Ask most college students how they spent their summer break and you’ll probably hear about trips to the beach or an easy-going summer job. But ask Jaylin Myers about his summer and he launches into an explanation about the properties of advanced high strength steel.
An Atlanta native, Myers spent his summer participating in Mississippi State’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. The 10-week summer session paired 17 students from universities across the country with Mississippi State faculty and focused on providing research experience to students who don’t have those opportunities at their own campuses.
For Myers, a rising senior chemical engineering major at Tuskegee University, his REU experience offered him the chance to work with Mississippi State researcher Hongjoo Rhee on a project that is looking for ways to revolutionize the steel used in the automotive industry.
“With first generation steel, you have a give and take thing going on,” Myers explained. “It’s affordable but it’s generally either strong or it’s ductile. Second generation steel is both strong and ductile, which is the ideal, but it’s not cost effective due to the high manganese content. We are trying to create third generation steel, which would be both strong and ductile but also cost effective.”
Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and Army Research Labs, the program allowed Myers and the other REU students to spend all day in a lab setting, something they aren’t necessarily able to do at their home universities.
“We have a good engineering program at Tuskegee, but we don’t necessarily have the resources to have these big, applied-science labs,” Myers said. “You can read something in a book and have a good understanding of the material, but when you are in a lab, seeing something in person, testing it, working with machines… it’s a different kind of learning experience and something that I’ve found to be very beneficial.”
And his work on the high strength steel project was very beneficial to Rhee, as well.
“Jaylin’s work this summer provided important results for our research into heat treatments of a new steel alloy that we are developing,” said Rhee, an associate director and associate research professor at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems at Mississippi State. “He came from a university where he has not had as much hands-on research experience, but he was fully hands-on in our group. We were able to complete a portion of our research that would have been difficult to do without his help.”
In addition to the research component, the REU program also featured professional development seminars and site visits to regional companies such as Airbus and Steel Dynamics. The students also used their work to compete in an undergraduate research symposium at the end of the summer. Myers’ project earned a second-place finish in the physical sciences and engineering category.
While the hours spent researching were the focus of the program, for many of the participants, interacting with students from other parts of the country was a benefit unto itself. Myers was joined in the REU program by students from universities in Colorado, New York, New Jersey and Florida (just to name a few).
“We also had a group of international students stay in our dorm for a while,” Myers added. “They were from all over the world – Argentina, The Congo, Haiti. Because of the REU program, I met people from different cultures and walks of life and who had different ideologies. That experience was one of the best parts of the program. It was eye opening. I loved it!”
Myers first heard about the REU program at Mississippi State from a pair of classmates and is looking forward to spreading the word about how he spent his summer break in Starkville to others when he returns for his senior year at Tuskegee.
“I can’t wait to go back and recommend this program to other people at my school,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”