Undergraduate MS&T Awards Include $1750 and Grad School Prep

The UConn undergraduate team at MS&T 2019


By Amanda Song

Materials Science and Engineering undergraduates won awards totaling $1750 for dome design and research presentations at the annual Materials Science & Technology conference in Portland, Oregon September 29 to October 4.

UConn Materials Advantage (UCMA) goes to MS&T each year to provide undergraduate members with the opportunity to explore MSE topics they might be interested in, and to see what kinds of research and research teams are out there.

UCMA undergraduates Amanda Agui, Samuel Bedard, Lucas Enright, and Justin Hewitt competed in the Geodesic Dome Design Competition against eight teams from universities across the U.S, with a 3D-printed ABS plastic dome.

“Winning best in destruction was not our objective, but I suppose it shows that we optimized our dome for the criteria of the competition,” Lucas said.

The domes were judged based on aesthetics, strength-to-cost and strength-to-weight ratios, a presentation and poster, and overall mechanical strength. While they weren’t aiming for it, the UCMA team’s dome shattered in an impressive explosion that earned them the Best in Destruction award for $500, while the weight-cost-strength ratio of the dome earned them Runner up for $750.

“We realized the advantages of 3D printing and the design created by the 2018 team, which included Zachary Putney, Iwona Wrobel, Jordan Gomes, and Justin Hewitt (also on this year’s team). We modified their design and optimized the processing parameters of the dome after printing,” Lucas said.

Modifying the prior years’ design turned out to be a major advantage. “Many teams casted their domes from molds or had other one-and-done sort of solutions and if they discovered a weakness in their design, it would be expensive and time consuming to correct. We, on the other hand, could tweak our CAD file over and over,” Lucas said.

MSE senior Victoria Reichelderfer won the Undergraduate Student Speaking Contest at MS&T, with a presentation titled “Phase Field Modelling of Corrosion.”

Additionally, Victoria Reichelderfer, a seventh semester MSE undergraduate, won first place in the annual Material Advantage Undergraduate Student Speaking contest. The contest is designed to encourage undergraduate students to present technical papers and to improve their presentation skills.

The award, which includes $500 for first place, recognizes Victoria’s presentation on “Phase Field Modeling of Corrosion.” In addition to the award, Victoria gained an invaluable experience that will prepare her for her future in graduate school and beyond: she got to present her research in a professional setting for the first time.

“I’m applying to graduate schools now, and I wanted to expose myself to the experience of presenting at a conference,” Victoria said. “It was a good experience because I’m going to have to do that in the future.” It was her first time attending a conference as an undergraduate.

Her presentation was the culmination of a project she started last spring, while taking her advisor Professor Serge Nakhmanson’s graduate level course on phrase transformations of materials. Traditionally, it is challenging and computationally expensive to model phase transformation and corrosion. Victoria’s research aims to address this by using computational models to track phase transformation, which helps researchers deepen their understanding of the process.

“Professor Nakhmanson gave me some general advice about presenting. Another grad student, Lukasz Kuna, is a great presenter and he gave me a lot of tips about the look of the presentation, and presenting in a professional setting,” Victoria said. Moe developed a video simulation of dendrite corrosion that Victoria used in her presentation, which she believes helped her stand out from the others.  

“I have an interdisciplinary goal. I like biomaterials, but I’m also really interested in the cell biology side and what happens when cells and tissues interact with materials,” Victoria said.  While her list of six potential graduate school programs is not yet solidified, Victoria plans to use some of the $500 award to fund her applications.

“Our work in MSE was practically everything that lead to this win,” Lucas said. “Our collective backgrounds in materials science gave us knowledge of materials processing and the engineering process as it applies to materials. We knew the properties of the dome we were trying to maximize, and our MSE background made 3D printing a brittle polymer an intuitive choice.”

After spending four consecutive days with her peers at the conference, Victoria feels grateful that the MSE program’s small class size helped her bond with her classmates.

“I’m excited for what comes after graduation, but I’m going to miss UConn. I chose MSE as a major because the program was small. I know everyone in my classes and there’s always someone I can study for an exam with or ask for advice. I hope to find this kind of community again,” she said.

Victoria used a video in her presentation that demonstrates the modelling of phase transformation and corrosion. Her labmate, Moe Daeipour, created the video.

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