By Ben Crnic
Megan Hurley was drawn to engineering and materials science from a young age. In 4th grade, she was already carefully inspecting the different materials inside rocks she had broken open, and in high school she found chemistry and math appealing. When it came time to pick a college major, she knew she wanted to be involved in something to do with materials, and she began to explore UConn’s MSE department. When she discovered the camaraderie and how tight-knit the department was, she knew that it was a perfect fit for her.
“I really like the community and the smaller class sizes. You get to know people and what they like to do, and there is better interaction with the faculty as well. They are all enthusiastic about what they teach, and everyone is nice,” Hurley said.
She was made aware of the MSE department while she was participating in UConn’s BRIDGE program before her freshman year, a five-week summer program designed to prepare students for the rigor of the engineering curriculum at UConn. During this time, she spoke with her tutor at the time, Francis Almonte, who she credits with helping her make the decision to become an MSE major.
Now a junior, Hurley is certain this was the right decision, and is heavily involved in the MSE community. She volunteers for the Engineering Ambassadors, a network of students dedicated to inspiring the next generation of engineers through volunteering at events that promote STEM. She volunteers at events held by the Society of Women Engineers as well, which supports the professional interests of female engineering students as they pursue their degrees at UConn. Hurley also helped younger MSE majors through working with incoming freshmen at the BRIDGE program during one of her summers, and currently assists them through her position as The Major Experience (TME) Mentor for the MSE department. Incoming students are able to reach out to her and ask questions about the major, and she will be assisting with further outreach activities in the future.
Hurley finds it easy to be involved in the community for her major. She is fascinated by her classes, and there has never been a dull moment throughout her time at UConn.
“I think everything I’ve learned so far is cool, even if it’s a less exciting topic to me,” Hurley said.
One such course that struck her interest was MSE 3004 Mechanical Behavior of Materials, which was taught by Assistant Professor Seok-Woo Lee. In one class, Professor Lee gave a demonstration of the effects of shear force on a single crystal created at the nano-scale, which is a sample where the crystal lattice is continuous throughout. The demonstration involved a tensile tester which pulled apart the dog-bone shaped sample and recorded how the individual atoms in the crystal responded to the applied shear forces. Hurley was captivated by this demonstration.
“I’ve always liked how slight changes to a material can alter a multitude of its properties and characteristics,” Hurley said.
Once the UConn campus opens again for research after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she intends to perform a nanoindentation study on shock-compressed magnesium single crystals. The investigation will focus on the hardness of the material, specifically how it is influenced by the presence of twin boundary defects that form from prior mechanical shock. Studying the hardness in this way is valuable because it provides knowledge of the connections between materials properties, processing, and applications. The shock loading will be performed at two different speeds and will impact the samples with two different orientations, which should create a variety of defect distributions in the structure for further analysis.
Such research is essential because single crystals are often used in engines or turbines, where uncontrolled defects can be disastrous. It is therefore crucial to understand how the material responds to stresses similar to those encountered during normal operation in the typical environment, and how the properties of the material are altered as a result of this stress.
Hurley has some advice for the newer MSE majors she mentors: they should not be afraid to reach out to professors about their own research interests in order to explore ways to pursue such subjects.
“Just reach out, it might seem daunting and scary but once you start talking to professors after class it can open doors. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself doing research,” Hurley said.
She would also like to share her life motto, which she repeats to herself when she faces difficult challenges and urges others to do the same:
“You got this, even when you don’t think you do.”