uc davis materials science engineering undergraduate miranda bell
Photo courtesy of Miranda Bell.

Student Spotlight: Miranda Bell

Fourth-year materials science and engineering (MSE) major Miranda Bell’s experience at UC Davis was defined by a little of everything as she narrowed down her broad interests while learning how the world works.

This drive to understand how things work is how Bell found materials science in the first place. She liked chemistry in high school for this reason, but was also drawn to engineering. She told her teachers that she wanted an amalgamation between chemistry and chemical engineering and they pointed her toward materials science. From there, it was a matter of finding her passion.

“When I started college, I knew some aspects of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know if I actually wanted to pursue them,” she said. “It took a year to understand that to find out, I should just go do it!”

Exploring Her Interests

She joined the UC Davis Formula Racing team so she could learn more about composite structures, got her first taste of simulations as part of the UC Davis OneLoop hyperloop team and explored her interest in quantum technology as part of the Quantum Computing Club.

uc davis materials science engineering fluid dynamics simulations
Some of Bell's simulations of fluid flow through a piece of nanoporous gold as part of her research in the Mason Lab. Photo courtesy of Miranda Bell.

She also was an active member of two research labs at the same time. She did optics experiments with electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Marina Radulaski’s R-Lab during the day and ran computer simulations on grain growth, dendrite formation and crystallization in metals as part of MSE assistant professor Jeremy Mason’s group at night. Working in both groups allowed her to see two different approaches to research while exploring different interests.

Her most recent project was modeling how fluids flow through microstructures in the Mason lab, studying nanoporous gold—a promising material for catalysts and delivery systems. The material is made of tiny interconnected tunnels and concave pores that look like cul-de-sacs, which makes simulating flow—something that requires many equations to be solved for each time step—an even more complicated process.

To do it, she used the Lattice-Boltzmann method, an efficient way to solve all these equations based off the lattice pattern of the material. The project both deepened Bell’s understanding of simulations and introduced her to the world of fluid dynamics, something she was eager to learn more about.

“I’m incredibly interested in this project because I can finally figure out how things I look at in day-to-day life move, like why waves and fluids might propagate in a certain way,” she said.

Finding a Calling

Four years later, she feels her experiences helped her learn that her passion is metals, and especially steel.

uc davis materials science engineering miranda bell undergraduate
Photo courtesy of Miranda Bell.

“Steel was my calling,” she said. “Steel is everywhere and, a lot of the processes that occur behind it like crystallization and grain growth are very interesting to me.”

Bell plans to go to graduate school at the Colorado School of Mines to pursue a degree in metallurgical and materials engineering, where she hopes to combine the approaches of the labs she worked in at UC Davis.

“I know I like experiments and I know I like computation, so I would hope to do an amalgamation between the two for my research,” she said.

Her long-term goal is to work in a steel foundry that works with high-purity “clean” steel that can be more reliably engineered. As she moves forward, she’s grateful for the experiences she’s had at UC Davis and encourages others stay resilient to follow a similar path of exploration.

“Keep trying and don’t be afraid to talk and pursue more opportunities,” she said. “You’ve got to pursue your goals and understand that just because there’s something stopping you right now doesn’t mean you won’t eventually reach your goals in the end.”

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