I enjoy working on problems that have the potential to directly improve the lives of other people.

We chatted with Patrick to learn more about his experiences in the MSE graduate program and to find out why he chose the University of Maryland for his studies.

Who is your advisor, and in which lab do you work?

My advisor is Dr. Eric Wachsman and I work in the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.   

Please describe your research.

I work on understanding how the mechanical properties of Solid-Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are related to their structure and environment. SOFCs allow for the direct conversion of chemical fuel to electrical work, without any moving parts and at a high efficiency. To function, the SOFC must be heated to hundreds of degrees and exposed to reducing fuels, all while maintaining gas tight seals. This poses a challenge because the environment can change the mechanical properties of the cell and its components leading to failure. My research is into the mechanical properties and the factors that affect it as to improve the reliability and durability of SOFCs.

What prompted you to join MSE, and more specifically, to engage in the research you’re currently doing?

I enjoy working on problems that have the potential to directly improve the lives of other people. One challenge that we face as a society is energy generation, conversion and storage. The research I do now helps advance SOFC technology towards the market, allowing it to become something which people will start using and interacting with outside of the academic environment.

Why did you choose UMD, and more specifically, engineering?

I chose UMD because of the research that was being done here by experts in the field and the opportunities for collaboration with many different organizations and agencies which are nearby. Engineering was a choice I made long ago because it allows me to use science to solve problems, understand how things work, find new solutions, and because I enjoy it.

What is the best thing about your on campus experience, and what are any challenges that you had to overcome?

It has been great to be in such a rich and diverse area as the Washington DC Metro. There always seems to be something interesting going on. This spills over into my professional life because there are so many opportunities to do research on different topics or interests or to go places and get involved with their work. So much so, that it can sometimes be hard to focus on the work which will advance me in my studies rather than hop from one interesting thing to another.

What would you like to do after completing your studies at UMD?

After completing my studies, I hope to have a job with an organization that allows me to use my skills on a diverse set of problems. I also enjoy educating and sharing my passion for science and technology, and hope to continue teaching, but possibly outside the higher education environment. 

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

I would want to know why they are interested in grad school. Do they enjoy taking classes and tests? Have they seriously tried performing research before? What did they like about it? What are their goals?

If they have a goal that specifically needs an advanced degree, it sounds like they know what you need to do. If not, I would suggest looking around and seeing if there is a way to get a taste for the life before committing to a program. Take some advanced classes and put some serious time in working in a lab, to get a better sense if it is for you and go talk to experienced graduate students to get their take on it.

When you’re not in class or in the lab, how do you spend your time?

Most of my free time is spent with my wife and daughter, and soon to be second daughter. We try to take advantage of all of the various things to do in the area, from going to museums and parks to different cultural events across the region. I am also a licensed ham radio operator, have various hobby electronics projects and actively fly fish.