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

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

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

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

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

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