to discuss the obstacles they’re facing.
“We talk about things that challenge us. We try and push ourselves out of our comfort zone,” Victoria said. “It does a good job of encouraging personal development, and showing you how you have opportunities to grow every day. We also learn to understand others and appreciate and develop empathy as a leader.”
Earlier in February, Victoria and her fellow leaders visited the Connecticut Forum in Hartford.
“We got to see Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia, and Samantha Power, the youngest-ever American ambassador to the United Nations. She gave a talk on America in the world, how we as a country are a leader in the world, and the kind of responsibility which comes with that. It was cool to get her inside perspective and see how it really works,” she said.
All Legacy Leaders are paired with a faculty advisor and an alumni advisor to help with academic and career guidance. Because of her interest in working with biomedicals, Victoria chose molecular and cell biology assistant professor Thomas Abbott, whom she had taken several classes with before.
“It’s nice to have somebody who has a different perspective to add to my engineering rigor,” Victoria said. “We just get along very well. We talk about leadership, the challenges of it, how to be a good leader.”
Dr. Abbott said working with Victoria has gone so well because they share a similar value system in terms of leadership.
“Victoria is quite passionate about her interests, and it shows. On top of everything else she does, this spring she is a peer mentor instructor for my Biology 1107 course. As expected, her session has been going very well,” he said. “What impressed me when she was a student in my class continues, and I look forward to our future Legacy interactions.”
Victoria said she went into materials science to combine both her love of biology and human medicine with her passion of engineering and analytics. When she graduates, she plans to study and develop biomaterials that act as drug delivery systems to the body.
“I love materials science because I can’t make up my mind. I was almost a pre-med, but with materials science, I can incorporate that by working with biomaterials,” she said. “My favorite one is the PLGA polymer, poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid), which degrades into chemicals that your body can handle. They make it in wafers and fill it with a drug for glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. They open your head, cut out the tumor, leave the wafer, and it delivers the drug. It increases your life expectancy by 20 percent that way.”
Victoria said she wants to go into biomaterials engineering to continue doing what she’s doing as a leader and as a teacher: helping others.
“I want to know that every day when I’m going to work, I’m helping someone,” she said. “It’s helping people, and engineering systems, and biomaterials. It’s everything I want.”
By Marlese Lessing
The Department of Materials Science and Engineering enjoyed an evening of food, science jokes, celebration, reflection, and mingling at the sixth annual MSE Banquet in April. Held at the UConn Alumni Center, attendees included undergraduates, graduates, professors, administrators and alumni from Lockheed Martin, M Cubed Technologies, and more.
Organized by UConn Materials Advantage (UCMA) president Kenna Ritter for three years running, and presented by UCMA Social Chair Amanda Agui, this year’s banquet was a smashing success, combining a professional atmosphere with fun activities and light-hearted chatter from attendees and speakers alike.
“The goal this year was to involve more engagement and mingling,” said Amanda, who incorporated several science puns into her opening speech. “I want to make this night positive and light-hearted.”
To do this, the tables, which were named after periodic elements such as cesium, cobalt, and nickel, were seated with a mix of graduate students, professors, alumni, and undergraduates.
“We try and make it a nice event,” Kenna said. “We want to make it conversational and inviting.”
Before the dinner line was opened, the order of each table was determined in a team “Race-to-Taste” competition, which involved each table working as a team to answer questions about engineering, physics, and science. The winners were invited to line up first for their food.
While the activities offered a sense of fun, the banquet was also a time for celebrating and reflecting on the accomplishments of the MSE department over the past year.
Department Head Professor Bryan Huey highlighted the recent accomplishments of MSE’s faculty, such as Dr. Lesley Frame’s Heat Treat Award, Dr. Avinash Dongare being named UTC Professor in Engineering Innovation, and Dr. Seok-Woo Lee’s award for teaching excellence. Professor Huey also commented on the bright future of the MSE department, especially with UConn’s new Science1 complex providing future opportunities as MSE and the IMS continue to expand.
The event was also attended by special guest Dr. Diana Lados, a distinguished professor in mechanical engineering at Worchester Polytechnic Institute and Vice President for the Alpha Sigma Mu International Professional Honor Society. Diana helped Professor Hal Brody celebrate the induction of over a dozen new graduate and undergraduate members into this prestigious group.
Undergraduate students and graduate students were also honored and recognized for their hard work and accomplishments. Associate Department Head Dr. George Rossetti presented awards acknowledging outstanding contributions by graduate students in research, teaching and leadership activities.
“As an instructor for several of the core MSE graduate courses, I have the opportunity to interact with most graduate students as they first enter our program,” Rossetti said. “When evaluating and selecting candidates for awards, I am consistently impressed by the scope and strength of their research accomplishments and professional achievements during the course of their graduate studies.”
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education & Diversity Dr. Daniel Burkey, who also attended, said seeing the accomplishments of the MSE department has been exciting.
“It’s gratifying to celebrate what students are doing,” Burkey said. “It’s been great to work with the MSE department. It’s not a department many people know about, but UCMA is wonderful about informing our freshmen about it.”
The evening ended with a classic materials science and UCMA demonstration: freezing marshmallows in liquid nitrogen for a special frozen treat as attendees left the Alumni Center.
Alumna Alexandra Merkouriou, who is a member of MSE’s advisory board, founded the banquet in 2014. She noted how it is gratifying to see the event grow and expand over the past several years.
“I’m really proud of where it’s come,” Alexandra said. “I hope it continues years into the future.”
Under the leadership of MSE Professor Rainer Hebert, the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center (PW AMC) is addressing the biggest problems currently faced by the aerospace industry in additive manufacturing.
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By Marlese Lessing
MSE undergraduate student Hetal Patel has been awarded not one, but two fellowships – the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG), the first undergraduate to do so in the history of the fellowship at UConn.
Hetal is a senior in the UConn Honors Program, a STEM scholar, a 2018 University Scholar, and the recipient of numerous awards and scholarships while at UConn. She has been conducting research in Dr. Seok-Woo Lee’s lab since her freshmen year and in Dr. Avinash Dongare’s lab since 2018. She is also the President of the Materials Engineering Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Mu, and the Vice President of UConn Materials Advantage. As an undergraduate, she has accumulated an impressive research and community outreach profile which has led her to win the two nationally prestigious graduate fellowships. Hetal said she was “shocked” when she found out she had won NDSEG.
“I found out from the UConn Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships that I might be the first undergraduate that has ever managed to secure the NDSEG fellowship in the history of UConn and that I am definitely the first NDSEG fellow we have had in the last five years!” Hetal said. “I am also very happy and grateful to have received the NSF fellowship as it is a nationally recognized program for graduate students. I try very hard to submit my best work and had been working on the applications several months beforehand, so it feels good for all the hard work to pay off.”
Hetal thanks Dr. Seok-Woo Lee, Dr. Avinash Dongare, and Dr. Bryan Huey for writing her letter of recommendations. “My application would have been incomplete without the extremely strong letters of recommendation and I am very grateful to all the professors in the MSE department who have helped me get this far in my materials career.”
The NSF GRFP, which is the country’s oldest STEM graduate fellowship, recognizes graduate students with outstanding work in the STEM field to do Ph.D. work. The NDSEG is funded by the US Department of Defense to students pursuing a Ph.D. in a field that advances US defense science and engineering. Those who earn it display a high aptitude to advanced study and scholastic enterprise. It is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, The Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research, all of which falls under the Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
Like nearly all Ph.D. students in MSE, at UConn and elsewhere, tuition, fees, and a monthly stipend are provided. Recipients of these special fellowships earn a slightly higher stipend, and with the NDSEG there is also a generous travel allowance. Both of these awards are very hard to earn, with less than a 15% success rate for the NSF, and a 10% success rate for the NDSEG. Since she can only accept one fellowship, Hetal says she will accept the NDSEG because of its selectiveness and benefits.
“I have chosen to accept NDSEG as it is more selective, extremely prestigious, and has better financial package,” Hetal says. “NDSEG will fully fund my research as I head to UC Berkeley this fall to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in the field of computational materials science. I will be utilizing atomic-scale quantum mechanical modeling methods and high-performance computing technology to accelerate the design and discovery process of materials for battery and other energy storage technologies.”
Her advisor, Professor Lee, says Hetal is “certainly one of the most brilliant, creative and productive undergraduate students I ever met at UConn.”
“She deserves all of the fellowships that she has received,” he says. “I have no doubt about her future success. I wish her all the best in her endeavors as a materials scientist.”
This year at UConn 11 students have won the NSF GRFP are highlighted in the UConn Today article.
By Marlese Lessing
MSE seniors Zachary Putney, Jonathan Gager, Ryan Wrobel and Spencer Matonis are currently elbows-deep in the opportunity of a lifetime: Helping building the next generation of 3D printing in space.
The four are working on developing a recyclable polymer composite for 3D printing objects for NASA astronauts. In March they visited their Senior Design sponsor at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where they met some of the aeronautics engineers and researchers, toured the facility, and dropped off some of their samples for further testing.
“We’re really thankful and happy to be able to be working on this,” Spencer said.
The group’s efforts are a part of their Senior Design Project, a two-semester course that partners senior MSE students with industry sponsors to use their materials science knowledge, creativity and problem-solving skills to tackle real-world engineering issues and tasks. Throughout, they’re mentored by MSE professors, industry professionals and experts from their sponsor company.
NASA has been collaborating with the MSE department for eight years now, focusing on 3D printing. which has become ubiquitous in the world around us and even beyond—it is now also an essential part of living and operating in an enclosed microgravity environment such as the International Space Station.
“This is an opportunity for the students to work both with each other and with a groundbreaking agency,” the group’s advisor Dr. Volkan Ortalan said.
“Our student team has taken on a big challenge—development of novel feedstocks for in-space manufacturing utilizing 3D printing,” Dr. Ortalan said. “I have observed our students bringing their ideas and engineering designs to life. I have seen them working on several technical presentations and reports, working on novel filament development for 3D printing, collaborating as a team, and working diligently to meet the numerous NASA deadlines.”
The students’ Senior Design project is ultimately focusing on creating a printing material that’s both light and durable– perfect for crafting tools needed to operate a space station, without sacrificing strength for weight economics. This is critical when sending materials to the ISS, or to possible future human colonies on the Moon or Mars.
“We’re looking at how we can create stronger plastics that can match the properties of metals,” Zach said. “We also need to be able to replicate the properties of some specialty items.”
The properties include dielectrics, which effectively store a charge and can be incorporated into batteries. One of the team’s current challenges is efficiently integrating dopants into the matrix material so it still retains the properties and the printability of plastic, while supporting that electric charge. Currently, the group is using Ultem, a highly-durable 3D printing material, as a base.
“A lot of this project has been figuring out how to get the dopants into the Ultem,” Spencer said.
The group’s current methodology is to use strong solvents to dissolve small pellets of the Ultem into a gel, mix them with a powder form of the dopants, and cast this into wafer molds. These can then be fed into a high-temperature extruder and wound onto a spool for transport before it’s loaded into a fiber-fed 3D printer.
As part of the Design Project, the group has already sent several of the wafers to a professor at Auburn University, who will be working to characterize the material and see if the dopants are working as expected.
“So far, NASA has been super happy with our results,” Spencer said. “We’ve encountered our share of problems, but we work through them and have been able to stay on track.”
For all four students, the opportunity to work with NASA is an exciting prospect, especially as they’re establishing connections and helping solve issues as part of their Senior Design. Ryan said he wants to work at NASA as an engineer after he graduates, and sees this as a way to get his foot in the door.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated by space,” Ryan said. “Even if we’re not directly contributing to what NASA is doing, we’re still a part of it.”
Spencer is grateful that he’s able to contribute to the “Second Space Race.”
“I’m a little remiss to miss the first space race, but now I get to work on the second one,” Spencer said. “You might not get that opportunity ever again.”
For Jon, the ability to gain hard experience on the project is one of the most valuable things for him.
“This is the first open-ended project I’ve ever had,” he said. “I get to find and develop solutions and work with others. You can’t learn that from a classroom. It’s very rewarding.”
While the team is wrapping up their project for Senior Design Day at the end of the semester, they are eagerly awaiting the characterization results from their collaborators.
Ryan said working with NASA’s engineers has been great, as the agency is open with their communication and enthusiastic to work with students.
“I remember we went to Huntsville to take our samples over, and we met with the engineers,” he said. “When we gave them the samples, one of the engineers replied ‘It feels like Christmas….’”
While it is a student-based project, the team is expected to meet the expectations of the agency they’re working with, Dr. Ortalan said.
“This project was treated like a regular NASA approved project and necessitated maintaining a budget, meeting numerous requirements, and communicating with NASA officials,” he said. “This work can have an important impact on current and future NASA research and programs. It is truly fulfilling to see what students can achieve when presented with an opportunity and given the support to explore their curiosities.”
By Marlese Lessing
Kyle Crosby earned his undergraduate degree, master’s degree, and his Ph.D. in materials science at UConn after spending nearly a decade working and researching in the department. He now works for ZEISS Microscopy, the German company behind MultiSEM, the world’s fastest scanning electron microscope which is used to scan everything from mouse brains to microchips to shale rocks. A Pennsylvania native, Dr. Crosby came to UConn MSE both to experience something new, and to receive a top-notch engineering education.
To start, tell us about your work.
Imaging and spectroscopy, specifically electron microscopy, are subjects I’ve been interested in since I worked with these tools at UConn. I’m currently in a business development role supporting sales and service colleagues from an applications and product marketing perspective. While I’m not directly operating a microscope much of the time, the hands-on experience from the MSE department and from my experiences as a research assistant are a huge help in understanding customer challenges and showcasing products to potential clients. The work I’ve done with MultiSEM, which is a highly unique multiple parallel-beam electron microscope, has allowed me to interact with leading researchers at Harvard, Sandia National Lab, and other innovative institutions around the world. I also coordinated sponsorship and served as an industry advisor on an MSE Senior Design project for students doing work that relates to this technology, so the journey from student to mentor has truly come full circle.
What was your time at MSE like?
In terms of coursework, compared to the intro to Bio and Chem courses, MSE student/faculty ratio was very beneficial. I had eight to ten students in a typical class, thus having a one-on-one type relationship with the professors was highly productive. I first got the opportunity to work as a summer research assistant casting metal for Professor Hal Brody. This turned out to be a very enriching and informative experience and one of the main reasons I later took on a research position in grad school.
Why did you choose UConn MSE for your undergraduate and, later on, graduate education?
There were a lot of incentives for me, both in terms of quality of education and overall college experience. The MSE faculty had outstanding credentials, including numerous awards for excellence in education, research, and professional service. They offered hands-on lab courses and sponsored Senior Design research projects to build practical skills. I received scholarships from UConn which made my cost burden as an out-of-state student similar to what I would’ve paid as a Connecticut resident, and later I was awarded a Graduate Research Assistantship which motivated me to continue on. Also given that Storrs is the basketball capital of the world, it was an easy choice with respect to extracurriculars.
How did you first get into materials science?
I’ve always been a big sports gear enthusiast, especially with golf, ski, and snowboarding equipment. I’ve especially marveled at how materials can affect a player’s performance. In high school I took college-prep courses to narrow down my interests as it relates to potential STEM careers. Materials science kept popping up, and UConn was flagged as having one of the few dedicated materials science programs in the northeast at the time [and still]. I never expected that I would get into imaging and spectroscopy, but life worked out that way for the best given my current opportunity with MultiSEM.
What got you into electron microscopy in particular?
Certainly, the MSE program as a whole. The characterization courses involving microscopy always sparked a strong interest in me. As an undergrad and graduate student, I had user access to some fantastic characterization equipment, which I now know is non-standard for many university settings. I worked with Professor Aindow and Professor Carter in my graduate years taking advanced courses on the subject, so feel I got a thorough philosophical and hands-on academic experience in that way.
What compelled you to attend graduate school?
After four years of undergrad I honestly had no intention, however, UConn MSE strongly encouraged their homegrown students to stay and help build the program. The opportunity was too attractive to turn down because I was offered a graduate stipend as a research and teaching assistant, which meant my continuing education was essentially free and I was getting a paycheck every two weeks to boot. Of course, that’s normal now at UConn for Ph.D. students.
What did your graduate years entail?
Grad school took me a total of five and a half years, during which time I served for three semesters as a teaching assistant in the undergrad MSE characterization lab. At a recent IPB event I saw some former students who are now working in industry. It was really fulfilling to see them succeed and use skills I helped pass on. On the research side, I focused mainly on powder processing under the guidance of Dr. Leon Shaw. My master’s project, which was funded by the Department of Energy, involved developing solid-state hydrogen storage materials for mobile fuel cell applications. After two years I transitioned to my Ph.D. project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, involving additive manufacturing (3D printing) of next-generation biomaterials for orthopedic implants.
What did you do after you earned your Ph.D.?
Before I had even defended my dissertation, ZEISS interviewed me and had a position waiting. When I finished school, I jumped straight into work—it’s hard to believe it’s been five years since then. Moving forward, I feel like I have a lot of opportunities within the company because of the breadth of our portfolio and the breadth of my materials science knowledge. I frequently have the opportunity to travel to ZEISS HQ in Germany, and I have many opportunities to work internationally as part of the greater MultiSEM team. This makes for a dynamic work week to be sure.
How else has the MSE department helped you in your career?
The MSE department is filled with really knowledgeable and supportive people. The experience I had up and down the board, with faculty and staff, with other students, with research tools, has been excellent. Even though MSE has grown significantly since my time, professors truly do try to maintain close personal relationships with students past and present. I learned to communicate, interact, and work within a team effectively thanks to them. It was a top-notch education, and the value of my degree just continues to climb as the department and university continue to rise in the rankings. Working closely with other prestigious universities in the northeast, I can honestly say that UConn is definitely making itself known, particularly in the materials science field.
By Marlese Lessing
MSE graduate student Ayana Ghosh has been named as the recipient of the prestigious John Tanaka Graduate Student Fellowship award, which is given annually to a UConn graduate student in the United States’ oldest honor society, Phi Kappa Phi.
The award, which was established in 1993, is named after chemistry professor emeritus and former Director of the Honors Programs, Dr. John Tanaka. Professor Tanaka led Phi Kappa Phi at UConn for many years during his 45 year career at UConn. He also taught inorganic chemistry, and advised many undergraduate and graduate students. Although he passed away seven years ago in April 2012, his name lives on in this prestigious award.
Ayana said she is “very pleased” to have won the award.
“This type of recognition always acts as a catalyst for me to continue my daily efforts in research, learn more, and perform better,” she said. “I am extremely grateful to receive exceptional mentorship from my advisors at UConn, Pfizer Inc. and Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as my previous institutions that have shaped my academic career to date. I wish to continue performing cutting-edge research on a wide-range of materials with present-day and prospective technological and medical applications while being engaged in events to encourage younger individuals to pursue careers of their choices, especially in STEM fields.”
Candidates for this award are judged based on their research, career goals, academic success, achievement, and rigor, and service and leadership skills and activities.
Ayana has achieved many of these markers, winning Best Design for her poster in the third annual School of Engineering Poster Session in 2017, and departmental first place in the 2019 competition. She came to UConn in 2016, starting work in Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s lab working on evaluating Machine Learning methods to accurately predict the crystallization of pharmaceutical compounds, a project funded by Pfizer Inc and UConn MSE.
She is currently studying Computational Materials Design using Density Functional Theory (DFT), Machine Learning and Data Mining in Professor Nakhmanson’s lab. Ayana has previously been a graduate student at New Mexico University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in physics and abstract mathematics from the University of Michigan-Flint in 2015.
“Obviously, I am extremely happy about Ayana receiving this well-deserved award,” Professor Nakhmanson said. “The Tanaka fellowship emphasizes excellence in research and academics, and therefore is a great match for Ayana’s numerous accomplishments. She managed to complete not only a bunch of projects with me, but also collaborated with Pfizer researchers and did multiple internships at the Los Alamos National Laboratory working on something else entirely. She published extensively on all of these efforts and will surely publish more before she graduates.”
By Marlese Lessing
In honor of his outstanding excellence in mentoring and supporting undergraduates in the MSE Department, Assistant Professor Seok-Woo Lee has been awarded the UConn Mentorship Excellence Award from the Office of Undergraduate Research.
The award recognizes professors who help develop their mentees’ education and goals through continued guidance, push and support student research and growth, help their students develop a broader understanding of the field they are working in, connect students with resources for research, educational, and career-related endeavors, and overall aid students in becoming well-rounded, educated, and driven scholars within the University of Connecticut.
“This is a great honor for me. This award gives me a lot of meaning much more than any other awards related to research and funding,” Dr. Lee said. “I have worked with UConn undergraduate students for the last four years, and I was always amazed by their positive mind, enthusiasm, and creativeness. I will keep working hard to provide the best MSE education with our precious MSE undergraduate students.”
Dr. Lee has been a part of the MSE Department for five years, joining the department after completing his Kavli Nanoscience Institute postdoc fellow position at California Institute of Technology and earning his Ph.D from Stanford University. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, including the UConn Research Excellence Award in 2016 and 2018, MSE Teaching Excellence of the Year in 2017, and the NASA Early Career Faculty Award (CAREER) in 2016. Not surprisingly, he has also received the “undergraduate teaching excellence” four times based on student’s teaching evaluation since 2015 when he started to teach at UConn. He was also selected as the MSE Teaching Excellence of the Year in 2017 and 2018.
His lab, which hosts four Ph.D. graduate students and two undergraduate students, focuses on the mechanical behavior of advanced structural materials at multiple length scales. They are using the state-of-art in-situ nanomechanical testing system to understand the role of crystalline defects in plastic deformation of metals, ceramics, polymers and intermetallic compounds. Undergraduate students in his laboratory usually use an ex-situ nanomechanical testing system and explore mechanical behavior of materials at the nanometer scale.
One of his undergraduate students, MSE senior Hetal Patel, nominated Assistant Professor Lee for the award because of his continued and outstanding support of her and her research throughout her time in MSE.
“Having Dr. Lee as my research advisors is the best thing that happened to me at UConn. He is the highlight of my day and a hallmark of my UConn career,” Hetal says. “Overall, Dr. Lee had changed the trajectory of my career through his kindness, his passion for science, and his dedication towards a student’s success. Coming into UConn, I knew nothing about research, and if I hadn’t met Dr. Lee, I would have never thought of applying to be a University Scholar, have decided to pursue a Ph.D. or would be going to a top graduate school.”
Dr. Lee was honored at the Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition reception on April 12, 2019. Hetal Patel gave a poster presentation for her work on the effects of tip radius on mechanical behavior of single crystal tungsten under spherical nanoindentation. Hetal Patel’s speech for Dr. Lee’s mentorship is available at the webpage of UConn Mentorship Excellence Award.
Frontiers in Undergraduate Research is an annual poster exhibition of student research, scholarship, and creative projects. Frontiers is a chance for students to share their work with the UConn community and with visitors to campus. This is one of the largest events for UConn undergraduate research, which several hundred undergraduate students from the entire campus participate in.
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By Marlese Lessing
A highly accomplished and distinguished MSE alumna, Dr. Jacquelynn Garofano (M.S. ’09, Ph.D. ’11), has been named Program Manager of the prestigious Margaret Ingels Engineering Development Program at United Technologies (UTC). The program is named after Margaret Ingels, the first American woman to receive a professional degree in mechanical engineering (B.S. 1916; M.S. 1920, University of Kentucky) and the first female engineer at Carrier where she spent a distinguished technical career and was a close associate of Willis Carrier.
Jackie began her career at UTC as a senior research scientist at the Research Center (UTRC) in 2011. For more than seven years, she worked to solve technical challenges, provide failure investigation and develop innovative technologies for UTC’s aerospace and building industries, leveraging her materials engineering expertise. Now, she draws on her solid technical foundation, leadership competencies and social impact to lead UTC’s newest leadership program.
“In my new role, I have the privilege of cultivating and leading the next generation of engineers who will shape our future. I can’t wait to welcome our first cohort into UTC this June!” Jackie said.
The Ingels program is a two-year, entry-level engineering development program designed to build engineering, leadership, and business acumen through a challenging, fast-paced rotation experience. Program associates will receive a holistic view of United Technologies through four six-month rotations at Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace and UTRC across engineering disciplines that exposes them to the product life-cycle: design, manufacturing, testing & validation, operations, delivery, and so on.
Jackie is responsible for recruiting top engineering talent for UTC and is actively seeking engineers for the second cohort, which starts in 2020. In addition to the Ingels program management, she says, “I also have an opportunity to support UTC’s strategic initiatives in STEM education and workforce development to ensure that we are fostering a diverse and competitive technical engineering workforce and pipeline.”
Dr. Garofano was named a 2011 Women of Innovation by the Connecticut Technology Council, as a recipient of the Collegian Innovation and Leadership Award, capping off an exceptional career at UConn. Early in her professional career, she earned the unique distinction of landing on the Forty Under 40 outstanding young professional list for Connecticut Magazine (2013) and Hartford Business Journal (2015). Most recently, she was recognized as a 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.
Congratulations to Jackie for all her accomplishments, for promoting the next generation of emerging leaders in engineering and, above all, for being an exemplary leader for the Margaret Ingels program.
By Marlese Lessing
Senior student Joseph Podbielski spends his school days helping manage labs for engineering students, and his summers helping design helicopters for Sikorsky. An Avery Point transfer and a Mystic native, Joe’s dream is to work at Sikorsky like his father.
His supervisor for the lab, Francis Almonte, calls Joe a “natural leader” within the MSE department.
“The best students are those who demonstrate academic success and pursue information. The best leaders are those who exhibit an initiative to learn and real energy to serve the community,” Francis says. “Joseph is a natural leader whose persistent habit is volunteerism, and through these efforts he has gained a level of mutual respect from UConn’s Materials Science and Engineering community.”
We sat down for an interview with Joe about his experiences in the MSE department as both a student and an experienced lab technician.
How did you become interested in materials science?
My dad was an engineer for Sikorsky, and as a kid I was always playing with Legos and K’NEX. My dad always pushed towards that and encouraged me to pursue it.
For me, it was when I took ‘Mechanical Behavior of Materials’ with Dr. Seok-Woo Lee and Adam Wentworth, who was my lab instructor. In that class, we were getting into real-world scenarios and doing hands-on experiments. Both of my teachers were excited about what they were teaching, and that rubbed off on me. My personal favorite module from that lab was when we did a geopolymer project and used a custom concrete blend to try and reduce CO2 emissions. I feel like I apply what I learn in class right out the door. I’ve always loved working with my hands, working with stuff and fixing things. I’d definitely like to go into mechanical behavior, seeing why things break, how they can break and how they can be improved.
How did you find a way to stay in the lab?
Last fall I started working as a laboratory technician for the undergraduate labs. I also work as a teaching assistant for Dr. Volkan Ortalan in his Mechanical Behavior class. Right now, his students are testing the mechanical properties of wood, and the tensile properties of certain types of guitar strings. I help prepare samples, run the samples and collect data. For the undergraduate labs, I help prepare modules and labs for the students. I now spend about 15-20 hours a week in the lab on top of a full class schedule, which I manage with a lot of coffee!
What do you enjoy about managing a lab?
I get good attitudes from the students I work with. Generally, they’re very excited to get into the material. In the junior labs, they’re given a lot of freedom—they have a material they’re working with, and it’s up to them what to do with it, how they’re gonna test it. I just guide them. It helps foster a positive attitude. I do my best to get them enthusiastic and help them enjoy the experience.
I also love using the mechanical testing machine. We use the dog bones and see how a material can withstand stress. It’s really cool seeing what something can take and how it breaks.
Which professors and mentors have helped you in your journey?
Adam Wentworth, for sure. Dr. Lee and his excitement for MSE has truly inspired me. I get to work with people who are excited to do what they do, which is a motivating experience. It helps to have people who are enthusiastic about they do. All of my lab classes have been extremely helpful, since it’s something you can see and apply to your work. At one point, I was helping Dr. Lee do some research, and he had thumbtack-sized cylinders of magnesium. We were doing strength tests on them, and it was amazing how much weight these tiny little cylinders could hold—thousands of psi.
Tell me about your work with Sikorsky.
I’ve interned there every summer since my freshman year, in 2015; I think I’ve logged about 600 hours every summer since I’ve started there. I started doing basic design checks for the helicopter parts. The senior engineers would draw up designs and send them over to me, and I’d check them for any errors before sending them off to our boss. Now, I draw the designs myself, and help train new interns to do design checks like I did. We’re working on ways to upgrade the aircraft we’re producing. I’ve worked on Blackhawks, Seahawks, and some commercial aircraft.
It’s something I enjoy. To actually be handed responsibility and have a say in aircraft that people will use for decades to come, it’s unique. My coworkers are wonderful to work with, and it’s awesome to see the designs I helped put together as they literally take off. During Lockheed Martin day, I got to see one of the helicopters I worked on, a Blackhawk, and I talked to the flight crew who had just flown in from North Carolina after rescuing people from the recent hurricane. Seeing that, and seeing people use the mechanics I worked on, which have had an impact on people, well, that has been priceless. I hope I can work full-time there after I graduate.
What advice would you offer to undergraduates looking for an internship like yours?
Apply yourself. Talk to your professors, talk to industry people. Senior Design really helps, especially if you do a good job and show a good work ethic.
What is one challenge you had to overcome during your time in the MSE Department?
Moving away from home. I used to commute to school at Avery Point and go home every night. When I moved here, it was a new place, with new people, and a brand-new world. I was a little overwhelmed, but I buried myself in my work and my studies. I spent as much time as I could in the lab and got to know as many people there as I could. Now I always have a home in the lab. I have a great group of lab mates, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Over the next four years, Professor Pamir Alpay and Associate Professor Rainer Hebert will lead a team of researchers at the Innovation Partnership Building to develop new manufacturing simulations, materials analysis methods, and process modeling. This is to provide next-generation manufacturing solutions for projects of interest to the United States Air Force Research Lab.
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