Chipara: Internships make him a 'well-rounded' engineer
For Alin Cristian Chipara, a fifth-year doctoral student in materials science and nanoengineering (MSNE) at Rice University, internships are not résumé-padding but more like a diversified apprenticeship program for his pending career.
“Each internship has been in a different area, a slightly different discipline. That’s probably the hardest part of it, having to quickly learn a lot of new information, but I think it’s been good for me. My education has been well-rounded,” Chipara said.
While an undergraduate in mechanical engineering (MECH) at the University of Texas Pan American, Chipara had his first internship in the summer of 2011 at Rice. He worked in the lab of Pulickel Ajayan, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Engineering and now Chipara’s doctoral adviser.
“I came to Rice thinking I wanted to try chemical engineering, but I found out I wanted to do something more math-based. With Dr. Ajayan I got to work in composites, organic material polymers and mechanical properties,” said Chipara, who earned his B.S. in MECH in 2012.
While at Rice, Chipara was issued a patent for “Compression-induced stiffening and alignment of liquid crystal elastomers” with Rafael Verduzco, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Since 2009, he has published 17 journal papers.
Twenty-eight year old, Chipara, was born in Romania one year before the regime of Nicolae Ceauçescu was toppled. His family immigrated to the U.S. when Alin was 11, and lived in Indiana and Nebraska before settling in Texas, where his parents, Dorina and Mircea Chipara, are assistant professors of physics at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
“It’s all been sheer luck, the way things have worked out. My parents sacrificed a lot for us. Both of them had Ph.D.’s in Romania. My brother Octav got his Ph.D. and is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Iowa. I will be the last one in the family to get a Ph.D.,” he said.
Another internship followed in May through November 2015 at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Aberdeen, Md., where he worked in the Composite and Hybrid Materials Branch of its Weapons and Material’s Research Directorate.
“For the first time I was working a lot with optical properties. It was more on the chemical and less on the mechanical side,” said Chipara has returned for another internship with ARL, this time at Adelphi, Md., where his research focuses on developing 2D electronic devices, with applications in medicine and gas sensors.
“This is closer to the work I was doing with Ajayan, so it’s familiar but still very interesting,” he said.
Back at Rice, Chipara will defend his thesis in March and expects to earn his Ph.D. in May. His preference would then be to teach at a university, though he’s open to the appropriate job in industry. In April, he will present a poster at the 2017 Materials Research Society’s Spring Meeting and Exhibit in Phoenix, where he hopes to make useful contacts in his field.
“It’s all serendipity, in a way,” he said.