MSE master’s student studies materials that can improve the performance of ships

When you think of the U.S. Navy, the image of researchers using scanning electron microscopes to study alloys probably doesn’t come to mind.

But that’s exactly the type of work that Nick Yang ’21 ’22G is doing for the Navy as a research assistant while he’s enrolled in Lehigh University’s master’s degree (MS) program in materials science and engineering (MSE).

Lehigh has a long-standing research partnership with the U.S. Navy to find ways of improving the performance of ships and other maritime systems.

Yang is studying a new low-carbon steel that the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center hopes will be strong enough to withstand low sea temperatures. 

His work involves simulating welds to analyze how susceptible different metals are to failure. He also prepares reports and delivers presentations to his research group.

“This heavily involves mechanical testing and microstructural analysis of different heats of this alloy,” says Yang, who does his research at Lehigh’s Whitaker Laboratory using equipment such as a TIG (tungsten inert gas) welder. 

Studying alloys for the Navy was not on Yang’s radar as he was growing up in Massachusetts. He was interested in chemistry. But an introductory engineering course in his freshman year at Lehigh made him realize that materials science is closely related, so he chose it as his major.

While a senior, Yang decided he wanted to gain additional practical experience before starting a career. 

As he looked at graduate programs, he felt that Lehigh’s master’s program would allow him to achieve that goal through a research assistantship. 

Yang was also excited about the opportunity to study with John DuPont, R.D. Stout Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and the associate director of Lehigh’s Energy Research Center. 

DuPont is an expert in welding metallurgy, alloy development, and failure analysis and a recipient of the NSF’s prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

“I knew that working under his advisory would give me a great learning experience and train me to really collect data and analyze it,” Yang says.

He says DuPont gives his researchers a lot of independence but is there to guide them as well.

“We meet monthly as a group to go over our findings,” he says. 

Graduate coursework has further enhanced his skills.

In one elective, he got to delve deeply into scanning electron microscopy and X-ray microanalysis, learning how to optimize the technology to get the best images for analysis. 

Presenting to his advisor and research group and composing technical reports, he says, helped hone his writing and presentation skills. 

Yang will finish his degree in August. He already has a job lined up with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Md., where he will be part of a team supporting welding engineering services for the Navy’s in-service fleet.

He credits Lehigh’s master’s program with preparing him for the job.

“I’ve learned a lot,” he says. “It was definitely worth waiting a year to start working.”

—Katherine Reinhard '85G is a freelance contributor for the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science

Nick Yang

“Training under my advisor taught me how to collect data and analyze it. I gained experience in scanning electron microscopy and X-ray microanalysis and learned how to optimize the technology to get the best images for analysis. It was definitely worth waiting a year to start working.” —Nick Yang ’21 ’22G