three women in materials science and engineering
Pictured, from left: Ph.D. student Nushrat Naushin, undergraduate student Tiffany Harrend and Associate Professor of Teaching Susan Gentry. (Steven Trinh/UC Davis)

International Women’s Day Spotlight on UC Davis Women in Materials Science and Engineering

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, the University of California, Davis, College of Engineering recognizes women in engineering, their journey to and in the field, and how they promote a diverse, equitable and inclusive world.

Meet some remarkable women in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and learn how they inspire inclusion in engineering.

  • Susan Gentry, Associate Professor of Teaching
  • Tiffany Harrend, Undergraduate Student
  • Nushrat Naushin, Ph.D. Student

What inspired you to pursue engineering? Describe your journey to UC Davis.

Gentry: Growing up, I enjoyed my math and science classes and was strongest in these topics, so I began to consider chemistry and engineering majors when looking at colleges. As a freshman, I took an Introduction to Materials Science course (equivalent to ENG 45 at UC Davis). I enjoyed learning about how atomic arrangements and bonding lead to different properties that we can observe, like strength and stiffness. After years of formal education and training in Materials Science and Engineering, I wanted to try a teaching career since I enjoyed my interactions with students and helping them learn. I jumped at the opportunity to apply to UC Davis when a teaching-focused position opened up, and now I’ve been here for nine years!

Harrend: In high school, I was lucky enough to have access to the Project Lead the Way engineering program, which included a Principles of Engineering course taught by an influential teacher, Ms. Jennifer Eaton. This class exposed me to major engineering concepts and allowed me to investigate the engineering field while developing my problem-solving skills, which have served me throughout my educational journey.

Naushin: My initial inspiration to pursue engineering came from my father who himself is a civil engineer. His dedication towards his work and going to college reunions at his alma mater (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology- BUET) spiked my interest to pursue engineering in the same school which I eventually did. The prime reason I found interest in Materials and Metallurgical Engineering was because it gives you the opportunity to tune material properties, may it be mechanical properties or, functional properties just by changing the structure or, the processing technique.

Throughout my undergrad I always found joy in working on metallography. I found enormous interest in the heat treatment and failure analysis courses as one gave me the opportunity to play with the microstructure and properties while the other helped me to investigate reasons why a material failed. I became a member of the Material Advantage BUET Chapter in my sophomore year and got to be elected as the secretary of the chapter. Becoming the secretary of the chapter helped me take responsibility of the activities of the chapter like arranging poster presentation competitions, materials science olympiads for highschool students to get them introduced to materials science and getting them interested in it. Being a member of Material Advantage I got introduced to materials societies like TMS, ACerS, AIST and ASM international and it also gave me an opportunity to read the physical copies of the journals and keep updated with the ongoing research in materials science. My undergrad thesis on medium entropy (Ba, Sr, Ca) doped bismuth ferrite gave me hands on experience on solgel synthesis, heat treating powder oxides and I got to use powder XRD for the first time during  this time. We did ferroelectric measurements and magnetic hysteresis measurements of the oxides, observed wasp waisted hysteresis loops for some of the samples which I understand better today but had little idea of what was happening in the hysteresis loops seven years ago.

My mother always inspired me to chase my goal to become a lecturer. After completing my degree, I worked as a lecturer of materials science and engineering at Khulna university of engineering and technology. While teaching a course on materials manufacturing I became enthusiastic about metal additive manufacturing because it lets you manufacture alloys that were impossible to manufacture in ideal thermodynamic environment and understand how the processing can play a huge role on changing their mechanical properties as well as forming metastable phases.

In the journey to get into grad school and finding an appropriate research group to support my passion in metallic alloys, I ended up working on the magnetic properties of multi principal element alloys in Prof. Roopali Kukreja's lab. After my apparently long and ongoing journey of two years to understand the basics of magnetism in general, trying to understand the magnetic properties of the extremely complicated multi principal element alloy systems and passing my Ph.D. qualification exam successfully, now I can say that it was the right choice to come to UC Davis for my doctoral degree. Prof. Kukreja has been extremely supportive in helping me grow as a Ph.D. candidate and gradually build up my own plans for my research project.

Describe your current research and its impact.

Gentry: I apply engineering education research to my teaching. I adopt modern educational approaches, such as in-class problem-solving and alternative graded assessments. Research shows that these can motivate and support ALL students' learning, particularly those from lower-resourced school districts or family backgrounds. I’m also interested in how faculty can promote student mental health and wellness, especially in engineering.

Harrend: Currently, I am investigating the fatigue and creep properties of refractory high-entropy alloys in the Zhang Research Group, supported by the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). We are exploring the fundamental deformation mechanisms of these multiple principle element alloys (MPAEs) across their target service temperatures, stresses, and strain rates. These alloys can surpass the operating temperature of Nickel-based superalloys, which is essential for developing new structural materials for jet turbines and nuclear reactors to achieve higher efficiency and durability.

I am also participating with a team led by Professor Badrya in the CITRIS Aviation Prize, a design competition to propose an on-campus air mobility infrastructure that could enable interconnectivity for the northern UC campuses.

Naushin: My current research is to understand the magnetic properties of multi principal element alloy (MPEA) thin films. These alloys contain multiple elements that are approximately 5-35% in atomic concentration and these alloys show exceptional mechanical and magnetic properties than conventional one principal element alloys.

I utilize the magnetron sputtering system to grow my MPEA thin film samples of different compositions that contain ferromagnetic and anti-ferromagnetic elements like Fe, Co, Cr, Mn, Ni. The reason to use thin films is because thin films have shown a four order of magnitude increase in saturation magnetization compared to their bulk counterparts. Alloys like these usually show a complicated and mixed response which has been difficult to understand in the scientific community to this date. I utilize X-ray based techniques like X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), X-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) currently to understand the element specific magnetic responses of the MPEA I grow and I plan to use extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) for further analyzing the short range atomic ordering in those MPEA. I feel passionate to understand element specific magnetic behavior these 3,4,5 element magnetic MPEA using X-ray based techniques and then I try to detangle the mysteries hidden beneath the mixed magnetic interactions like spin glass and ferromagnetic-like behavior in the alloys of interest while performing the data analysis of those complicated experiments. Even though I have completed the qualifying exam and have an idea how I want to approach with my project, I still think there is a lot more to understand from my acquired data and it actually is the beginning of the main challenge ahead.

I believe that the biggest scientific impact of my current work will be to reveal the complicated element specific magnetic responses within the elements themselves and each other in different magnetic element containing MPEA and possibly help to predict the magnetic behaviors of new MPEA compositions yet to be grown. Even though finding the perfect rare earth free magnetic alloys for permanent magnets or, memory devices is still a long way to go, but my research will work as the background of creating new alloys for rare earth free magnet applications in the future.

The 2024 International Women’s Day theme is #InspireInclusion. Why is it important to "inspire inclusion" in the engineering field?

Gentry: It’s important to inspire inclusion so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed in engineering, regardless of gender, race or family background.

Harrend: It is crucial to inspire inclusion in the engineering field to make real changes and improvements to the world around us. The engineering field is the relationship between math, science, technology, and also society. Inspiring inclusion is imperative to ensure everyone is represented and, more importantly, empowered to use their voice.

Naushin: Even today, engineering is mostly pursued by males. Females being engineers is kind of frowned upon in many societies including developing countries, even though the percentage of female in engineering is a bit higher in developed countries, a lot of them had to struggle more to secure their position than their male colleagues. During my undergrad studies only 20% of my classmates were female and many had to struggle finding engineering jobs because most metallurgy industries were not willing to employ female engineers and this was before even looking at their skill-set. When I was teaching, only 17% of the students were females and I do not think that any of them were less capable of their male classmates, in fact some of them were better. I do not think there is any point of making part of the society struggle even though they have capabilities. At the end of the day, if we inspire inclusion there won't be any less achievements in the engineering field, it rather might be even more. I refuse to think analytical skills and engineering knowledge has anything to do with someone's gender, it rather depends on intellectual capabilities and thought process of the individual. It is extremely important to inspire inclusion in engineering field as anyone with appropriate skills is perfectly capable of flourishing in the field irrespective of their gender and it will be the best thing to enhance the development in various engineering field as well.

What people or programs have inspired inclusion throughout your journey in engineering?

Gentry: My mom was a Ph.D.-level chemist, so I grew up thinking it was normal to do pH testing with red cabbage juice in Girl Scouts! As I’ve become an adult, I’ve become more appreciative of women’s experiences, both historical and in the modern era. For instance, there is a well-documented story of inequities experienced by women faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into the 1990s, which would have been when my mom was busy working and parenting my siblings and me.

Harrend: The Leadership in Engineering And Diversity Retention (LEADR) program at UC Davis has inspired inclusion during my undergraduate career by creating a supportive and resourceful environment. Dr. Gentry, Dr. Leite, and Dr. Badrya are inspiring professors who have had a long-lasting impact on my confidence in the engineering space.

Naushin: The first people who never differentiated based on my gender were my parents. They raised both me and my brother equally which is not so common in developing countries. My high school teachers played an important role in inspiring me to understand my self-worth and also inspired inclusion unbiased by religion, social status and economic background. Irrespective of everything our college principal Sister Shikha Gomes always inspired us to be strong and responsible individuals. In my journey of engineering, my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Newton Mazumder was the person who probably inspired me the most to pursue engineering. The people I mentioned here helped me understand my self-worth.

Besides them, my undergrad academic advisor and thesis supervisor, Dr. Ahmed Sharif, my course teacher and our material advantage BUET chapter advisor Dr. Mamun Al Rashed have always been extremely supportive during my time in BUET and have inspired inclusion through my journey to get my bachelors. During my job at Khulna university of engineering and technology, our head of the department and my colleague Dr. Pallab Chowdhury, helped me grow, and I got to learn a lot from him during designing new labs. My colleague, Dr. Sazzad Ahmad has also been an important person in my journey in engineering.

In grad school, my major professor Dr. Roopali Kukreja not only guided me in understanding the science behind my work, she also helped me mold my thought process on pursuing graduate education and research. She helped me to be more positive about the obstacles I face during my research and to learn from them. My labmates Rahul, Jugal, Scott, Meera, Surya, Pooja have been extremely helpful and supportive during my initial time while settling down in the lab at UC Davis. If not for the support of all these people, or, should I say if not these people inspired inclusion in my journey in engineering, I would not be in the current state I am in.

How do you make others feel welcome in engineering and promote diversity and equity in the field?

Gentry: As a teacher, I make a point of highlighting the achievements of those who come from different backgrounds, since much of the seminal work was completed by white men. But lots of new innovation is being completed by people from different backgrounds. It’s always fun to highlight the work of UC Davis alums too, to show students where they could be in 5-30 years.

Harrend: I strive to create a friendly, comfortable environment where everyone feels that they can ask questions, have support, and perform their best.

Naushin: I was a lecturer for three years in the past and I had taught about 240 students during that time. I keep in touch with them and help them out when they have questions or need a second opinion about jobs, grad school etc. I try to support them and encourage them to pursue what's best for them irrespective of their gender, socio-economic background or grades. I try to look at their bright sides and give them a perspective of what I see in them.

I have been contacted by my college juniors who started their undergrad years after I graduated. I try to answer their research questions, questions related to career, admission to gradschool etc. I try my best to provide any information when I am asked for and help out to the best of my capabilities. Other than these, I have been actively teaching multiple undergrads in our lab to use different machines in the lab and grow their own samples and measure the magnetic properties. I have also participated in MESA summer internships for high-school students where we actively teach them about what we do in the lab, do experiments together with them and try to answer any questions during the month-long summer school.

I have never confined myself just to the students of a particular gender or, a particular school and always tried to help out and inspire any person who has reached out to me. I feel that everyone has the right to pursue their studies and career in STEM, and a little support from anyone who can, will make reaching their destined position a bit easier. Other than college juniors, students, acquaintances, undergrads and high-school students from MESA who visit our lab and are interested in learning new things, the only younger students I have contact with are my sibling and cousins, four of them are pursuing engineering degrees.

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