ethan suwandi uc davis materials science engineering undergraduate
Photo courtesy of Ethan Suwandi.

Student Spotlight: Ethan Suwandi

One of materials science and engineering major Ethan Suwandi’s favorite things to do is “nerd out” about materials with his friends, classmates and professors at UC Davis.

“It’s very cathartic, at least for me,” he said. “Materials is a niche topic that you can’t discuss with many people, so I think all of us would take the chance to say, ‘look at this cool thing I found’ or ‘look at this cool thing I’m researching and let me tell you all about the mechanisms behind it!’”

His favorite part is how interconnected all the concepts are, and how they all build on each other to illustrate how materials appear and behave. He credits assistant professor Scott McCormack’s mathematical approach to thermodynamics for helping him unlock this better understanding of the entire field.

“Through the projects, working with the equations and sitting down and writing out how all of these things connect to each other, it really clicked in my mind how all of materials is connected,” he said.

As president of the Material Advantage Student Chapter (MASC) at UC Davis and as an undergraduate researcher, Suwandi has been able to see firsthand how everything connects as he’s learned more about the field.

Connecting with Peers

Suwandi has been connected with MASC since learning about the club at UC Davis Decision Day.

“MASC was kind of the deciding factor,” he said. “This group of students seemed very friendly and very excited about a subject that I’m excited in and I kind of got attached.”

MSE majors often have the same classes with the same people, so Suwandi says some of his favorite MASC memories are working on the Picnic Day show and talking with his peers outside of class about everything from courses to research to jobs and internships to everyday life.

“It’s nice to have this tight-knit major where we all like to nerd out about materials, relax, have fun and hang out and do something together,” he said.

He became a regular member and a class representative his first year, funding representative his second year, internal vice president his third year and president his fourth year. Since joining, Suwandi has helped build the community by coordinating and running the club’s annual “Materials Marvels” Picnic Day show and starting a MASC journal club, where attendees discuss a paper together in a casual and informal setting.

MASC has always emphasized being low-stress and no-commitment, but as president during the pandemic, Suwandi decided to institute more regular meetings. He credits the new structure for the influx of members over the past year and a half.

“I found that in the pandemic, people run on a schedule and breaking that schedule to commit yourself to a club that sporadically pops up can be very hard,” he said. “I think the idea of this no commitment club that regularly meets was really something that brought back people back.”

A Supportive Community

MASC also helped Suwandi get involved with undergraduate research in his second year at UC Davis. Suwandi was interested in assistant professor Jeremy Mason’s work computational materials work, so a MASC officer help him connect. He has been working in the lab since, developing a technique to describe and compare grain microstructures of different materials from a computational level.

“I’m very glad and I thank my lucky stars that I kind of stumbled into his lab and he accepted me,” he said. “[Professor Mason] has kind of been my role model of how to give public speeches, how to orate and explain things simply.”

After he graduates, Suwandi wants to continue research in materials science in graduate school and gain more experience with hands-on experimental research to complement his computational background. As he looks forward, he feels lucky to have been a big part of the tight-knit materials science community at UC Davis that’s encouraged him to pursue his curiosity about how the world works.

“It’s a field I love and I love the professors who are in it—they’re all role models to me,” he said. “I love my classmates as well. Every single year they’ve all been wonderful and I’m lucky and really, really thankful that I fell into this opportunity.”

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