MSE Undergraduate Student Profile: Colin Heikes

colin heikes
Colin Heikes (B.S. '08). While attending UMD, was awarded a University of Maryland Honors Citation, a University of Maryland Materials Science and Engineering Faculty merit scholarship, and a University of Maryland President's Scholarship. He is a member of Alpha Sigma Mu, International Professional Honor society for Materials Science and Engineering, and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

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

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

"I was looking for a way to study something that couldn't become obsolete. New materials will always be needed to further science and technology."

Materials Science and Engineering Undergraduate Student Colin Heikes

When I was in high school and looking at colleges, I knew that I had a strong interest in sciences but I didn't know what area was right for me. I wanted to go to a school that had excellent programs in physics, engineering, and chemistry so that I could make a decision once I was there about my major. I didn't want to get stuck in a place where a switch of major would result in a downgrade in the level of the program. The University of Maryland was one of three schools that I applied to that met these requirements. I chose Maryland because when I visited here, I had the best on campus experience. I also got into the honors program which made Maryland the best education value of all three of those schools.

Why did you decide to major in Materials Science and Engineering?

I decided to major in Materials Science and Engineering during my campus visit here while I was in high school. I met with professors from chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and with Professor [Ray] Phaneuf in materials science and engineering. Materials science and engineering had the combination of physics, chemistry, and engineering that I desired. There are so many topics that fall under category of materials science including polymers, biotechnology, nanotechnology, magnetism, integrated circuits, and metallurgy. Almost every technological breakthrough is related in some way back to the materials that are used build the technology. I was looking for a way to study something that couldn't become obsolete. New materials will always be needed to further science and technology.

What's been the best thing about your academic experience here so far?

The best part of my academic experience has been the research I have been able to do here, and the ability to work with professors who are at the forefront of science. My main interest in materials science is nanoscale materials and nanoscale devices. I was able to work with Dr. John Cumings in this area.

colin in lab
Colin in the lab.

Have you been involved in any research projects?

I am working with Dr. Cumings to build a sample holder for a transmission electron microscope (TEM). This holder will allow for the probing of a sample with nanometer scale positioning resolution, as well as the determination of electronic properties of devices, all in the TEM. Once complete, this holder will be used to probe the conduction between walls of a telescoping multiwalled carbon nanotube.

What has been your favorite class, and why?

My favorite class here has probably been ENMA 442, Nanomaterials. This class was taught by my research advisor, Dr. Cumings, and discussed advances in nanoscale materials starting with the discovery of "bucky balls" and carbon nanotubes and progressing up to current advances in nanomaterials. I liked it the best because it helped me realize that I wanted to study nanotechnology. I was fascinated by all the new effects to be studied in the nanoscale regime.

What's the hardest engineering class you had to take?  Do you have any suggestions for other students about how to survive it?

It's hard to define a hardest class in engineering. The class that covers the most difficult material is probably ENMA 460: Physics of Solid Materials. The professors who teach the class, Dr. Cumings and Dr. Takeuchi are both good lecturers and easily understood.

The best thing to do is to pay attention in lectures and do the homework with classmates. Everything is easier to understand when you're working it out with other people. In the materials science and engineering major, I have found that all the students are friendly and working toward the same goal. The [number of people in the] major is small, so everyone gets to know each other well. No one has issues with helping out others with the material.

What's been the best thing about living in the Washington, D.C. area?

I love being in the D.C. area. My girlfriend and I ride the Metro into D.C. at least once a month to go to restaurants, bars, plays, or museums. The best thing about being here is that you're in the middle of everything. If you don't have a car, you can take the Metro right into D.C. and get almost anywhere quickly and cheaply. You also have access incredible diversity of cultures, so you can get amazing ethnic food all over the place.

What do you recommend undergraduates do or get involved in to have the best experience here?

I definitely recommend getting involved with the student group, MatES [the Materials Engineering Society]. It's a way for materials students of all different years to meet and essentially mentor each other. This group helps each other with homework and with picking classes so you always have someone else that you know in a class. Having someone else to puzzle through things with always helps. You also get to benefit from access to the MatES lounge as a place to do work and hang out with other people in the major. Aside from school work, I also recommend that you get involved with a non-academic student group. I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team here. Being a part of a group or team really helps make such a huge university seem a little bit smaller.

What would you like to do after graduating?

I am trying to go to graduate school right now. I have been applying to schools so that I can pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. Eventually I would like to become a faculty member at a research institution and continue to do research in nano materials.

Colin Heikes received his B.S. in May 2008. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Cornell University, where he is advised by physics professor Dr. Dan Ralph.