Published: Sept. 25, 2018

Hometown: Idaho Falls, ID
Advisors: Alan Weimer and Charles Musgrave

My path to engineering

Samantha MillicanI grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I always enjoyed math and science growing up, and I first became really interested in chemical engineering when I took AP Chemistry during my senior year of high school.

My teacher for that class was a retired industry researcher who had a contagious enthusiasm for the subject. He did a great job of making chemistry relatable to every student with engaging lectures and labs, which instilled in me a love for the subject. Before graduation I talked to him about pursuing a degree in chemistry, but he encouraged me to consider chemical engineering for the wide variety of career opportunities available. I liked the idea of being able to applying chemical processes to real-world applications and chose to pursue my bachelor’s in chemical engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

During my undergraduate career I had to opportunity to do several internships researching at universities and national labs, so I knew that was of interest as a potential career path, however, I hadn’t had any internships working in industry and wanted to experience that before I made the decision to go to graduate school. After graduating I accepted a job with General Electric in one of their two-year rotational leadership programs. Through this program I changed jobs every six months and had the opportunity to experience a wide range of industrial positions. After completing the program, I decided that I did indeed want to pursue a career in research and decided to apply to go to graduate school.

Why CU Boulder?

I decided to come to CU because of the world-class opportunities available for chemical engineering research. There were several faculty members in the department doing cutting-edge research in my area of interest, so I knew I would be able to find an exciting research project for my dissertation. I also loved the collaborative environment in the department, which has enabled me to learn from so many great mentors in my field. Prior to starting my PhD I was already living in Denver while working for General Electric, so I knew I loved the area and all of the outdoor opportunities it affords.

Making the transition from industry back to school was very challenging, but I’m happy with my decision because I know it will allow me to have an exciting career in research. I am now pursuing my PhD in chemical engineering at CU. I am co-advised by Dr. Alan Weimer and Dr. Charles Musgrave and am utilizing computational and experimental techniques to develop materials for solar thermochemical hydrogen production. Current processes for generating hydrogen rely on carbon-based fuels and emit a substantial amount of CO2 into our atmosphere. The STCH process would allow for the production of hydrogen using just solar energy and water as inputs. This hydrogen can then be utilized directly in fuel cell vehicles (like the Toyota Mirai) or as a carbon-free feedstock for the production of chemicals, ammonia for fertilizer, or higher-density fuels.

I love all of the amazing opportunities available at CU, both personal and professional. During my time at CU I have been able to learn from world-class researchers, attend several conferences to present my research, and collaborate with researchers at national labs and universities around the country. Outside of work I love living in close to the mountains and being able to get outdoors to run, hike, ski and camp regularly.