Plenty of college students around the country are using the summer months to catch up on their favorite TV shows, work on their base tans and reconnect with old friends. For one Cullen College junior, however, these three months off from school are the perfect opportunity to sharpen her analytical skills and dive head-first into the world of undergraduate research.
Abby Zinecker, a junior studying mechanical engineering, begins her Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) this week, researching flexible lithium ion batteries under the mentorship of Haleh Ardebili, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Ardebili just received a one-year, $10,000 New Investigator Award from the NASA Texas Space Center Grant Consortium for the development of these batteries for applications in spacesuits.
The SURF program provides funding for UH undergraduate students to pursue a full-time, 10-week research experience during the summer holiday under the direction of UH faculty members. Course credit isn’t offered for the fellowship, but student researchers earn invaluable experience with hands-on research and analysis in real-world laboratory settings. For Zinecker, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I’ve wanted to do undergraduate research basically since I started at UH,” she said. “I was looking at some of my professors’ research and what they were doing. [Dr. Ardebili] was actually my Statics professor the semester before last, so I looked up her research online and it looked really interesting, like the flexible batteries, and I thought it would be really cool so I e-mailed her and asked if she was looking for any undergrad research assistants. So I came into her office to talk about it, and here I am.”
Zinecker will be working specifically on the performance aspect of the batteries, or how much energy the batteries can output. “It’s very exciting as an undergraduate to be able to get this opportunity. I know a lot of people aren’t that lucky,” she said.
While she said she’d be happy doing any research as an undergraduate, the idea of working on batteries for spacesuits greatly appeals to Zinecker. “I’ve always stayed up late to watch launches on TV and whatnot, I’ve always liked space,” she said. Eventually, Zinecker said, “I do hope to get into the space industry somehow, either at NASA or some other commercial company. I would really just like to design something that goes up into space.”
As she takes her first undergraduate research steps this week, Zinecker says her strategy for these opportunities is simple. “Don’t be afraid to aim really high… I just work until it’s done. I don’t stop.”