Double Major in Materials Science and Engineering Feeds Passion for Aircraft Design

“SpaceX, Dragon, we’re go for launch, let’s light this candle.”

With those words, astronaut Doug Hurley signaled lift-off of the Space-X Falcon 9 rocket a year ago, beginning a 19-hour journey with astronaut Bob Behnken to dock with the International Space Station.

Marcus Dozier watched the opening of this new chapter in space flight from SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California. Dozier was interning with the company’s material science department and celebrated the successful Demo-2 flight test with his corrosion prevention teammates.

“I knew I wanted to be an aerospace major from the start; that’s all I ever wanted to be,” Dozier said. “I’ve been interested in aircraft since I was a kid, especially military aircraft and fighter jets.”

Dozier is earning his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Virginia School of Engineering this month, as a double major in aerospace engineering and materials science and engineering. Dozier’s ambition is to join an aerospace company in his home state of Colorado.

The desire to seek and learn from different perspectives is key to Dozier’s academic success, distinguished as UVA Engineering’s first undergraduate to meet the requirements for a Bachelor of Science in materials science and engineering.

“I think it’s important to set goals, but don’t shut yourself off from other opportunities,” Dozier said. “Keep an eye out, listen to what others have to say, and see what they have to offer.”

UVA Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering announced its Bachelor of Science degree program in Spring 2020. With assistance from undergraduate student coordinator Claire Culver, and support from his academic advisor Daniel Quinn, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and electrical and computer engineering, Dozier positioned himself to graduate as a double major.

As a first-year engineering student, Dozier unexpectedly landed in the MSE 2090 course, Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering. Dozier discovered that materials scientists and engineers shared his passion for aircraft design, including his course instructor James T. Burns, associate professor of materials science and engineering.

“Marcus is engaged and enthusiastic; he always has good questions and brings a jovial attitude to class,” Burns said. 

Burns’ own experience in the U.S. Air Force created a strong connection with Dozier. Burns earned his Bachelor of Science in Engineering Mechanics from the U.S. Air Force Academy, with a concentration in materials science. Prior to his faculty appointment at UVA, Burns supported the U.S. Air Force’s C-130 program and served in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.

“Professor Burns brought his experience into the classroom; he was always eager to relate what we were learning to aircraft design and performance,” Dozier said.

When it came time to enroll in classes for the next semester, Dozier added another materials science and engineering class to his schedule, along with aerospace structures, a requirement for a mechanical and aerospace engineering degree.

Dozier discovered there is a lot of overlap between materials science and aerospace engineering.

“I took an MAE lab on strength of materials and an MSE lab on material properties. Putting these two labs together allowed me to clearly see the progression – how to tailor materials’ structure to get desired properties and how to manipulate those properties through design to influence performance,” Dozier said.

“Navigating a brand new degree program is extremely challenging, but Marcus made it look easy. It was an honor to be his faculty advisor along the way,” Quinn said.

“Marcus is as kind as he is sharp, which makes him a fun person to talk to. He always came into my office smiling. He always came prepared, and we got to focus on thoughtful, high-level, career-related questions. It’s clear to me that he is passionate about his degree and his career,” Quinn said.

Dozier’s aerospace background made him a natural fit for the Advanced High Temperature Materials research group led by Elizabeth J. Opila, professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Dozier expressed interest in doing MSE research, learning about the team’s experiments with ceramic matrix composites, a novel class of materials with potential applications in hypersonic flight. Opila invited Dozier to begin work in her laboratory in the fall of 2019, assisting Kaitlin Detwiler, a graduate student of materials science and engineering advised by Opila. Dozier also conducted his own experiments with high-temperature oxidation of ceramic composites.

“Marcus is a great ambassador for our new degree program,” Opila said, describing him as someone who quietly gets things done.

Dozier continued to support the team’s research while adapting to COVID-19 restrictions that prevented him from accessing the lab. “Now it’s completely digital. We’re using machine-learning image-processing software to analyze micrographs of ceramic matrix composites to identify different regions within the material and derive quantitative data from it,” Dozier said.

Dozier’s course work and research activities prepared him to intern with the SpaceX material science department, where he supported research on thermal-barrier coatings and corrosion.

“Materials engineering at SpaceX is pretty diverse,” Dozier said. “Where most departments focused on one vehicle, the material science department got to work on a wide variety of projects for every flight vehicle.”

He also made a valuable connection working for UVA alumna Veronica Rafla, a 2018 Ph.D. in materials science and engineering.

“Marcus was a great addition to our team here at SpaceX,” Rafla said. “It was great seeing how corrosion and material science fundamentals helped Marcus develop new material processes for survivability in harsh space environments. He was extremely dedicated to our goals of rapid reusability and sustainable rocketry.

“I am absolutely thrilled to hear about the B.S. degree program and am looking forward to seeing the impact this will make on future careers and education growth,” Rafla said. “My graduate degree in materials science from UVA had a profound impact on my career and always pushed me to gain new insight that has helped land me where I am today. I believe that this new addition will continue to progress the education and growth of new emerging engineers.”