By  Materials Science and Engineering

Congratulations to Alex Wang who was awarded the Belinda and Chip Blankenship scholarship.Wang, a rising fourth-year student of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is completing a second major in materials science and engineering. UVA Engineering alumnus (Ph.D. MSE '92) and faculty member Chip Blankenship and his wife Belinda established the scholarship to encourage rising undergraduates to pursue graduate-level studies in materials science and engineering.
“Alex always showed a lot of curiosity,” said Will Moffat, Wang's teaching assistant in Materials Investigation. “It was obvious that Alex wanted to probe deeper and really understand the scientific mechanisms behind how different microscopy instruments work. He took a genuine interest in learning how all the aspects of material science come together to make up the everyday objects around us.”
Wang joined a research group led by James Fitz-Gerald, professor of materials science and engineering, working alongside Jonathan Skelton, who earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in May 2022. Wang began his research helping Skelton investigate eutectic banding in laser processed aluminum-copper samples.
“This area of research was quite specific and required Alex to review a large body of literature,” Skelton said. “Alex dauntlessly climbed this steep learning curve and within a year we were having in-depth discussions about the material behaviors we were seeing.” Based on the early promise of their work, Wang led the team's effort to write a research proposal to perform experiments at a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory.
In the summer of 2021, Wang contributed to a project focused on corrosion mitigation of 5xxx aluminum alloys through laser processing. After being trained on several microscopy instruments in the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility, Wang ran corrosion experiments and collected and processed data.
“While attempting to learn a new field of research may have discouraged many other undergraduates, Alex made the transition seamlessly,” Skelton said. “He eagerly read papers and text books until he could discuss the science behind the corrosion processes with graduate students on the project.”
Wang more recently joined an additive manufacturing project to study laser melting and solidification in refractory metals for aerospace applications, allowing Wang to practice what he has learned in his coursework.
“Alex has made significant contributions to this project from the very beginning, showing that he has the expanse of knowledge and understanding to take a fundamental discussion of a material's microstructures all the way to potential applications and performance of a material used as a specific part within an aerospace vehicle,” Skelton said. “I am very excited to see this trait in Alex at the very start of his career, and believe he has the capability to lead teams of researchers in the not too distant future.”
In addition to the active involvement in research projects, Wang is interested in trying himself an educator. He will work with his academic advisor, Leonid Zhigilei, professor of materials science and engineering, to develop a student-taught course on acoustics of wind musical instruments through the Engineering Student Council. This course allows Wang to combine his longstanding interest in music with his passion for mechanical engineering and materials science. “With his excellent academic performance, Alex really needs a new intellectual pursuit,” Zhigilei said. “Opportunities for undergraduate research and course development provide an extra challenge and enable exploration of graduate-level activities.”