By Kyra Arena, Written Communications Assistant
Undergraduate student Matthew Carragher already knew when he applied to college that he wanted to pursue materials science and engineering. But he chose UConn because of the MSE Department’s undergraduate research opportunities. “I think what made the decision obvious was the amount of interesting materials research going on at UConn,” Carragher says. “The amount of faculty doing research is massive, making it really easy to find opportunities here.”
Carragher is a senior graduating in May 2023. He chose to study MSE because it is a mixture of different type of sciences. “MSE is an amazing blend of both the hard sciences, concepts you would learn in a chemistry or physics curriculum, and the practical applications of those concepts you get from other engineering majors,” he says. “I think I wouldn’t have been satisfied in my education if I only learned one side of that spectrum, and so MSE was the obvious choice.”
Carragher’s favorite area of MSE is metallurgy. “I don’t think I realized just how much there is to learn about metals until I got to UConn. In class, we often talk about the relationship between structure, properties, processing, and performance, and there are few areas of materials science where that relationship is so strong,” he says.
At UConn, Carragher is a teaching assistant in Professor Fiona Leek’s lab. He helps set up and run the experiments for the junior class, makes sure all the experiments run as smoothly as possible, and imparts practical knowledge of MSE that students might otherwise miss. “Professor Leek has been amazing to work with,” says Carragher. “She is more than willing to listen to the opinions of her teaching assistants and values the ideas we come up with. She gives me the autonomy to run many parts of the lab classes myself, while providing help when I need it. All of these things have taught me a lot about how to be a good teacher and leader.”
Carragher also works in the Foundry with recently retired Emeritus Professor Harold Brody. Carragher describes this as the highlight of his time at UConn. “Professor Brody is an amazing resource, and has an unbelievable body of knowledge to draw from. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from him and not learned something new,” states Carragher. He also praises Emeritus Professor Brody’s ability to challenge him to think critically and apply every concept he’s learned. “He has made me a far better engineer and academic than I could have possibly imagined.”
Recently, Carragher attended the IMAT conference in New Orleans with fellow undergraduate student, Jaclyn Grace, and Dr. Frame’s research group. Grace and Carragher participated in the Domesday competition where they designed and fabricated a geodesic dome that had to protect an egg from a hydraulic press.
During his free time, Carragher is the president of the Metal Working Club, the chief technology officer of the 3D Printing Club, and a member of UCMA. The Metal Working Club aims to teach students about different metal processing principles, like casting and blacksmithing. The club uses the Foundry and its resources for many of the projects. “The club has given me the chance to apply many MSE concepts to solve problems and help other members with the projects they want to work on,” claims Carragher. “Our faculty advisor, Professor Frame, has been a pleasure to work with and has been extremely supportive of everything the club wants to do.”
Department Head Huey notes that the Metal Working and 3D Printing clubs are incredible opportunities for students, not just to expand their knowledge, but also their organizational and leadership skills. The clubs are so successful because of devoted students like Matt, devoted faculty mentors like professors Frame, Brody, and Leek, and a continued commitment from the department to support and indeed grow the clubs. As Matt has demonstrated, MSE students have wonderful chances to be engineers and practice what they learn while they’re still students. And starting this term, they get to do so in our incredible new Science One building.
After graduation Carragher plans to pursue a master’s degree and then Ph.D. degree. After graduate school he wants to spend some time in industry, and then go back into academia with his practical knowledge. “Research and industry are so deeply intertwined, and I think spending some time in both areas would do everyone good,” he claims.
For students questioning whether to study materials science and engineering, Carragher says to go for it. “Studying MSE is such a good way to broaden your future opportunities,” he says. “Someone with a degree in MSE can go into just about any STEM related job they want, while still getting to learn a specialized field that makes them stand out from other potential candidates.”