MSE Graduate Student Profile: Brian Watson

"When I first came to Maryland I had no funding but several of the faculty went out of their way to arrange graduate and teaching assistantships for me. There is a strong team atmosphere between the graduate students which has helped in everything from learning course material and research."

- Brian Watson

  • Hometown: San Diego, CA
  • B.S., Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, University of California, Davis
  • Co-Advisors: Professor Steven Hutcheson (Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics) and Associate Professor Isabel Lloyd (MSE)
  • Started Program: Fall 2006

We chatted with Brian to learn more about his experiences in the graduate program in materials science and engineering, and to find out why he chose the University of Maryland for his studies.

Who are your advisors, and in which lab do you work?

My advisor is Professor Steven Hutcheson in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics. Professor [Isabel] Lloyd is my co-advisor in MSE. I work in Professor Hutcheson's lab in the Microbiology Building. I met him my first semester here at an alternative energy seminar.

Please tell us about your research.

My research focus is the enzymatic degradation of cellulosic materials with potential biofuel applications. I work with a unique enzyme system capable of degrading crystalline cellulose. I have been working to understand how the molecular interactions within crystalline cellulose are modified by the enzyme which results in degradation.

What is your highest hope for your research?  What would be the most rewarding outcome or result?

I would like to see cellulosic biofuels become commercially viable.  Substantially contributing to alternative energy would be most rewarding. 

How did you become interested in materials science and engineering and/or the research you're doing now?

I first became involved in materials science work as both an undergraduate researcher at UC Davis and as an intern for General Atomics. At UC Davis I worked on a project researching nano-structured electro-ceramic materials for use in solid oxide fuel cells.

Why did you choose UMD? What appealed to you about the Clark School?

I was very impressed with how many collaborative efforts there are between the Clark School and nearby national labs and industry. I also liked the freedom grad students have in formulating their Ph.D. work across several departments. Several [other MSE] graduate students even work on site at one of the nearby national labs.

What is the best thing about your experience here so far?

I have found the support of the faculty and my fellow graduate students to be enormous. When I first came to Maryland I had no funding but several of the faculty went out of their way to arrange graduate and teaching assistantships for me. There is a strong team atmosphere between the graduate students which has helped in everything from learning course material and research.

What would you like to do after completing your studies here?

I'd like to stay involved in alternative energy research, but I also enjoyed my semester as a teaching assistant, which means the best thing would probably be to get involved in academic research. I've also enjoyed the projects I worked on in industry and would not be opposed to continuing my research in industry or at a national lab.

Would you recommend the Clark School or the MSE graduate program to other students, and if so, why?

I would definitely recommend the MSE program. It gives you the opportunity to work with so many excellent faculty members in different departments, which allows you to broaden and get a much better perspective on your research.

What advice do you have for undergraduates considering graduate studies in MSE?

I would recommend getting involved in undergraduate research and having summer internships. This will expose you to the types of projects you may have as a graduate student and will help you decide which area of research to pursue. Coming in with an established academic and professional network will be a strong asset in formulating your thesis project. 

What do you like about living in the Washington, D.C. area?  What do you like to do when you're not in the lab? 

I like how the University is only a short metro ride to downtown [Washington,] D.C. but is still removed from the inner city. On the weekends I enjoy going to Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan in D.C. with other grad students. The surrounding area is great–it's close to the beach and New York.

Brian received his Ph.D. in 2011.