For Fernando Nieves Munoz, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, coming to MIT has been a dream since a very young age. This summer, he’ll get to fulfill that ambition as one of 12 top-ranked undergraduate Summer Scholars selected by the MIT Materials Research Laboratory to conduct graduate-level research.
“As an engineering student, I expect to grow and be deeply immersed as an educator and researcher in the future,” Nieves says. He hopes to join a project to develop and enhance properties of new materials by analyzing their behaviors and structures.
Exploring renewable energy
Interest in different aspects of renewable energy is the most popular research theme among this year’s student interns. “I would like to apply my knowledge of electrochemistry to an area of research I have not previously explored, such as battery materials,” says Elizabeth "Lily" Hallett, a chemical engineering major at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. “My ultimate goal is to improve energy storage and conversion devices that will help our society transition to renewable energy.”
Sarai Patterson, a University of Utah materials science and engineering major, is interested in both renewable energy and environmental remediation. “Some examples of this might be nanostructured materials for energy applications, photovoltaic devices, sustainable polymers, carbon sequestration, microbial fuel cells, or thermoelectric materials,” Patterson explains. “I am excited to directly be a part of the research at MIT, to be mentored by a faculty member and gain the experience of working full-time on a project.”
Oregon State University physics major Ryan Tollefsen would like to conduct research on materials for organic solar cells or fusion reactor blankets. “By the end of this program, I expect to be more fluent in the language of experimental physics, strengthen my computational skills, and develop meaningful friendships,” Tollefsen says. Working in solar technologies is a career goal for University of Rhode Island chemical engineering major Michael Molinski. “I am looking forward to working with the many accomplished professors and students at MIT, all of whom share a common passion for their research and the betterment of society,” Molinski says.
Julianna La Lane, a University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez mechanical engineering student, is inspired by Assistant Professor Jennifer L. M. Rupp’s research on ceramic materials to convert solar energy into renewable fuel. “I hope this research will help me build a clearer path towards graduate school and further down the road in the design and construction of products that will promote the use of renewable energy and prevent the further warming of planet Earth,” La Lane says.
Brown University materials engineering major Ekaterina Tsotsos says, “My main goal is to pursue research aimed towards making sustainable energy more affordable and accessible,” but she cautions, “I'm not going to pretend I know exactly what I want to study; all of the projects look exciting in their own ways!”
Bio-inspired materials and designs are also popular with incoming Summer Scholars. “I hope to pursue areas of research intrinsically connected to sustainability and the environment. Specifically, I am interested in bio-inspired design and biomimicry,” says Danielle Beatty, a sophomore materials science and engineering major at the University of Utah.
Abigail Nason seeks to study bio-inspired materials because they have the functionality of traditional polymer materials while also benefiting the health of the environment. “As a current undergraduate student, I balance my research time with a full schedule of classes, but this summer I will be excited to spend a majority of my time focused on my research project,” says Nason, a University of Florida junior who is majoring in materials science and engineering. “While at MIT, I hope to learn more about what is involved in the design and development of biologically inspired materials. Materials that are biodegradable such as these are becoming increasingly important as the earth collects more and more synthetic plastics in its landfills and oceans.”
Drawn to biomaterials and medical materials, junior Simon Egner wants to attend graduate school because he cannot imagine doing anything other than research as a career. “This internship is an unmatched opportunity to gain experience in academic research,” the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign materials science and engineering major says.
Johns Hopkins University junior Sabrina Shen hopes to pursue translational research in soft materials for tissue engineering, immunoengineering, or other biomedical applications. “This allows me to draw from my academic background in biomaterials and to contribute to truly impacting lives,” Shen says.
“I'm most looking forward to exploring Boston and the neighborhoods surrounding MIT,” materials science and engineering major Shen says. “I love that I get to conduct fascinating and impactful research in one of the world's top institutions while experiencing a city with such rich culture and history.
Oregon State University junior Alvin Chang is interested in learning the commercialization process of engineering innovation and technology with particular application to sustainable energy and photonic nanostructures. “I am still at an impasse when it comes to committing to a direction for my future research, but I am sure that I want my research to make a humanitarian impact on others,” says Chang, a double major in chemical engineering and biological engineering, with a minor in entrepreneurship.
Summer Scholars serve as interns on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, through the MIT MRL’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, with support from the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, the AIM Photonics Academy, and the MRL Collegium.
Begun in 1983, the program has brought hundreds of the best science and engineering undergraduates in the country to MIT for graduate-level materials research. This year’s program runs from June 17 to Aug. 11.