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.