College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

MSE undergraduates gain research experiences abroad

Undergraduates can gain research experience on campus and abroad, especially with the help of Steve Martin, distinguished professor of materials science and engineering at Iowa State University.

This summer, Adriana Joyce, senior in materials engineering, traveled to the Institute of Ceramics and Glass, one of 130 centers belonging to the State Agency’s Superior Council of Scientific Research in Madrid, Spain.

At the university, Joyce worked closely with Professor Francisco Munoz in dehydration and post-melt processing of glasses that are used in high-energy, high-power lasers.

Worldwide connections and opportunities

Martin knew that Joyce had always wanted to go to Spain, so he emailed his long-time colleague, Munoz, set up a conference and sent Joyce on her way.

Joyce enjoyed seeing the Madrid skyline and all of the new experiences beneath it.

“I have good friends who are glass scientists all over the world, so I simply ask the students where they would like to go, and then I contact my colleagues in that country, and off we go,” Martin said.

Munoz works specifically in research, so he had a lot of time to dedicate to his students and their experiences, according to Joyce.

“I was working with a lot of processing techniques and comparing how they affect the optical and mechanical properties of the glass,” Joyce said. “It was different than the work I do here, which is a lot of composition work, so it was nice to see a different side of it.”

Launched from on-campus research experiences

“I wouldn’t be in this lab with these people if it weren’t for Iowa State,” Joyce said.

At Iowa State, Joyce has been working in the glass and optical materials group for nearly two and a half years, doing research for glassy solid-state electrolytes under Martin.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Joyce said. “I really enjoy taking what we’re learning in class and applying it to something that I can actually see.”

Joyce isn’t the only one who got an opportunity to research abroad through Martin. Martin has been sending undergraduates abroad for research experiences for nearly all his 33 years at Iowa State.

“These opportunities not only give students additional research experience in glass but force them to grow personally and interpersonally as an international adult,” Martin said.

“Students come back as more global and engaged international citizens who understand the reality that international borders may have political meaning, but that most people are just working every day, just like everyone else, to make the world a better place.”

Other students are part of exchange programs and research abroad, as well, including Kah-Loong Hoh, who went to Osaka, Japan this summer, working in the Department of Applied Chemistry at Osaka Prefecture University under Professor Masahiro Tatsumisago.

“I have students traveling all the time, so Adriana’s international collaboration was just the latest of my many different students in my research group to work internationally,” Martin said.

“International collaboration is a great way for Midwestern students to see the world and broaden their international experiences and to see wonderful people all over the world first-hand.”

In addition, Tobias Kaufman is in Martin’s research lab this fall from Germany, Fumika Tsuji is a Ph.D. student from Japan and another German student will come in the spring. In the summer, an Iowa State undergraduate will travel to Germany as part of Martin’s Germany-U.S. collaboration.

“Students who do research abroad gain invaluable experiences in living alone, working in a new country and gaining the overall perspective that we are all in this together and we must work, live and collaborate to make this world a safer, better, and more wonderful place to live, work and learn,” Martin said.

Spanish culture meets research

Joyce visited the Segovia Aqueduct in Spain during her travels.

The research type wasn’t the only adjustment that Joyce had to make over the summer. Cultural differences impacted her experience, as well.

“It was really interesting working in a completely different culture,” Joyce said. “They have a much calmer lifestyle, which is a very dramatic switch.”

According to Joyce, Spanish culture involves a lot more appreciation of time. There, researchers are far more likely to leave work early, take longer lunch breaks and socialize with a cup of coffee than they are in the U.S.

“The relaxed setting was very nice, and I really enjoyed the many different things that there were to do in Spain,” Joyce said.

Joyce also had the opportunity to travel while abroad and experience the city when she wasn’t on the job.

“There are always new things to see in Madrid. It’s a huge city, and I lived right in the middle of downtown,” Joyce said. “That means I had about a 45-minute commute to work, but I was within a 10-minute walk of just about anything interesting!”

Looking ahead

Joyce is continuing her studies at Iowa State with a newfound research perspective.

“When it comes to research and internship opportunities, find them and take them,” Joyce said. “Even if it eliminates that particular field or direction, then you’ve learned more about your interests and what you want to do.”

Joyce is now a senior in materials engineering and is hoping to intern in research and development in industry to compare that type of work with her academic research.

“These experiences are really going to help when I start looking for a full-time job,” Joyce said. “Not only that, but they helped me figure out what I wanted to do.”

When Joyce started her adventure at Iowa State, she didn’t know she had any interest in research, but these opportunities have shown her that she really enjoys it.

“When searching for a job comes about, there are a lot of different things thrown at you – R&D jobs, managerial jobs, quality testing – and without knowing what those entail, it’s hard to know which the best fit is,” Joyce said.

“Gaining these experiences and knowing what you enjoy or don’t enjoy doing before you start looking for a full-time job is very valuable,” Joyce said.

At Iowa State, Joyce is also involved in Science Explorations, which joins with other organizations to visit girls in grades 3-6 to generate interest in STEM fields, and Material Advantage, an organization that provides professional development opportunities in materials engineering.

“I would not have been able to work in this lab if I wasn’t here at Iowa State,” Joyce said. “The people that I work with right now have shown me that I really do enjoy research, and I don’t know that I would have found that with a different group of people.”