Published: Sept. 21, 2021 By

Dylan McNally in suit with mountain in background
Dylan McNally

Dylan McNally is a second-year graduate student in the Materials Science and Engineering Program studying under Associate Professor Chunmei Ban in the Ban Surface Science and Engineering Research Group. He is originally from Loveland, Colorado.

What brought you to CU Boulder?

I’ve been a Buffs fan my whole life. When it came time to choose an undergraduate university, CU’s physics program really caught my attention. I loved my time here as an undergrad, so when considering my next steps, CU had the faculty, the research focus and the extracurricular activities that I was looking for. The growing research emphasis on materials for renewable energy and sustainability fit both my academic curiosity and how I want to contribute to society.

What is the focus of your research thus far? What problems do you hope to solve?

My research focuses on engineering surfaces for applications in batteries and other systems. I am particularly interested in the use of atomic and molecular layer deposition and plasma activation processes for surface functionalization. My aim is to engineer desired properties such as ion selectivity and conductivity. While my current research focuses on organic and hybrid organic-inorganic materials such as polyamides and metalcones, much of my work is applicable to inorganics as well.

What attracted you to the MSE program?

Because MSE is a program, it allows a high degree of freedom when choosing your advisor, your research topic and your collaborators. While my advisor is in Mechanical Engineering, our collaborators are in Physics, Civil Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering, just to name a few. I really enjoy the interdisciplinary focus of the program. Additionally, many of the faculty associated with the program research technologies and science related to renewable energy.

How has the program benefited your research?

The program allows for broad collaborations and has an emphasis on interdisciplinary work. I believe that this has both enhanced and expanded my research quality and experience. The program also provides tremendous support to its students. The program administration, faculty and students support both your personal and professional endeavors. Alex, Laramie and my peers have been so helpful in overcoming many of the challenges that I’ve faced over the last year. Without a strong support group, the challenges of research can seem overwhelming, and the community in MSE really helps with that.

How do you strike a balance between your work as a student and your personal life?

Finding a work-life balance in graduate school is tough, but the opportunities and people at CU encourage this balance. I have been a part of a couple club sports, including the swim and triathlon teams. Boulder can fit the stereotype of climbing/outdoorsy people and there are many opportunities for that here. But I have also enjoyed going to Pearl Street, going to breweries with friends and making the short trip to Denver for all of the museums and art galleries. What makes work-life balance easier is the fact that almost everyone in the MSE program has hobbies and activities outside of research, so happy hours and coffee chats don’t revolve around your work.

What do you do for fun or in your spare time (if you have any!)?

I am a member of the triathlon club. I enjoy reading books and spending time with my dog. And every Thursday is bingo night.

What is your favorite film(s), book(s), sport(s) or other media-related interests, and why? Do your interests in art, literature, and cinema have an influence on your research and goals as a materials scientist?

My interest in books is varied. One book that I recently enjoyed was Cathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty. In some ways this relates to my motivation to research materials because I relate to Boyd’s love for nature.