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Spotlight on our Students: Research Down Under

Madison at work in a lab at the University of New South Wales.

“The University Scholars Program really reminded me of the importance of experiencing new cultures and exploring the world around you whenever possible, regardless of what field of study you are in.”

In this edition of Spotlight on Our Students, we cross the international dateline to check in with Madison Horgan on her research in the Materials Science department of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia. Madison is researching materials for energy transduction under the supervision of an Australian professor and his graduate students and hopes to collect enough research to present at a conference afterward. Madison is a rising second-year University Scholar from Charlotte, NC majoring in Materials Science & Engineering and also Philosophy. Read on to learn more about her time researching in the Land Down Under.

USP: Madison, thanks so much for taking the time to check in with us from so far away! Would you mind starting off by telling us more about the specific focus of the research you’ll be conducting at UNSW?

MH: Absolutely! I am working within the Materials Science department at UNSW. My project is specifically focused on using scanning probe microscopy to better understand the ferroelectric properties of a flexible thin film of hafnia-based material. This material has lots of potential in nanotechnology, especially applications in non-volatile memory storage. My personal focus, however, has been more about experiencing as many new things as I can and pushing myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible.

USP: Sounds like very technical research work, but also like you have a good balance in mind of what you’d like to accomplish while you are there. What inspired you to pursue this opportunity in Australia?

MH: Australia has always been on my bucket list of places to travel to, and when I saw that there was a summer program in the MSE department that took place in Australia, I knew I had to apply. I was also really interested in trying to get into research, so I figured this program would be the perfect opportunity for a meaningful “summer job” after my first year of university. That being said, applying was more of an impulse decision. I wasn’t expecting to be accepted or actually get to go on this incredible journey, as I saw myself as just a freshman with no experience in research.

USP: That’s pretty awesome though; you knew you wanted to do something and when the opportunity presented itself you took a chance. What do you hope to accomplish during your time at UNSW and in Sydney?

MH: I’m hoping to get results that could be displayed on a poster or at least results that inspire future projects for when I’m working in the labs back at State. More personally, I would also like to become more comfortable in the lab and learn as many different techniques as I can. Going into a new lab has been kind of intimidating; I have to constantly ask people I barely know for assistance with tiny, mundane tasks when they’re in the middle of intense, time-sensitive, and potentially groundbreaking research.

USP: Yikes! I can see that as being a little intimidating, but you’re learning a ton I’m sure. What’s something you’re learning about yourself or the process of research?

Madison and her housemates.

MH: I’ve found that my limited experience in research might be putting me at somewhat of a disadvantage because people are hesitant to assign me any responsibility. Through this, I’ve realized that it’s really important to be an advocate for yourself and show others that you’re willing to learn and put in the extra effort to prepare yourself as best as possible before even stepping foot in the lab. If you show people that you actually care about the work you’re doing, they won’t feel like the time they spend training you is wasted.

USP: Now there are two crucial lessons for anyone attempting to learn something new: the power of self-advocacy and preparedness. Those two things are of paramount importance. Would you say your time as a University Scholar has helped prepare you for this experience?

MH: The USP really reminded me of the importance of experiencing new cultures and exploring the world around you whenever possible, regardless of what field of study you are in. I’ve also met a lot of inspirational people that are a part of the USP who have helped me gain the skills and confidence I needed to undergo this journey.

USP: Yes! You’re stepping out of your comfort zone on so many levels. That’s great work. On a more fun note, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve experienced in Australia so far?

Madison and a kangaroo.

MH: The most interesting thing I’ve experienced so far involved interacting with a bunch of kangaroos at a park a few hours away from Sydney. The kangaroos, albeit wild, were pretty used to humans and very calm, letting us take pictures with them and even pet them. My friends and I packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed it amongst our new furry companions (who were suddenly VERY interested in us). All in all, it was a very surreal and characteristically Australian experience and the highlight of my trip so far.

USP: That sounds so fun! Well, best of luck to you as you finish up your time in the lab. We look forward to hearing about the outcome of your research and maybe seeing your poster when you get back to campus this fall.