Materials Science Organization Focuses on Outreach, Education
Feb. 6, 2014
Photo by Connie Cheng/The Mercury
Materials Research Society officers Luis Delmar, Mônica Jung de Andrade and Erika Fuentes-Fernandez started the chapter this semester. Membership is free and open to undergraduates, grad students and even staff, de Andrade said.
Eager to spread the word about her field of research, graduate student Erika Fuentes-Fernandez has an anecdote ready for defining an often-overlooked field of science.
“If you have a bowl and you put some math, physics, chemistry and electronics in it and you mix everything up, materials science will be the result,” Fuentes-Fernandez said.
The UT Dallas chapter of MRS became an official organization this semester. Membership to the local chapter is free and students interested can join via OrgSync.
Bringing Students into the Field
The national society encourages discussion on the potential of materials research and hosts two symposiums a year for chapter members. Some prominent members are UT Dallas faculty. Dr. Orlando Auciello, professor of materials science and engineering and bioengineering, is the international society’s past president, and Dr. Yves Chabal, head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the chair of the member engagement committee.
Chabal, who is also advisor for the student chapter, said the officers want to focus on bringing students into the field to promote interest.
“I’m really proud and amazed at how proactive our chapter is. They’re really thinking about outreach, and it’s going to be a fantastic operation to help bring in undergraduates,” said Chabal, Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics. “What this chapter has done is it’s already had more undergraduate students sign up than grad students.”
Already 100 members have joined the chapter, Chabal said.
Group's Interdisciplinary Approach
“One thing we want to do is a panel for discussion among students,” she said. “[Students] will be able to interact among themselves and learn from each other.”
De Andrade said the chapter is contributing to Engineers Week this month and offering recycling related programs during Earth Week in April. She said the chapter also plans to bring in industry professionals.
“We have a huge group that comes from different backgrounds — people who work in biotechnology and chemistry — because materials science is a very interdisciplinary field,” de Andrade said. “[The organization] is open to anyone: undergraduates, grad students and even staff. The idea is to educate, bring in people to teach us about things we don’t have access to on campus.”
Chabal said the chapter’s focus on outreach is not limited to college students.
“They are working with the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, and they are being active in addressing high school and middle school students, too,” he said.
Bringing Energy, Interest to Solving Modern Issues
MRS outreach officer Luis Delmar, an MSE doctoral student, said exposing prospective students to materials science is a priority for him.
“If you tell people ‘I’m a materials scientist,’ most people won’t know what you’re talking about. One of the main goals that I have is to be more involved in the community.”
“If you tell people ‘I’m a materials scientist,’ most people won’t know what you’re talking about,” Delmar said. “One of the main goals that I have is to be more involved in the community.”
Delmar said it only takes one experience to spark an interest in science and he recalls the moment that helped him decide to pursue materials research.
“When I was a kid, I was fascinated by geckos and how they walked up walls. I would catch them and touch their toes. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it,” Delmar said. “I finally read an article and found out [geckos] do that with nano-sized hairs and it was the first time I thought such an amazing property could be dictated by something I’m not even aware of.”
Chabal said that kind of interest from students is critical to solving modern issues in science.
“I think the most important challenge for the new generation is energy,” Chabal said. “In order to really address this critical issue, everybody is needed. Young people need to think about that.”
A version of this article by Miguel Perez first appeared in The Mercury, the student newspaper of UT Dallas.
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