College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Goldwater winner Nicholas Oldham’s undergrad research experiences provides confidence to pursue passions

Nicholas Oldham smiles in front of Marston Hall.
Nicholas Oldham smiles in front of Marston Hall.

Nicholas Oldham, sophomore in materials engineering, was one of four Iowa State students to be chosen for the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which is the premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering in the U.S. 

When I started looking at engineering programs at Iowa State, the materials science and engineering department looked really appealing and the interactions I had with them before applying were so good that I really wanted to come here. When I visited campus, I talked with academic advisor Holly Dunlay-Lott for an hour, and it was really helpful for me.

I wanted something that is science based, but also an intersection of all the things I was interested in. What really got me started on this path was that I was a fencer in high school, and I had to maintain my blade and pay close attention to it. This got me interested and appreciate the science behind this material.

When I came to Iowa State and learned about materials engineering I realized these people were already doing what I had been doing in my head, thinking about how chemistry interacts with physics.

The second week I was at Iowa State, I put my name in to apply to be an undergraduate research assistant and I started out by shadowing in associate professor of materials science and engineering Shan Jiang’s lab, working on polymers.

Then through the Iowa State Honors peer mentor’s program, I connected with Sid Pathak, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and I learned a lot about solder, microgravity and how different instruments work in different environments.

After that I was able to connect with Steve Martin, a Distinguished Professor of materials science and engineering, and Martin’s Glass and Energy Materials lab has been an amazing group.

I have been researching solid-state sodium batteries. What I do a lot in the lab is making new glass chemistries that have never been made before and analyze them in a variety of ways. There is so much hands-on learning involved. And it feels great to working on greener energy storage.

Research has been incredibly helpful to inform my decisions on my engineering future. The people I have been working with and the grad students in the lab have been amazing in their mentorship and knowledge of performing research and of graduate school.

I have decided to go to graduate school because of the positive experiences I have had with undergraduate research at Iowa State. The stepping stone process of building your knowledge is incredibly satisfying, and I cannot understate the influence of all the mentors I have had during my time on campus. Hands-on research and supportive mentorship gave me the confidence to pursue the Goldwater and, after graduation, to pursue a Ph.D. in my passion: sustainable energy materials.