Webs of Dreams: A Quest to create Spider-Man’s Web Fluid

By Francesca Rameau, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Alumna Riley Blumenfield (’20), current senior manufacturing supervisor at Raytheon and graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell

Alumna Riley Blumenfield (’20), current senior manufacturing supervisor at Raytheon and graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell

When it came time to choose a university for her undergraduate studies, MSE alumna Riley Blumenfield ’20, had two main things in mind: affordability and proximity to home. After weighing her options, the University of Connecticut emerged as the clear winner. “It just felt right, being close to home and UConn having a great program at a more affordable price,” Riley explains reflecting on her decision.

Despite starting off as an undecided engineering major, Riley quickly found her niche within the field. Drawing from past experiences, including a captivating experience in the Exploring Engineering program during high school, she gravitated towards materials engineering. “I was always fascinated by materials, ever since I got to tinker around with them in that program,” Riley recalls. “Who wouldn’t want to make Spider-Man’s web fluid? Materials science and engineering seemed like the perfect path to turn that dream into reality.” Thus, Riley embarked on a journey fueled by curiosity, determination, and a touch of superhero inspiration.

During her time at UConn, Blumenfield served as a research assistant in Dr. Cato Laurencin’s lab focusing on polymers. She elaborated, “We were working on polymers to be used as scaffolding in tissue regeneration. I focused on the polymer degradation side, which entailed soaking PLAGA-polyphosphazene samples and measuring their performance after 2-week intervals. I performed GPC, FTIR, pH measurements, and DSC/TGA measurements.”

But Riley’s college journey wasn’t without its challenges. The final year, 2020, brought an unexpected hurdle: the pandemic. Amidst the chaos, Riley and her team were knee-deep in their senior project. Racing against time, they scrambled to wrap up the hands-on part of their research before the shutdown hit. And against all odds, they made it. Riley reflects on that chaotic time, expressing gratitude for her teammates’ dedication. “I’m just so thankful for everyone’s hard work. We pulled through, finished the lab work, and submitted a solid project on time!”

At present, Riley Blumenfield is pursuing graduate studies in Polymer/Plastic Engineering while also working as a senior manufacturing supervisor at Raytheon with the role of managing workers on the factory floor. She elucidated her role, “I manage a team of assemblers and testers working directly on a factory floor. I am responsible for the cost and schedule performance of the high-complexity, high-mix manufacturing line that the team works on. This included tackling obstacles as they pop up, which helps me explore some technical challenges in the office!”

Her shift towards a career outside of MSE stemmed from her desire to participate in a rotational program, which introduced her to the world of operations management. “What ultimately drew me more to operations management was the pace. I loved working in a lab but missed the urgency that comes with owning the product and deliverables of a team,” she explained her choice.

Even though her current position diverges from the traditional path taken by MSE students, Riley Blumenfield attributes much of her success in her career to her experiences and studies in MSE. She emphasizes how the engineering mindset continues to be an invaluable tool for problem-solving in her day-to-day work.  “The biggest takeaway is applying the engineering mindset,” she explains. “Engineering teaches you to deconstruct a problem to its base elements and solve it at the very core. There’s also a lot of base material property understanding that comes into manufacturing – for example, knowing to raise my hand when it looks like a screw is under too much strain or understanding the consequences of a cure not being followed properly.”

Blumenfield is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Polymer/Plastic Engineering. She credits the MSE faculties she encountered at UConn along with the doctorate candidate she worked with during her undergraduate years.

“I had a lot of influence from professors and the doctoral candidate I worked with in Dr. Laurencin’s lab. With my coursework focusing heavily on metals, I wanted to explore polymers with my research. I found that fascinating, and the research I did heavily influenced my decision to study plastics engineering in graduate school,” stated Riley Blumenfield. “The other major influence was Professor Fiona Leek in the materials lab courses. She gave me lots of advice when I was her student and TA.”

Looking ahead, Blumenfield hopes to earn her master’s degree this spring at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. And, when it comes to the long game, she aspires to continue building her team-building abilities and to keep herself open to different roles and industries. “There is so much out there, and I’ve only had a small taste of the opportunities!”

Drawing from her journey, Blumenfield offers advice to both aspiring MSE students and current ones considering career paths outside of traditional roles. To aspiring students, Blumenfield advises, “I encourage them to get involved in research in undergrad, and look ahead to Masters or Ph.D. degrees if they want to do the full science route. It is always a good idea to find a mentor in industry who can coach you through job opportunities and the right career path for you.”

For current students, Riley suggests, “I recommend that they pursue internships outside of MSE before committing to a full-time job. Being in a rotational program was a great experience for me and helped me figure out what I wanted. I would also prompt them to try taking classes outside of the MSE core and not to limit themselves to what they studied.”

Published: June 6, 2024

Categories: alumni, graduate students, industry, news

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