An exciting and fulfilling part of any college experience is having the ability to reach out and connect with people from all different places, whether throughout the United States or in other countries. This past summer, engineering student Brent Studenroth ’18 ME had an unforgettable experience; he was given an opportunity through the University of Pennsylvania’s Research and Education in Active Coatings Technologies (REACT) program to conduct research in Grenoble, France.
After receiving a $3.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, REACT partnered with the Grenoble Innovation for Advanced New Technologies (GIANT) Innovation Campus to send Brent and nine other students to Grenoble on a 10-week research project. The overarching aim of the project was “Hierarchical Structures for Water Management,” the first component in REACT’s three-step research plan.
REACT as a whole focuses on active coatings, which are becoming increasingly popular in the commercial world as additional discoveries are made. Active coatings, often referred to as “smart coatings” can be tailored to a variety of properties including self-repair and growth while maintaining their protective properties; in this case, REACT was studying coatings that can be beneficial in the collection, diversion and purification of water. Brent’s personal research plan for GIANT was titled “Optimization and refinement of patterned ZnO nanowire growth.” Basically, the nanowires that make up the coatings were not growing and refining themselves correctly and Brent was tasked with discovering why and finding approaches to fix the issue.
As a mechanical engineering student, none of Brent’s work in France was closely related to his studies. “My skills in Mechanical Engineering were not utilized in this internship, which I had expected,” he explains in his final report. “I chose this internship for the incredible experience of living and working abroad, to gain a better insight into what a career in research would be like, to work on an exciting research project, and to travel and have an entirely new cultural experience.” While he is still unsure of what he would like to pursue beyond graduation, Brent is confident that his international experience will help him adapt to challenges he faces in the future.
Many other students share Brent’s aspirations—in 2014, the number of engineering undergraduates who participated in study abroad programs during the school year had grown to 16 percent, with additional students engaging in international travel during the summer and through programs such as Villanova Engineering Service Learning. Discussing the benefits of studying abroad, Brent says, “Living and working abroad allowed me to live independently, further my professional development and communication skills, learn about and conduct research in an advanced field, and experience a completely different culture.” Moving forward, the College hopes to encourage more engineering students to study abroad and partake in these life-changing experiences.