uc davis materials science engineering undergraduate spotlight ian phillips
Photo courtesy of Ian Phillips.

Student Spotlight: Ian Phillips

Becoming an engineer was a natural choice for fourth-year materials science and engineering major Ian Phillips.  He grew up working on cars with his dad, giving him a love of hands-on work and problem solving he’s taken with him throughout his time at UC Davis, from studying semiconductors and ceramics at UC Davis and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to teaching shop tools at the UC Davis D-Lab.

Phillips started college as a chemical engineering major, but gravitated toward materials science and engineering after learning more about the field.

“Materials science is a beautiful intersection of application and theory,” he said. “There are so many different applications all around us and there’s always new things to be found.”

One of the things he’s found is how interdisciplinary the field is. Though he will earn his B.S. in materials science and engineering, he has an emphasis in chemical engineering and conducts his research on topological insulators—materials that only conduct electrons across the surface—in the Taufour Lab in the Department of Physics

Phillips has also worked on transparent ceramics as a materials division intern at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). These ceramics are transparent, glass-like crystalline materials made from sintering fine white powders at very high temperatures and pressures and are used as waveguides for high-powered lasers and as radiation detectors for security and medical applications.

“That was an amazing experience,” he said. “[LLNL] is a place where you’re continuously learning from the people around you, while also working on something that has real applications.”

On campus, Phillips has been an advocate for hands-on learning and research through his involvement with the UC Davis D-Lab and the Engineering Student Design Center (ESDC). Part of the Energy and Efficiency Institute, the D-Lab teaches project-based classes where teams work on sustainability projects, often for clients in developing countries. Phillips assists with classes and has co-taught everything from welding to the feasibility of engineering design. 

He has also had a unique opportunity to contribute to UC Davis as a committee member for the expansion of the new Engineering Student Design Center, a multi-million dollar project to transform the center into a hub for student manufacturing and entrepreneurship. Phillips was the only student on a committee of faculty and instructors who collected the needs of students to ensure the new facility had the capabilities it needed.

“The ESDC something I look forward to coming back to with my kids, or to show my parents once it’s fully built,” he said.

Outside of engineering, he is president of the Davis Motorsports Club, a campus-based community of car lovers and motorsports enthusiasts who share their knowledge and passion about amateur and professional motorsports.

“It’s kind of difficult to be a car person in Davis, but we try to get the community together as best as we can,” he said.

After graduation, Phillips will continue working at LNLL, where he plans to explore different areas of materials science and engineering and refine his interests. He eventually plans to get his Ph.D. and do more teaching, building off his experiences at the D-Lab. His other post-graduation plans involve restoring a 1974 Datsun 260Z with his dad.

Though his undergraduate career is ending remotely, Phillips is still grateful for the experiences he’s had, the classes he’s taken and the friends he’s met at UC Davis. He plans to take all of them with him as he explores his next chapter in materials science and engineering. 

“I thought when I picked my college and my major that I had figured out what I wanted to do, but I learned that it was really the opposite. “I learned there are a lot of people with opportunities out there—some of them you didn’t even know you wanted—that could open new doors.”

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