Harsh Environments and Exposure; for Research and REU Student

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The SENIC Undergraduate Internship in Nanotechnology (SUIN) program is a major component of the Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor (SENIC), at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech, which focuses on providing undergraduates in engineering the chance to spend a summer conducting research in a world-class collaborative lab with prominent Georgia Tech researchers. GT-IEN hosted 10 undergraduates from various U.S. colleges over the summer that engaged in hands-on research in a number of fields of nanotechnology.

This is our fifth installment of interviews with the students who spent their summer conducting research at Georgia Tech. Shelly Phillips, majoring in Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University during the program period, worked with mentor Katie Young in the laboratory of Professor Eric Vogel (MSE).

1. What sparked your interest in engineering and what problems are you hoping to help solve as an engineer?

Although my father is a pilot, and studied aerospace engineering, I did not consider engineering until the summer before my senior year of high school. I was decent in math and physics classes and absolutely loved chemistry, so the more I looked into different STEM majors, the more appealing engineering became. I’m really passionate about improving the health of the planet, and I am hoping to be able to work on improving energy production and battery storage technology, or even designing materials to be more reusable and recyclable. This research is integral to the broad collective effort necessary for the future of environmentally sustainable design.

2. What research are you conducting at GT and what applications do you feel this research may have?

I’m studying the use of 2D materials as corrosive barriers. More specifically, my project is focused on how graphene quality affects its ability to protect copper against corrosion by inducing defects in large grain, non-defective graphene.  This research has the potential to better protect microelectronic devices from corrosion that can lead to damage or failure of the device. With thinner corrosion barriers, electronics for use in hostile environments (exposure to radiation, extreme temperatures, weathering, etc.) can be scaled down in footprint whilst still being protected.

3. What has been your favorite lab activity/ tool training/ etc. thus far and why?

I have really enjoyed using the scanning electron microscopes in the Materials Characterization Facility. This tool essentially allows me to take pictures of my samples under extremely high magnification. The resolution is amazing.

4. Do you feel this REU experience has helped prepare you for working in a collaborative laboratory environment and furthered your education goals?

Without a doubt.  Through this REU I was lucky enough to be placed in an amazing lab group and work under an excellent mentor, Katie Young.  I am getting exposure to more technology, techniques, and ideas that I could have ever anticipated. One of the most beneficial things was having access to so many individuals that are pursuing different careers in in materials science and engineering and getting input advice on my own educational path.

5. What are your plans post-undergraduate?

As of now, my only definitive plan is to obtain my undergraduate degree in materials science and engineering. Whether I pursue a master’s or doctorate, and if I will enter industry or remain in academia will be decided once I get through more of my undergraduate classes and gain more experience. Long term, I do like the idea of a career in R&D research at NASA or JPL.

6. What is your favorite thing about/impression of GA Tech and ATL?

I love how many trees the campus has! I was really nervous about spending the summer in a big city because I am used to spending the summer hiking and working in a farm environment, but all of the greenspace has helped me miss home little less. It was also fantastic to be around so many people following the same career path as myself, and get exposed to different possibilities within my field.

The SENIC REU program is funded by NSF award EEC-1757579.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Christa Ernst
  • Created:01/10/2019
  • Modified By:Christa Ernst
  • Modified:01/10/2019