uc davis materials science engineering undergraduate student chad serrao
Photo courtesy of Chad Serrao.

Student Spotlight: Chad Serrao

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering interviewed a few members of the undergraduate Class of 2022 to learn more about them and their experiences at UC Davis and celebrate their accomplishments. The transcript has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am from Southern California and lived there for most of my life. Coming to Davis was my first time away from all my family and friends. Initially, I was a little intimidated moving up north to a new place and new people, but I met some really wonderful folks quite early in my time here and Davis soon became my second home. I just finished my degree in materials science and engineering this June.

My educational history is a bit unique with my degree in engineering being my second bachelor's degree; my first degree was in philosophy. I was inspired to return to school to pursue engineering right before I graduated with my first degree. Eventually, I found materials science and engineering and I was hooked. I liked the fundamental science in my chemistry and physics classes and I was eager to apply the fundamentals to build something. True to the name, materials science and engineering combines both the fundamentals and the application and I felt like I had found my academic home.

What’s your favorite part about the field? 

I find myself interested in parts of materials science and engineering that can help meet some of the big challenges of our time. The field has already changed the world with new steel alloys for skyscrapers in the 19th century and silicon for integrated circuits in the 20th century. I believe that materials science can once again change the world and enable a more sustainable future for all of us in the 21st century, and that it has a big role to play in decarbonization technologies—batteries, solar modules, and catalysts are all improved through materials research. There are also new computing technologies like quantum computers that can accelerate the discovery of new materials, further accelerating the development of sustainable energy technologies. All of these technologies require advancements in materials. 

Are there any professors, classes, organizations or activities at UC Davis that have made a particular impact on you? 

I have worked with Dr. [Jeremy] Mason for almost two years on a research project and his mentorship over the last two years has had a big impact on my time here in Davis. He first accepted me into his research group the summer before I transferred from community college, despite my lack of technical experience. He crafted a project that was suited to my academic interests and then gave me the intellectual autonomy to drive it forward, providing guidance along the way. This was an exciting opportunity to understand the nuances of academic research and it provided me an opportunity to channel my curiosity and explore my own questions. The whole experience was empowering and helped me become a more confident researcher.

What are your post-graduation goals?

I will be starting a Ph.D. program in materials science and engineering at Stanford this fall. I am hoping to work on projects related to sustainable energy technologies that contribute to decarbonization directly or indirectly. Directly, through materials research for improved batteries and more efficient solar modules. Or indirectly, through new materials that enable advancements in quantum computing, allowing for the discovery of new battery and solar materials through more accurate simulations.

What are a couple key things you want people to know about you?

I was not the best student in high school and although I enjoyed my classes, I did not have the same motivation that I have today. I remember walking off the football field during my high school graduation telling myself that I was happy I would never have to learn any more math and science. Many years later, I am now about to start a Ph.D. program in engineering and I am very excited to continue to learn more about math and science over the next few years. Over the years, I finally found what interested me—first philosophy and then materials science and engineering—andI learned that my limitations were self-imposed. I want people to see my own roundabout journey and also feel capable, like they could shrug-off their own prior assumptions about their own limits and do something completely different and maybe unexpected.

Do you have any hobbies? 

I enjoy biking around and going for runs during sunset. Davis is a beautiful place to explore on bike or on foot. I also enjoy playing board games, exploring local museums and talking with friends about all sorts of subjects from philosophy to science.

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