By Amanda Song
Andrew Levin wanted to research technologies that could combat climate change. Majoring in Materials Science and Engineering united his interests in nature and technology. Joining the honors program provided him with an opportunity to build on those interests. Now, he’s investigating materials for renewable energy.
As a seventh semester senior in the honors program, Andrew has had research and internship experiences that helped him to narrow his interests in materials science and engineering (MSE), and to advance his career goals. One thing he wants students to know about the honors program is that it “better prepares you for the future.”
The honors program has helped Andrew transition from a student who consumes information, to one who acquires knowledge as an aspiring research scientist. He is now pursuing graduate study and applying to Ph.D. programs. His long-term career goal is to use advanced materials characterization techniques to improve solar cells, batteries, fuel cells, and thermal energy devices that can enable more sustainable sources of energy.
“Nature has always inspired awe in me, and I want to do all that I can to both understand and protect it. Materials science and engineering allows me to study the physics, chemistry, and fundamental sciences of what controls materials, and to apply the fundamental science to solve real-world problems.”
Andrew entered the honors program when he was admitted to UConn. However, rising sophomore and junior students can also apply to join the program, which provides research, funding, and other enrichment opportunities that enhance the student experience.
Participation in the honors program comes with challenges. “It has been a good challenge being an MSE honors student. Each semester, one MSE course is designated as an honors course, and I have to complete an honors thesis,” Andrew said.
Nevertheless, the work is rewarding. Andrew has become more confident in his understanding of MSE concepts. “Honors classes generally involve some sort of long-term project that builds upon course material. The projects have consistently improved my understanding and knowledge over course material,” he said. For his honors thesis, he chose to write a comprehensive research paper. “It required hard work and was very beneficial in bettering my technical writing skills.”
“Andrew is one of the most self-motivated students I have ever seen,” said his advisor, Assistant Professor Seok-Woo Lee. “He knows what he needs to do for his career. I hope that he becomes a leader who contributes to the development of new renewable energy materials and leads advances in energy technologies.”
The summer after his junior year, Andrew completed an internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. As part of the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), students are paired with scientists at a DOE laboratory to guide them through a research project related to the students’ interests. Andrew worked with a mentor to research perovskites, a class of materials that are of intense interest due to unique properties that make them suitable for applications in solar cells, light-emitting diodes, and other electronic devices.
“I gained experience working with a wide range of advanced fabrication and characterization techniques. A research environment such as a national lab promotes constant learning, through discussion with fellow scientists and a constant spreading of knowledge,” he said.
The DOE internship, as well as other unique experiences Andrew had as an MSE honors student, really helped him to focus on his future career goals. Going into the MSE honors program, Andrew struggled to clearly define his goals for combatting climate change, and to find ways to achieve them. But after taking honors classes and completing challenging research, he began to see that graduate school is one way to get there.
“The UConn MSE environment has made me confident and directed in my career goals. I feel that my foundational knowledge in MSE is strong and that I will be ready for the more advanced coursework in graduate school,” he said.
Currently, Andrew, a Holster Scholar, is drawn to working with renewable energy materials and technologies, including solar cells, fuel cells, and thermal systems. “I am enticed by the mysteries of energy materials and their future potential. I aim to complete a Ph.D. in materials science, concentrating in advanced characterization techniques,” he said.
For students considering the honors program, Andrew added: “It is a challenge but it is well worth it. It will be stressful at times, but in the long-term your learning experience is enriched and you are better prepared for future challenges.”