MSE Undergraduate Student Profile: Katie Atwater

During her time at the University of Maryland, Katie has been on the Dean’s List every semester (Fall 2011-present), and has received the Lockheed Martin Corporate Partner Scholarship (2013), the University of Maryland Presidential Scholarship (Fall 2011-present), and the Materials Science and Engineering Scholarship (Fall 2011).
Katie has also been accepted to the RISE Leadership Academy in Engineering, a new Clark School program for juniors and seniors. The program is designed to make the top students in each of the Clark School's engineering disciplines into leaders among their peers.

We chatted with Katie to learn more about her experiences in the undergraduate program in materials science and engineering, and to find out why she chose the University of Maryland for her studies.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Maryland?

"My best piece of advice is to do what you love...I would never be where I am today if I did not love my major. I am excited to learn new things every day and it shows in my grades and accomplishments. MSE is great because there are a wide variety of tracks  to choose from, so you can take the courses that interest you the most."

Materials Science and Engineering undergraduate student Katherine Atwater

I wanted a school that had a multitude of activities and a great engineering program, and was a fun place to be. Of all the schools I applied to, Maryland was the only one that had all of these things. As a top engineering school and research university, I knew that I would receive a great education here. The school also made me feel welcome in the community. I knew there would never be a shortage of things to do on and off campus, especially with Washington, D.C. so close by. Maryland won my heart and my mind and it was an easy decision to come here.


How did you learn about MSE, and why did you decide to major in it?

I always knew I wanted to be an engineer. My dad, uncle, and granddad are all engineers and I wanted to be just like them. My biggest problem was not knowing what discipline I wanted. I hated electronics and computers, so that was out of the running, but all the other engineering majors had something that interested me. I went to a lot of information sessions but was always underwhelmed. My uncle, who has a Ph.D. in materials science, pushed me to look into MSE because he knew I liked chemistry and physics, and wanted a more hands-on approach to engineering. I fell in love with MSE instantly when I saw demonstrations of cool materials like shape memory alloys. It's the perfect mix of science and engineering.

Have you conducted any on- or off-campus research? 

I have worked in three different laboratories since first attending college, two on campus and one off.

My first research position was under Dr. Alison B. Flatau in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. In her laboratory, I worked with Dr. Suok-Min Na to better understand the abnormal grain growth of an iron-gallium alloy to improve its magnetostrictive properties for use in sensors. Magnetostrictive means that the material is strained when introduced to a magnet. I helped prepare samples for the electron microscope and tested the strain of the material as it came closer to a magnet.

My second position was in an REU [Research Experiences for Undergraduates] program over the summer at Lehigh University. I worked under Dmytro Savytskyy on a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the International Materials Institute for New Functionality in Glass. I studied the effects of laser-induced crystallization on SbSI glass using various analytical methods to determine the composition of the produced crystals, and whether it was single crystal or polycrystalline.

My third and current position is under [MSE professor] Dr. Eric Wachsman at the University of Maryland Energy Research Center. I have been conducting research in increasing the efficiency of the electrolyte and contact layer for solid oxide fuel cells, which use the movement of oxygen ions across the electrolyte to generate electricity. I have made ceramic powders and inks from these powders, and tested the material properties for the electrolyte and contact layers.

How has your research affected your undergraduate experience or plans for the future?

My research experiences have helped me in my classes as well as in receiving offers for summer positions. I have gained experience on many analytical devices, such as the scanning electron microscope, and in x-ray powder diffraction, which has helped me in my materials laboratory classes. While I have conducted research in metals, glass, and ceramics, I still do not have a specific focus that I plan on pursuing in the future. I know I would like to do research near the product end of development instead of pure scientific research. I hope that future positions will help me narrow my focus as I move into my senior year.

What has been your favorite class, and why?

My favorite class was ENMA 301: Materials for Emerging Technologies taught by [MSE] Professor Oded Rabin. It was the first to really spark my interest in MSE and it allowed me to see the purpose of everything I was learning. In the class we would discuss a piece of current technology like a solar cell, and then deconstruct the product into the basic science behind it. This approach to materials allowed me to recognize that the science is important in creating a final, usable product. Professor Rabin helped me to understand that in MSE the science and engineering go hand in hand, and made me excited to learn more about materials in the future.

What's the best piece of advice you would give to another student, especially one thinking of majoring in MSE?

My best piece of advice is to do what you love. It sounds corny, but I would never be where I am today if I did not love my major. I am excited to learn new things every day and it shows in my grades and accomplishments. MSE is great because there are a wide variety of tracks to choose from, so you can take the courses that interest you the most.

What do you do outside of class and the lab?

I am the Sisterhood Chair for Alpha Omega Epsilon, the engineering sorority. In the sorority I have been able to network with women in all disciplines of engineering, which has been a huge asset to me throughout college. I am also a member of Tau Beta Pi, the Honors Engineering Fraternity; an Honors Ambassador, a role in which I help prospective students become excited about the University and the Honors College; and a member of MatES, the Material Science and Engineering Society. I also play intramural co-ed soccer in my free time.

What would you like to do after graduating?

I honestly do not know exactly what I want to do after graduating. I have always wanted to be an engineer so that I could design products that would help to make life better for people. I hope that in the future I can make an impact on how people live their lives through my research and engineering of materials.