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.