A peek into research life

Purdue University’s research programme is the perfect opportunity to further one’s learning as well as experience life in a U.S. university campus

My major target for last summer was to experience life on a U.S. university campus, gain experience doing applied research in my field of study — mechanical engineering, and ultimately, determine if pursuing a PhD at a U.S. university is something that I want to do. Purdue Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) gave me the opportunity to accomplish all of them.

My experience at Purdue, this summer, was possible through Purdue University’s India strategic partnership. PURE is an initiative to provide third-year undergraduate students from IITM, IITB, and IITH with an opportunity to work on a summer research project under experienced faculty at Purdue for nine weeks. Considering the quality experience of doing applied research at a renowned university, along with the opportunity for each of us to learn many things about graduate programmes and their respective enrolment processes, there was obviously a lot of competition among the students to get into the PURE programme. Hundreds of students applied for the 33 slots; only students with extremely good academic background and project experience were accepted.

Research objective

My project dealt with conductive woven polymer fabrics. In this era of modern gadgets and wearable technology, these woven fabrics have become one of the most suitable materials to work with because they are light weight and easy to synthesise and utilise for any kind of application. But, this flexibility in application also demands a diverse range of thermo-mechanical properties, including high thermal conductivity. But, since these polymers naturally tend to have lesser thermal conductivity values, much research was required to improve the conductivity of the fabric configuration as a whole and that’s what our objective was.

During the programme, I especially benefited from the official weekly review meetings along with many discussions with my mentor during the internship. This constant feedback made my project work engaging and worth investing every bit of my time. The work schedule was sufficiently flexible too in order to allow all of the PURE students enough time to explore other activities on and off campus, starting from the university’s sports and gym facilities to the local cultural fests. The Fourth of July fireworks display and the weekend at ‘The Windy City’ Chicago, in particular, gave us some of the best moments of our lives.

PURE was more than just a nine-week internship. It was an amazing experience, thanks to the resourceful guidance of my faculty hosts — Professors Justin Weibel and Amy Marconnet, and my graduate student mentor. Having access to wonderful infrastructure in university labs, especially at the Birck Nanotechnology Center — one of the best labs in the country — where I worked, took my research experience to a whole new level.

This experience solidified my determination that pursuing a PhD at a U.S. university — and maybe even Purdue — is the right path for my future.

The writer is pursuing third year of B.E Mechanical department from IIT Madras.

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