Published: Nov. 17, 2021 By

Melvin Colorado Escobar in red shirt
Melvin Colorado Escobar

Melvin Colorado Escobar is a second year PhD candidate in the Responsive and Programmable Materials Group under the supervision of Gallogly Professor Timothy White. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry at the American University in Washington, DC and his master's degree in chemistry at UC Irvine in California.

What brought you to CU Boulder?

Family brought me to Colorado after I obtained my master's degree from UC Irvine. After moving to Colorado, I wanted to continue studying to earn a PhD and be the first in my family to obtain this degree. I had visited the CU Boulder campus before and loved the collaborative culture vibe and found the research to be a good fit for my background. The people and abundance of outdoor activities around campus make CU Boulder a perfect work-life balance for getting my PhD.

Where are you from?

My family is from San Salvador, El Salvador. I was born and raised in San Francisco, California. School allowed me to travel across the country and learn about many other cultures and languages.

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

My research focus is on soft materials. Currently I am working with liquid crystal elastomers as actuators with various applications.

What attracted you to the MSE program?

I have always been interested in multi-disciplinary research projects. Being able to collaborate across programs was attractive to me because it fosters innovative ideas. I also like meeting new people because it helps me find solutions by seeing multiple perspectives.

How has the program benefited your research?

I have been able to be part of some collaborations and do research that is application focused. There are internal fellowships such as GAANN, which I was able to get. This has given me some freedom to explore projects that interest me and also do some outreach. I am very passionate about outreach because as a first-generation student, I could’ve benefitted from seeing representation in higher education.

What is a problem or challenge you encountered as a student here, and how did you overcome it? Who gave you a helping hand?

I moved to Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to applying to graduate school, I worked as a professional research assistant in Professor White’s lab. My first day in the lab was the day everything shut down. I had not met everyone in the lab nor been trained on anything. However, my lab peers and advisor were all very supportive and quickly transitioned to the virtual environment. This time was challenging for all of us, but we tried to make each other laugh until we were able to go back to in-person work.

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

I have been able to prioritize my physical health by attending a daily Muay Thai class. I commute daily and this is a sport I used to do in high school and has helped me manage the demands of graduate school. On the weekends, I try to go outdoors and explore nature with my fiancé. This program is designed for students to be able to prioritize their passions. 

Why might you recommend MSE to students considering a graduate program in science and engineering?

Apart from the outdoor activities and beautiful nature around the campus, there is a culture of collaboration. I think this culture really fosters learning and enables us to pursue our individual research interests, while supporting each other. The students and the faculty really value working together to solve problems and come up with new ideas.

Where might you want to go next (industry, academia, national lab, etc.)?

My ideal goal would be to work at a national lab conducting my own research projects. I previously worked at NIST as an undergraduate and really enjoyed the work culture. I have also thought about being in academia because I enjoy teaching and mentoring future generations of students.

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

I enjoy going out with my fiancé to explore nature. We like seeing the buffalo at the National Wildlife Refuge and Genesee Park. During the pandemic, we also held several virtual game nights with family and friends.  After getting vaccinated we have been exploring Denver nightlife with friends.

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 favorite movies and shows have always been about superheroes. Growing up, I always liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My favorite was Donatello (the purple one). He was always making some gadgets for the team and I thought It would be awesome to be able to make cool things like that. I think now as I am doing research, I find myself making samples or thinking of new applications or ideas for something that could benefit society.