Lauren (Smith) Fey is a ’18 MatSE alumna who is a computational researcher and doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Let’s catch up with this impressive alum in a Q&A.
Lauren (Smith) Fey is a ’18 MatSE alumna who is a computational researcher and doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Let’s catch up with this impressive alum in a Q&A.
Q: What is the day in the life like for you now?
A: “I am a Ph.D. candidate of UCSB developing new models to simulate materials at the nanoscale. Our goal is to understand how a new type of metal alloy, called multi-principal element alloys, deform. These alloys are unique because they are made up of several different elements, as opposed to traditional alloys which have one element that makes up the majority of the material. My job is to create mathematical models based on what we know about the underlying physics, write these models into code, and then run computer simulations to give us insights into unique ways MPEAs may be behaving. I get to collaborate with experimentalists who are studying the same materials, and we are able to learn from each other to improve our understanding from multiple angles. “
Q: How does your work impact our everyday lives?
A: “I think we all know by now that air travel is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The fuel efficiency of jet engines is currently limited by the materials inside them. We need to increase the operating temperature to increase the fuel efficiency and to do that, we need new materials that can withstand these extreme temperatures. MPEAs are candidate materials for this application since they have very high melting temperatures, but we need a better understanding of how these materials behave and how we can process them before they are viable alternatives.”
Q: You made you want to study materials science and engineering?
A: “I have been interested in understanding how things work, and materials science helps us understand how materials work all the way down to the atomic level. I like that it is still focused on the fundamental science while also scaling up to real-world applications.”
Q: What made you choose Illinois?
A: “I grew up in Illinois and knew that I wanted to study engineering, so Illinois was a no-brainer! I’m really lucky to have such a great university in my home state.”
Q: What research did you conduct in your undergrad at Illinois?
A: “I worked in professor Dallas Trinkle’s research group performing atomistic simulations of defects in nickel at high temperatures. Our goals here were similar to my current research, which is to further our understanding of materials for extreme temperature environments. I spent a summer interning at Los Alamos National Lab in Los Alamos, N.M. working on this research as well, and I was able to learn from top scientists in the field of atomistic simulation.”
Q: How did Illinois prepare you for your current role?
A: “The coursework prepared me really well for both classes and research in graduate school. Since I am doing a Ph.D., my undergraduate research was the most important part of my preparation. I would encourage anyone who is considering graduate school to get involved in research and get involved early so you have time to explore different areas.”
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Illinois?
A: “There are so many! I spent a lot of time in the Grainger Engineering Library studying, which I feel nostalgic about now but was probably less happy about back then. I think the best feeling is finishing up your work for the week and going to get dinner with friends knowing you’ve earned the night off to relax and have fun.”
Q: What makes MatSE the coolest major?
A: “MatSE is basically all the best parts of the other science and engineering majors combined. Every industry needs materials, so there is a huge breadth in what you can study. You could work on materials for aerospace, batteries, drug delivery or quantum computers while all falling under the MatSE umbrella. If you’re not sure what you want to do after graduation, you’ll have a great base to jump into a lot of different industries.”
Q: What do you cherish most from your Illinois days?
A: “I cherish the diversity of experiences I was able to have while at Illinois. Even though I had my fair share of late nights at the Grainger Engineering Library, I made an effort to do more than just go to classes. I was able to study abroad in New Zealand, be a course assistant in the computer science department, lead a dance registered student organization, go to football games and make lifelong friends.
Q: What advice do you have for the incoming MatSE class?
A: “Know that your classes are going to be harder than high school, so don’t get discouraged if you find yourself struggling. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and get connected with the resources you need to succeed. Also, get to know your professors. They want to help you in any way they can and I promise they don’t bite.”
Q: What words of wisdom can you impart to current MatSE students?
A: “Take advantage of all the opportunities you can! College is such a unique time where you can try something for a semester and then do something completely different the next. Get involved in research, join an RSO or study abroad — I would recommend all three. If you have room in your schedule, take classes outside your major. Spending a little time south of Green Street will make you a more well-rounded person, which will benefit you in the long run.”