by Catie Meis
So, about 2 months ago I decided to take part in this crazy expedition to Pittsburgh, PA with a bunch of other materials engineers. As members of Material Advantage, we had the opportunity to attend the 2014 Materials Science & Technology Conference, which is one of the largest annual gatherings of materials scientists and engineers. I think something like thousands of students and professionals attend. Anyway, it entailed being gone for 5 days and signing this waiver so that we could drive ourselves across the country in university vehicles. I was definitely a little bit nervous about this last part, because I didn’t know a lot of the people that I was going with and I just hoped they were good drivers. But the driving was good and it turned out to be a lot of fun – we packed like sardines into a 15-passenger van and Suburban. So it was tight and we got to know each other really well over the 12 hour drive each way…had some really interesting conversations, tried (in vain) to sleep, jammed out to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, made some slow-motion videos with Jake Sporrer, etc.
Then we finally got to the conference! The convention center was HUGE and there were so many sessions going on at the same time that it was hard to choose what to attend. The first day of the conference we attended the morning plenary session, and one of the featured speakers was Alex King, who is the head of the Critical Materials Institute located at ISU. Represent! My favorite presentation that I attended was in a session on failure analysis involving cold cases in history, so it was basically like CSI with materials engineering – completely awesome! The speaker was an older Italian gentleman from the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, and he explained how they were finally able to prove in the 1990s that a plane crash in the 1960s involving an important Italian oil businessman was not an accident. In fact, a bomb had been placed on the plane (likely by the Mafia) and they were able to prove there had been an explosion by examining the microscopic deformations in the gold ring worn by the victim. Even if you are not a materials engineer, you’ve got to admit that’s cool.
Iowa State had a good-sized student contingent – there were about 20 of us (only 3 girls though!) We made a point to dress professionally and attend certain parts of the conference proceedings as a group. All of the ISU MA officers attended a leadership workshop with the executive boards of other chapters; it was great to share ideas and also learn from other chapters how to improve our programs. Iowa State’s Material Advantage Chapter has won the most outstanding chapter award for the last 10 years, so we are quite well-known and respected among the MA chapters. This year we won a Chapter of Excellence Award – go ISU! We were proud to be there and represent our school and organization. To all the MatE’s out there – go to this conference if you get the chance! To all other students – find something cool within (or outside) your major and go on a trip with your fellow students!