Fifth-year physics student wins MRSEC Science Slam

March 11, 2022

Award-winning film presentation by Savannah Gowen demonstrates how training materials can be used to induce desired properties

Savannah Gowen
Savannah Gowen

The next time you sink your teeth into a soft slice of bread, think about the material training that went into making that bread. Material training is one of many approaches to designing new materials and involves taking a material and applying a repeated training protocol that modifies small-scale structures in the material. The result is the same material that you started with but with new properties. When it comes to that slice of bread, repeatedly kneading the dough changes its gluten structure and results in a stronger and more elastic version of itself—and also makes for a truly delicious materials science experiment.

That science experiment was the concept of team leader Savannah Gowen, a fifth-year physics student in the group of Sidney Nagel, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor, Dept. of Physics, James Franck Institute, Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College.

It was one of 19 at the first-ever Science Slam, a program of the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers that was recently held online. Each Science Slam presentation was five minutes long and tailored to a lay audience in the form of live experiments, songs, and poetry.

"Science tells a story," said Gowen, whose winning team presented their research on material training in a video titled, "How to Train Your Gluten." "This event paid tribute to the fact that you don't need a textbook to teach or learn something. We can learn through a song or a laugh, and even through hobbies like baking bread."

Science Slam topics ranged from the use of shapeshifting molecules to create smart fiber materials for medical devices to the need for a heat switch to better harvest waste heat. Other topics included theoretical and material building blocks of Quantum Networks, the concept of creating transformable materials, and the ability of atoms to naturally assemble into crystals in the presence of enough heat.

"The Science Slam represents a bold, new, and innovative way to articulate the impact of MRSEC research on science and allows participants to articulate what excites them in an informal, fun way to continue building and bolstering bridges between researchers and the public,” said Sean Jones, Assistant Director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, in his introductory remarks at the Science Slam.

At a time when isolation seems to have become the norm, more than 1,300 people from around the world came together on Zoom to learn about materials science and vote on their favorite presentation. PSD’s winners received a plaque, which will be inscribed with their name and the names of winning MRSECs from subsequent Science Slams.

Article adapted from “Let’s Talk About Materials Research" by Divya Abhat, NSF

View Savannah Gowen’s winning Science Slam entry

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