Even after months of preparations with her faculty mentor, Sydney Fields was still anxious about attending her first conference.
Fields wasn’t sure what to expect when she first arrived at The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) 2022 Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Anaheim, but as the conference went on, she felt more comfortable. Her hard work paid off—she won best poster award in the 2022 Technical Division Student Poster Competition, making her one of five undergraduate students worldwide to earn this accomplishment this year.
“It was the first time I've been to any sort of professional conference, so I was very nervous at first,” said Fields, an undergraduate studying materials science and engineering. “But everyone there is nice and obviously incredibly smart, and I met quite a lot of people from not just the U.S., but from London and Norway, and it was just very interesting to meet all these people.”
Fields was already working in the Materials Design and Characterization Group in the College of Engineering when Yufeng Zheng, assistant professor and principal investigator of the group, asked if she’d like to apply to the Nevada Undergraduate Research Award (NURA), an opportunity available to all students interested in funding for their academic research, scholarship or creative activity. To apply, undergraduate students from any discipline can submit a proposal for their activity under the direction of an eligible mentor.
She applied. Now, she’s a NURA recipient, allowing her to further explore materials science through her own research project, “Quantitative Analysis of Microstructure in the Ti-6Al-4V Alloy Using Scanning Electron Microscopy." In this project, she’s studying how the microstructure of a titanium alloy is affected by various heat treatments. This research is important because the titanium alloy she’s using has applications in the aerospace industry. Determining its heating rate will then help determine how its mechanical properties would be impacted.
She presented this research at the TMS 2022 conference. Zheng, her faculty mentor, played a significant role in encouraging her to submit her research, as well as providing guidance as she prepared for the event.
“We decided together to submit my research to a poster conference. So, I had weekly or biweekly meetings with him, and we would go over everything. Then, I created presentations and we would discuss it,” she said. “I feel like that was so incredibly helpful and he really helped me do my best.”
Fields enjoyed the conference experience, so much so that she hopes to attend the next year’s TMS event in San Diego.
“I just feel very grateful for my mentor and his PhD student, Dian Li. Without those two I couldn't have done [this].”
Through this research and Zheng’s mentorship, Fields has discovered her passion for materials science and engineering. She said she is “very lucky” because research gave her the opportunity to explore her career field, and now she is sure this the path for her. In the future, she plans on earning a master's degree, and later possibly pursuing a postdoctoral degree.
Fields also joined the University’s Material Advantage Student Chapter in Fall 2021. This has been another great way for her to feel a part of the material science community, she said.
She encouraged other undergraduate students to take advantage of the University’s research opportunities.
“The best advice I've gotten is to just jump in and start doing research,” she said. “It's okay if you don't like it, but it'll give you a feel for what your major is and what you want to do, and I feel like it's very helpful to determine if you actually like what you're doing.”