University of Minnesota

Materials Science & Engineering Student Profile

Name: Emma Abbott
Graduation Year:

How and why did you choose your major?

Ever since I was a child I have always had an intense curiosity about how things work. I like to know why something happens, and follow the cause all the way down to the root. This is what drew me to Materials Science. Materials science is all about the relation between the macroscopic properties of materials (strength, ductility, color, etc.) and the microscopic properties of the material (atoms, electrons, crystal structures, etc.). It turns out that the arrangement of atoms and molecules on a tiny scale have a HUGE effect on the macroscopic properties of materials, and that fascinates me. Materials science allows me to follow the 'why' all the way down to the true first cause of many things, and that is what I love about my major.

Please give a description (in your words) of your major including the things you learn, favorite classes, and any challenges you have faced.

Did you know that atoms prefer to arrange themselves in highly ordered structures? That metal chair you are sitting on is a bunch of Aluminum atoms arranged in cubes with an atom at each corner. These highly ordered structures are what give many metals their strength. Plastics on the other hand are very disordered and are therefore much weaker than metals. As a MatSci major, you learn about all the details at the atomic level which affect the macroscopic properties of a material. My favorite class so far is Electronic and Magnetic Properties, which was an in depth look at how electrons within a metal, semi- conductor and insulator can create useful properties in a material. We learn about how semi-conductors are used in computer memory and solar power production. Electrons also cause all magnetic properties of materials, and are used in many things, from computer hard drives to medical MRIs. The classes are challenging, but the professors are all very willing and open to meet with you and take the extra time to make sure you understand the material.

What types of experiences outside of the classroom have you had relating to your major? (i.e. clubs, jobs, internships, volunteering, study abroad etc.)

I am a part of Material Advantage and Engineers Without Borders, and I work part time at 3M as a technical aide. Material Advantage is a student group on campus which brings in companies to talk about various career paths available to materials science graduates. They also travel to local high schools and middle schools to demonstrate some of the cooler aspects of materials science. In Engineers Without Borders I have been working with a team of students from many majors to help provide clean water to people in Uganda. It is very rewarding to know that even as a student I am already able to help improve the quality of life for others. At 3M I work with secure films on driver's licenses and passports. I have learned a lot from my job about the industry process of bringing a new product into the production, and how many hidden factors affect each material.

In your opinion, what is one thing, or one piece of advice that other students pursuing your major should know?

Get involved with extracurricular activities early, they have been one of the best parts of my time here at the U, and I wish I had gotten involved earlier. Being a part of a student group related to your major connects you with similar minded people, and makes it a lot easier to form study groups for your classes. Also, if you find you have questions about a homework problem or something from lecture was not clear, go to your professors' office hours. For one thing, they will definitely have the answer to your question. In addition, the more often they see you outside of the classroom, the better they will know you and be able to write a good letter of recommendation for a job after graduation.

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Center for Academic Planning and Exploration
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