Stretching the Limits

Hello, my name is Elizabeth Bury! I am majoring in chemical engineering at The University of Alabama and will graduate in Fall 2020. During my sophomore year, I joined a chemical engineering research lab group under Dr. Amanda Koh. Having the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research has allowed me to continually grow my professional and problem-solving skills by gaining experience in public speaking, writing research papers for journal publication, making professional presentations, and formulating an experimental plan to solve research questions. 

In my lab group, we have three main focuses. We characterize new materials for soft robotics and stretchable electronics, investigate magnetic smart fluids for use in both soft and rigid applications, and engineer porous material interfaces for removing environmental pollutants. My primary focus in the lab group is stretchable electronics. Since I’ve been in the lab, I have characterized the mechanical properties of including room-temperature liquid metals in different polymers in an effort to develop and improve the manufacturability of materials for soft and stretchable electronics. 

As an undergraduate researcher, not only have I been able to present alongside the rest of the members of my lab group at The University of Alabama’s own Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference I have also had the ability to travel to a lot of different conferences such as undergraduate conferences, regional society conferences, and even an engineering conference for women. I’ve traveled all over the country presenting my research from the east coast in Savannah, Georgia to present at the 2019 Southeast Regional American Chemical Society Meeting to the west coast in Anaheim, California to compete in a research competition at the Society of Women Engineers 2019 Conference. Traveling to conferences has given me the opportunity to network with a lot of different companies, professionals, and peers.

One of the coolest experiences that I have had as an undergraduate researcher was having the opportunity to write a research paper for the proceedings of the National Conference on Undergraduate Research that I presented in the Spring of 2019. During the May Interim before Summer 2019,  I was able to collect all my data and write the paper in just 6 six weeks all thanks to the generous support and tremendous help from my research professor, Dr. Amanda Koh. During the Fall 2019 semester, it was published in the 2019 NCUR Proceedings. The experience of writing that paper was like a fairytale. It all happened so fast! Up until that point, I really didn’t know what I wanted to pursue career-wise besides the fact that I loved my chemical engineering major. That experience really changed what I thought the course of my future career was going to look like. I fell in love with research and now I can’t think of anything more that I’d rather do than continue on in my education to graduate school.

To anyone thinking about whether research is something that they might be interested, I say take the leap of faith. Email a professor that is doing research that you are interested in and ask to learn more about their research and if there are any opportunities in their lab. It doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or not. It is a great learning experience to build your professional networking and problem-solving skills whether you end up loving it like I have or not. If you are an undergraduate student at The University of Alabama and are not sure if research is for you, I highly recommend you consider joining the Emerging Scholars Program where you’ll learn helpful skills to aide in your research journey and find out whether or not you enjoy it.

All the Best,

Elizabeth Bury

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