Skip to main content

Ben Helfrecht

Ben Helfrecht

2015 Goldwater Scholar


Batavia, IL


Materials Science and Engineering


College of Engineering / Honors College


Would you briefly describe your research in terms that an educated layperson can understand? I work now in the area of computational materials science -- using simulations to study the behavior of individual atoms in a material in order to better understand how that material behaves under certain conditions. Using simulations is advantageous because we can study materials on very small length scales and at very short timescales much easier than we could in the lab. At Purdue, I currently work with Prof. Alejandro Strachan in the Materials Engineering Department to use computational techniques to investigate the behavior of devices that could be used to make computer memory more efficient. 


How have your previous research experiences led you to this area? I have had a few other research experiences, from fabricating translucent solar cells with Dr. Hongbin Yu at Arizona State University to investigating the behavior of self-healing gels with Prof. Kendra Erk at Purdue. With each experience I have gradually narrowed down the field I want to work in long-term, from the type of research (fundamental vs. applied) to the types of materials (metals vs. semiconductors vs. plastics, etc.). 


How has your interaction with faculty members influenced how you approach research? Every faculty member that I have worked with has given me very helpful feedback with respect to how to become a better researcher, whether it was feedback on a written report, how to prepare for a research meeting, or how to approach an experiment. Each has also been supportive by letting me make my own mistakes and create my own solutions. Discussions with faculty members about research projects have also made me better at synthesizing information on the fly and at asking relevant questions. 


Has conducting undergraduate research affected the way you approach your coursework? Absolutely. Participating in research has put me in a much more inquisitive mindset. I will often end up solving homework problems one or two extra times in different ways out of curiosity. This actually deepens my understanding of the material. There have also been times when something I have learned from my research has helped me mentally clarify a concept I encountered during a lecture. 

Participating in research has helped me find the subfields of materials science in which I am most interested; by participating in research, I have been able to find that one thing to work on that makes me excited to get up in the morning.