MSE Undergraduate Student Profile: Maeling Tapp

maeling tapp
Maeling Tapp (B.S. '08). While attending UMD, she was on the Dean's List every semester, won the 2007 Shirley L. Chisholm Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Academic Performance and the 2007 Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award, won the Materials Science and Engineering Undergraduate Service Award for 2005-06 and 2006-07, and in 2006 had her profile featured on the Engineer Girl website. She has also won numerous scholarships from the University, the Clark School, and industry, including an ExxonMobil Technical Scholarship (2006), a Morgan L. Williams Scholarship (2006), several Maryland Space Grant Scholarships, and an Accenture Scholarship for Minorities (2007). Maeling was also a NASA Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology (MUST) Scholar, and active in a variety of student organizations, programs and honor societies.
"The opportunities I've had to do engineering related research throughout my undergraduate career has been such a valuable part of my academic experience...I really get excited when I can use what I've learned in the classroom to solve a real-life problem."

Materials Science and Engineering Undergraduate Student Maeling Tapp

We chatted with Maeling to learn more about her experiences in the undergraduate program in materials science and engineering, and to find out why she chose the University of Maryland for her studies.

Why did you choose to study at the University of Maryland?

I chose the University of Maryland because it provided a rich environment for an undergraduate student to develop and mature academically and professionally. I was attracted to the strong academic programs as well as the many non-academic activities available. The campus has over 200 student groups representing interests in everything from ballroom dancing to the martial arts!  As an engineering student, I really appreciated the proximity of the campus to many private, public, and government research and engineering agencies where I could obtain hands-on experience during the school year and my summer breaks.

Why did you decide to major in Materials Science and Engineering?

My introduction to Materials Science and Engineering was during a summer program at the University of Maryland for high school females interested in engineering called E2@UMD. Part of the program involved us attending presentations by each of the departments within the Clark School. For the materials science and engineering presentation, they showed us a demonstration of a shape memory alloy (there is a really cool demo of this on the department's website!), which really sparked my interest in learning more about a major I'd never heard of before! After doing more research, I realized MSE perfect for me because it was a great mixture of the subjects I like, such as physics, chemistry, and math. I also appreciated the diversity of the research areas that compose the major. After all, EVERYTHING is made out of some type of material!

What's been the best thing about your academic experience here so far?

The opportunities I've had to do engineering related research throughout my undergraduate career has been such a valuable part of my academic experience. In the classroom, you learn about many different formulas and theories used to describe various phenomena. However, I really get excited when I can use what I've learned in the classroom to solve a real-life problem. Throughout my undergraduate experience, I've been able to work with organizations such as NASA, ExxonMobil, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center, where I was able to conduct materials-related research. Being able to substantially contribute to the solution of a problem within these organizations using the knowledge I've gained so far was a rewarding experience. Working in these different research environments also helped me to refine my specialized interests within the field.

Could you tell us about one of your research projects?

During one of my summer breaks, I had the opportunity to intern at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in their Materials Test Branch, specifically working with their Tribology Team. Tribology is the study of friction, lubrication and wear, which is an important area of study for many space flight applications. Various tests are conducted by the Tribology Team to study the wear and frictional behavior of solid film lubricants, wear-resistant coatings, bearing applications in elevated temperature and cryogenic environments, and greases and oils for applications in which a vacuum-compatible lubricant is required. With plans to build an inhabited lunar outpost on the Moon's surface, many more studies are currently being conducted to characterize the regolith [surface dust and soil] on the moon, especially regarding its interactions with a variety of materials. Working with the Tribology Team, I tested the abrasive nature of a lunar regolith simulant by conducting block-on-ring tests and evaluating the resultant wear scars on the samples using optical microscopy, digital photo microscopy and surface profilometry. One of the great things about this research project was that I was able to present my findings at a national professional engineering conference for a technical paper competition. My experience at NASA was also made memorable by having the opportunity to meet with astronauts from recent space shuttle missions, and working on a project that is being flown on a space shuttle mission in February 2008!

What has been your favorite class, and why?

My favorite class so far has been Introduction to Biomaterials [ENMA 425]. It focused on understanding the properties of various materials that are used in the development of biomedical devices. It was very interesting to learn about how the body responds to different materials that are implanted in it through numerous types of cell and protein interactions. I was able to learn how the type of material used in an implanted medical device is directly correlated with the device being able to perform its desired function.

Do you have any suggestions for other students about how to survive really difficult classes?

If you ever find that you're having difficulty in a class, it's best to speak up about your concerns as soon as possible! The faculty members are willing to help any student who is having problems understanding any of the material in their courses. In fact, they have regularly scheduled office hours that are set aside specifically for them to be able to meet with their students. Although some engineering classes can be a little frustrating at times, know that you're rarely the only one feeling that way. Try to make friends in your classes and establish study groups. Because engineering is such a team-oriented field, many professors actually encourage their students to work together on homework and various projects.

What's been the best thing about living in the Washington, D.C. area?

There's something to do for everyone! If you're into the arts, there are numerous museums and performing arts theatres all in the same area. If you're into sports, you don't have to travel far to see a professional football or basketball game. If you're into the outdoors, there are beautiful state parks and botanical gardens close to the campus. In this area, you can never have an excuse to be bored!

What do you recommend undergraduates do or get involved in to have the best experience here?

To have a truly rewarding experience here, I would strongly recommend students explore their options and take advantage of opportunities! The university has so much to offer, both academically and socially, it would be a shame not to. I also recommend being proactive in establishing strong relationships with your professors. They can help you in planning the course of your undergraduate career, and are also good resources if you decide to apply for research opportunities, scholarships, or even graduate school in the future.

What would you like to do after graduating?

I plan to attend graduate school. The Introduction to Biomaterials course confirmed my desire to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, where I can focus on the development and characterization of new materials to be used in the creation of new biomedical devices. Having a background in materials science and engineering is favorable for the study of biomedical engineering because the implementation of many new devices is halted because the materials used in them don't have sufficient biocompatibility or biofunctionability.

Maeling Tapp received her B.S. in May 2008. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she is working on the design of an implantable biomaterial to be used in reconstructive surgeries for ligaments and tendons. She has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her work.