Undergraduates who participate in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI) have a rare opportunity to partner with faculty and have resources at their disposal to work on projects that have tangible, real world impact, Sebastian Husein says.

Sebastian was accepted to work on three FURI projects throughout the course of his undergraduate experience in materials science and engineering. He says that with each project he was able to tackle a problem directly applicable to a relevant field of science with actual solutions that were implemented.

“Sometimes the work simply answered questions that allowed us to move forward and begin answering more advanced, difficult questions. At other times it resulted in actual improvements to an existing technology,” Sebastian says.

For instance, Sebastian conducted most of his work with Stuart Bowden, an associate research professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. Sebastian, Bowden, researchers in the  Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) engineering research center, and fellow undergraduate students conducted research that resulted in marked increases in silicon solar cell efficiency that they fabricated from scratch in the lab.

“In addition to witnessing my work have an actual impact, the independence to pursue my own goals within a project was very valuable,” he says.

“My professors trusted me enough to allow me to set my own objectives rather than dictating to me what I should do. They allowed me to learn for myself while at the same time being fully available to provide advice when I needed it,” Sebastian says.

Since he began participating in FURI, Sebastian went on a six-week internship in Herbon, Germany, with an aircraft galley production and manufacturing plant. While there, speaking with his coworkers and friends sparked his interest in solar technology and began a quest for Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs in solar. He soon began an REU with QESST where he continued his FURI research.

Over the last year, Sebastian presented his FURI research at the Material Science & Technology conference in Philadelphia, Pa., which Barrett, The Honors College funded, and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society conference in San Antonio, Texas, which was FURI-funded.

“Through FURI, I was able to pursue an interest I had in doing research in the field of solar technology,” Sebastian says. “I wasn’t really sold on solar being a viable alternative energy source when I started, but after involving myself with multiple projects and seeing the many different facets of photovoltaic technology, I became convinced of the possibilities.”

Sebastian is currently pursuing a Ph.D. degree at ASU and still working with QESST.

Growing as You Go

As a FURI researcher, Sebastian says he developed patience, “because often the biggest barrier in research to achieving your goals can be equipment malfunctions.” Bowden gave him the tools to learn where to look for the resources to either solve equipment issues or develop an alternative means of obtaining necessary data.

“I learned how to set goals in such a manner that I could continue to be productive rather than stymied by these setbacks,” Sebastian says.

Sebastian says that another invaluable skill that he gained was learning how to navigate scientific journals and articles to glean relevant information applicable to his own research questions.

“The last thing that many undergraduate students want is more reading material, but peer-reviewed articles can be a powerful supplement to classroom learning,” he says. “Discovering how to differentiate between the relevant articles and ones that are not, and developing effective methods for quickly finding the applicable information from a scientific publication can be invaluable to saving time and gaining clarity on difficult subjects.”

Meaningful Mentorship

Sebastian says Bowden provided him with a solid foundation to build his research knowledge, offered guidance when necessary, and allowed him to develop his own understanding of the research.

“Most importantly however, Dr. Bowden has taught me that research isn’t about making those huge, scientific breakthroughs; it’s about building a knowledge base along the way and learning the fundamentals so you can appropriately learn how to approach a question. But the breakthroughs are nice too,” Sebastian says.

Finally, he learned how to deal with setbacks and maximize his resources.

“I learned that laughter solves everything, and more importantly, always take advantage of the free food in the break room,” he says.

Sebastian says that prospective undergraduate researchers should approach professors who they enjoy learning from and ask about their research.

“If you don’t know what your interests are, ask other people what they are working on and see what catches your attention,” he says.

He also notes that students shouldn’t limit their search to faculty only in their department.

“Technology and science have advanced to such a degree that the lines tend to blur between disciplines,” Sebastian says. “Gaining cross-disciplinary experience from your undergraduate studies will be a major advantage when entering industry and looking for a job.”

Prior to coming to ASU to start his undergraduate studies, Sebastian participated in Summer Bridge, a California-based program that allowed first-generation university students to live on campus during the summer prior to their freshman year and take courses to acclimate to university life.

As the vice president of alumni relations for Alpha Kappa Psi, he developed an exclusive career mixer with mock interview sessions hosted by local and national companies. Sebastian was also actively involved in Material Advantage, the Society of Automotive EngineersCampus Crusade for Christ and Barrett Honors.

For more information about FURI, contact furi@asu.edu. For more information about additional research opportunities through ASU, visit http://engineering.asu.edu/discover.