Brooke Kuei (S 2015)
Science writer, energy science researcher
Writing Her Own Story
Brooke Kuei never expected that an interview she conducted for the university’s student newspaper would shape her college experience. But that one interview changed everything.
Kuei, a senior physics major and professional writing minor, came to Carnegie Mellon with an interest in studying astrophysics, but she also really loved writing poems and short stories. During her sophomore year, she combined her interests and started writing for the science and technology section of The Tartan, Carnegie Mellon’s student newspaper. She interviewed Gabriela Hug, an assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Engineering and Public Policy, for a story about the electric grid. The topic caught Kuei’s interest.
“That’s one thing that I really like about writing for The Tartan—I get to meet all these different professors in so many different fields and just learn about random things that I never would have been exposed to,” Kuei said.
As her sophomore year progressed, Kuei’s interests shifted away from astrophysics toward a more applied field: the electric grid and energy science in general. She applied for the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer program, and was accepted into an REU at the Cornell Center for Materials Research at Cornell University. Kuei joined Professor Héctor Abruña’s group and spent the summer working with graduate student Gabriel Rodriguez on a project testing whether the material 2,5-dimercapto-1,3,4-thiadiazole (DMcT) could potentially be used as a better electrode material than what’s currently used in lithium ion batteries.
When she got back to Pittsburgh she started looking into who at CMU was doing similar research. Her investigation led her to Jay Whitacre, associate professor of materials science and engineering and engineering and public policy. Kuei contacted Whitacre and has been working in his lab ever since. Her research project, which combines physics and chemistry, focuses on the design of polymer binder systems that could improve large-scale energy storage.
“I’ve been doing research with one of Professor Whitacre’s grad students, Alex Mohamed. He’s super-smart and knows everything about batteries. It’s really awesome.”
The summer after her junior year, Kuei participated in another REU, this time at Penn State University. There, she expanded her energy research experience through a project that involved developing solar cells out of a class of materials called perovskites.
Kuei, who still writes for The Tartan, plans to attend graduate school to continue pursuing her interest in energy research. Although her interests did not end up falling in the typical fields of physics, she knows that her physics degree will serve her well.
“Physics is the science behind everything. That’s my opinion, but I’m biased!”