By Amanda Campanaro
What do the development of metal casings for handheld devices and prosthetic limbs have in common? For Claudia Chavez, sixth semester Materials Science and Engineering major, they represent just two of the vastly numerous ways materials science engineers can utilize their knowledge.
Growing up, Claudia’s favorite subjects at school were math and chemistry, and she became curious about how things were made. When she was younger, Claudia wanted to become a math teacher because she loved the subject. After a guidance counselor suggested she major in engineering, Claudia entered UConn as a Biomedical Engineering major in 2014, and began to learn more about the different fields the School of Engineering offers. Ultimately, Claudia fell in love with the school, and with MSE.
“UConn has a great engineering program that offers 12 different engineering majors,” Claudia explains. “I chose MSE because it involves applying my favorite school subjects, math and chemistry, to the real world, and MSE majors can use their knowledge almost everywhere. For example, materials science engineers are needed by Apple to test and develop new phone materials that will not wear out, and they are needed by medical scientists when developing new prosthetics or when growing bones,” she says.
Claudia, who focuses on metallurgy, recently started working as a student researcher in Associate Professor Rainer Hebert’s lab, where she conducts experiments to measure the flow rate of titanium powder using a flowmeter tunnel. “I do the experiment in a closed environment because we are currently testing the effects of humidity on flow rate,” Claudia explains. In order to create the humidity inside the box, argon gas must be blown into a closed container filled with distilled water that is concurrently heated by a hot plate. “In the end, this creates steam that is lead into the box which is ultimately humidity,” she says. She has not yet decided whether she wants to pursue a master’s degree straight after graduating or get started in industry. However, she wants to investigate biomaterials in the future.
“I think that it would be cool to help scientists grow new limbs from cells,” she says. “The new limb would need to have the same or greater strength than a human arm, would need to be flexible, and would need to be compatible with a human’s body.”
As a co-vice-president of UConn Engineering Ambassador’s (EA), an international network of college students who are dedicated to inspiring the next generation of engineers by reaching out to middle school and high school students in the Connecticut area, Claudia helps plan the weekly meetings. She also participates in EA’s presentation team (PT) by traveling to schools throughout Connecticut and giving presentations on how their current school subjects (Algebra, Physics, Chemistry, and more) are being applied in the real world, to help get students interested in the STEM field through presentations and demonstrations.
“I think that joining PT has been one of my greatest decisions after coming to UConn,” Claudia says. “I love seeing the kids get excited about the topics. They are eager to ask questions and enjoy the activities that we do.”
Claudia emphasizes that MSE is important because it’s applications are all around. “The work of materials science engineers affects us every day, even though people may not realize it,” she explains. “Now, I am more aware of the importance of materials because it has allowed humanity to advance to where we are now.”
Aside from EA, Claudia is a member of Alpha Phi Omega (APO), a co-ed service fraternity, and serves as a Husky Ambassador with Husky-for-a-Day, where she helps motivate potential UConn students to attend the university by showing them the campus and taking them to classes, in addition to maintaining her standing on the Dean’s List. With so much on her plate, Claudia has much to look forward to.
“I would say that I am proud of myself for making it this far. My major has its challenges but I have managed to make it through. I am also thankful for what I have been given because I know that not everyone gets to have an education.”