Graduate Student Returns to Program That Solidified Career in Science

By Roger AndersonNovember 13, 2016

For David Delgado, reading became reality.

“I grew up with magazines such as Popular Science and to be at an institution where that kind of cutting-edge research was being done was a dream come true,” he says, recalling what it was like to arrive at Northwestern two summers ago as a student in the University’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

Working in the lab of Jiaxing Huang, materials science and engineering, Delgado quickly began the process of building upon a major breakthrough. About three years prior, Huang discovered crumpled graphene balls — a novel type of ultrafine particle that may someday be used as an additive to increase fuel efficiency.

“I was surprised by the individuality and creative space afforded to me,” says Delgado. “I was given an overall project theme, but I had the freedom to explore my own ideas. Such freedom not only showed Professor Huang’s trust in me, but it also gave me confidence and allowed me to grow as a scientist.”

His research involvement and mentorship experience prompted Delgado to apply to Northwestern’s materials science and engineering graduate program, where he is currently pursuing his PhD.

Today, Delgado is working in the lab of Kenneth Shull, materials science and engineering, studying thin composite films that have applications in artificial tissue and water filtration membranes. His more permanent role on campus also allowed him to participate in this year’s REU, this time as a mentor.

“It was a little surreal and tremendously different to see the REU from the mentor’s side,” says Delgado. “As a student, I was very focused on what I was doing that day. As a mentor, I needed to be continually thinking about the larger picture while also making sure my mentee grew as a scientist.”

Overall, he believes he learned just as much as his mentee did.

To date, the International Institute for Nanotechnology has leveraged REUs to provide more than 350 students with a glimpse into the life of a scientific researcher, as well as opportunities to meet and work with world-renowned scientists.

“I know firsthand how much impact a single summer at Northwestern can have on a person’s growth,” says Delgado. “It is both a tremendous honor and privilege to be able to give back to a program that has done so much for me.”