By David Goddard.
Three Engineering Vols from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering have been named 2020 Goldwater Scholars, earning the most prestigious undergraduate STEM scholarship awarded in the United States.
Samantha Maness, Jackson Spurling, and Logan White, along with two other UT students, earned the honors from the Goldwater Scholarship program.
Three Goldwaters from one department is an extraordinary feat as well as a special national recognition of the quality of the MSE undergraduate program and its faculty, staff, and students. With three Goldwaters, MSE was among the top performers in the 2020 competition.
Samantha Maness describes the award as an incredible feeling of recognition for her hard work in class and in research.
“It really drives home to me the fact that the work I’m involved in matters outside of my immediate academic sphere,” she said. “The experience of applying for this award not only bolstered my future ability to advocate for myself to graduate schools, but it also gave me confidence that I will be a genuinely competitive candidate for these programs.”
Maness’s scholarship-worthy research has been toward developing and studying new functional composite materials for use in additive manufacturing.
“I am currently the lead researcher on a project developing an ultra-lightweight printable foam for aerospace applications,” she said. “My work spans all the way from the initial synthesis of a material feedstock to the printing of specimens to mechanical testing. I love this sort of research because of how diverse projects are from one another, and because it allows me to get my hands dirty in the lab almost every day.”
While Maness works in materials, her faculty mentor is Brett Compton, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering. She has worked in his advanced manufacturing research group since her first year at UT.
“His background is split between materials science and mechanical engineering, so he’s provided a really insightful perspective into the interrelation between these fields,” said Maness. “He has always pushed me to think deeper about the principles at work in our research and to tackle problems independently, and I credit him significantly for my ability to become a Goldwater Scholar.”
After graduation, Maness plans to pursue a PhD in materials science with the ultimate goal of becoming a university professor and continue her work in the development of novel functional composite materials and additive manufacturing science.
Jackson Spurling earned recognition for research on advanced characterization of materials, with a focus on energy applications.
“I leverage tools like electron microscopy to understand how the microstructure and, by extension, the properties, of materials change as a result of testing under conditions like high temperature or high stress,” he explained.
Spurling appreciates encouragement from faculty mentors like Compton and MSE Associate Professor Claudia Rawn, and he also cites welcome support from Lawrence Allard and Kinga Unocic at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Wenyu Huang at Ames National Laboratory.
“All of my MSE professors have encouraged me through my coursework, lab work, and undergraduate research,” he said. “They have helped me hone my technical skills in the lab as well as become better at communicating my findings by publishing papers and giving presentations at conferences.”
He feels a direct influence from these mentors on making him a better researcher and help him reach goals of earning his PhD and eventually conducting research in advanced materials for energy sustainability at a national laboratory or university.
“I am honored by the recognition of the Goldwater Scholarship, but none of this would have been possible without my mentors,” he said.
He is also impressed by how UT performed as a whole in this recognition.
“To have five Goldwater Scholars in one year is certainly an accomplishment,” said Spurling. “Much of that credit goes to Director Andrew Seidler and the staff at the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships here at UT.”
Seidler’s team took the time to review and help students fine-tune their applications.
“It’s that investment of time that they made in all of UT’s nominees that helped the university be so successful on the national stage,” said Spurling.
Logan White’s focus in MSE has been within the field of additive manufacturing.
“Specifically, I study the laser powderbed fusion technique using high resolution synchrotron tomography and radiography,” he said. “The goal is to develop a better understanding of this process so it may be incorporated into industrial applications.”
White said the Goldwater Scholarship will help him further his research path and allow him to attend Conferences that may have otherwise been out of his budget.
“To me, receiving this award reflects the amount of effort and resources my department and my mentor have invested in me to be able to have such a successful undergraduate experience,” he said.
MSE Professor Hahn Choo has mentored and worked closely with White during the young researcher’s undergraduate career, providing many opportunities and pushing him to fulfill his potential.
“There is little doubt that his guidance has led me to where I am now,” said White. “I have been able to participate in experiments conducted at Argonne National Laboratory, be intimately involved in multiple publications, and travel across the country to various scientific conferences.”
After graduation, White plans on seeking a PhD in materials science and eventually working in a national lab.