As part of the OSU-Tulsa Research Experience for Undergraduates in materials science and entrepreneurship, Lynsey Baxter spent last summer with a graduate student researching materials to shield astronauts from galactic cosmic radiation.
Since then, she made the leap from REU participant to the OSU-Tulsa master’s degree program and this summer she is a graduate student mentor to a New Jersey college student during the nine-week program.
“I really looked at the REU as a way to figure out if materials science is what I want to do,” she said. “After last summer, I decided that it was.”
Launched in 2016, the interdisciplinary summer program is funded by a $405,208 grant from the National Science Foundation and co-funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
“Our program is different from other summer research programs in that we are trying to demonstrate how a research idea is taken from the laboratory to the commercial world,” said Dr. Ranji Vaidyanathan, Varnadow professor of materials science and engineering.
This summer, Baxter and REU participant Nick Nowak from Rowan University are working on creating a new nanoadditive that will increase the toughness of composite parts used in boats, RVs and aircraft. They are working for MITO Material Solutions, a startup company founded by OSU students with research and development conducted in partnership with the HRC. Baxter and Nowak's work is part of the first phase of a $224,988 Small Business Innovative Research project awarded to MITO by the National Science Foundation.
“I think it’s really fascinating. We are taking nanoparticles, spreading them on a composite and testing how those tiny molecules can completely change the properties a material has for industrial use,” Baxter said. “You can’t see it but you know it happens.”
Materials science wasn’t Baxter’s first choice of career.
As a kid, she wanted to be a child psychiatrist. She held on to that dream until her junior year of high school when she did an about-face.
“I realized that maybe psychiatry wouldn’t be emotionally healthy for me,” she said. “I would probably take work home with me.”
Since she had enjoyed taking engineering courses at Francis Tuttle Technology Center while attending high school in Edmond, she decided to pursue mechanical engineering at OSU in Stillwater.
During her senior year of college, Baxter took a materials science course in corrosion.
“That’s really where I fell in love with materials science,” she said.
Her interest only grew during the fellowship last summer at OSU-Tulsa’s Helmerich Research Center, which is home to the OSU School of Materials Science and Engineering. She presented her REU research project in May at the annual conference of the Society for Advanced Manufacturing and Process Engineering at Long Beach, California.
In the fall, Baxter will begin her graduate coursework in materials science and engineering and work as a graduate research assistant for Vaidyanathan.
Her career goal is to work at a national laboratory doing cutting-edge research or become a professor and researcher.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t taken that corrosion class,” Baxter said. “This is my passion. A lot of people are really fascinated with outer space. Materials science is my outer space.”