Finding his path through research

Penn State Altoona Mark
Credit: Penn State

Michael Spencer ’17, Materials Sciences and Engineering
Research Spotlight

I began doing research my sophomore year with Kofi Adu, associate professor of physics, and remained on his research team until graduation. My research was primarily to fabricate electrical double layer capacitors based on flexible, robust carbon nanotube membrane interdigitated electrodes and a solid state electrolyte. Throughout the course of my research, I was able to use several techniques such as transmission electron microscopy, evaporation for thin film deposition, and various electrochemical characterization methods.

Doing research strengthened my basic skills of literature searching, problem solving, and presenting. Because of my research, I was able to participate in several symposia and conferences, where I networked with many other researchers and learned about projects happening nationally and internationally. At these events, I was able to practice presenting and communicating my work and findings—a skill that will be useful no matter what career path I find myself pursuing. Additionally, participating in research taught me organizational skills and how to plan ahead so that I could balance experiments and coursework. Many of the skills that I obtained through research were applicable to my schoolwork, and seeing some of the fundamental principles studied in class appear in experiments and analysis helped with conceptual understanding.

My research experience completely redirected the career path that I had in mind entering into college. I was set on completing an engineering degree and heading into industry. When I chose to get involved in research, I discovered my passion and curiosity to investigate materials properties, specifically as they pertain to electrochemistry. I am now a graduate student at North Carolina State University pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering and studying nanostructured electrode architectures for electrochemical energy storage.

I encourage students to consider doing research and exploring all of their options. If you are not sure what research is about, just give it a shot for a summer. I believe that research teaches many remarkable skills you will find useful in any future endeavors, so whether your research turns into a career or is just a stepping-stone, it will be worth the time and effort that is committed.

Comments from Dr. Kofi Adu

Michael embodies everything you want in a student. During his research with me, he demonstrated his willingness to listen and to focus. He is very methodical and thoughtful student. His hard work culminated in presenting his work at several international conferences from 2015-17. These conferences bring expert faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from their respective fields. Most attendees were surprised after finding out Michael was an undergraduate student, mostly due to his command over his research topic and the rarity of undergraduate students at these conferences. His research endeavors also led to two peer-reviewed journal publications as the first author.