Graduate Student Spotlight: Mingzhen Feng

Ph.D. Student, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Portrait of Mingzhen Feng

This spotlight is a part of our 2023 International Women's Day Feature.

What inspired you to study engineering? Describe your path to graduate studies at UC Davis. 

I love the beauty of engineering. It's a bridge between science and real application. Before joining the Ph.D. program at UC Davis, I received my B.E. from Tianjin University at 2012 and M.S. degree from Carnegie Mellon University at 2018, all in materials science and engineering. I liked physics and chemistry in high school, especially the lab classes, so I decided to study materials science and engineering after I learned that it’s a major that deals with both physical and chemical properties. It requires creativity but also needs rigorousness. Everything we use is made from different types of materials. I’m drawn to it because of its potential to make a significant impact on people's lives. 

Highlight your current research. What do you love about it, why are you excited, and how do you stay motivated? 

My research is about exploring and tuning the functional properties of complex oxide thin film. Those are really interesting materials, and even a small change in their crystal structure, composition, thickness, etc. can lead to huge changes in properties, such as from insulating to superconducting, from non-magnetic to magnetic. I'm always excited to see the expected and even unexpected behaviors from those thin film materials. It's like receiving a gift box, you'll never know what’s inside until you open it. Because the properties of complex oxides can be affected by many factors, the understanding of the effect from individual or combined aspects is important before making it into devices or using in other applications. 

The 2023 International Women's Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. How do you embrace equity in the engineering field? 

When I was an undergraduate student, there were only 1/3 girls in my class. Now I’m glad to see that the number of female and male graduate students in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering are almost equal. The engineering field is not designed only for one gender, and there shouldn't be a bias that prevents people from studying what they're interested in. My PI, Department Chair and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Yayoi Takamura, is a good role model of female scientist. Her hard work and enthusiasm in research inspire me to explore deeper into this field. Last year, I published an article about my research in a special collection of the Journal of Applied Physics that recognized women in applied physics. By embracing equity in the engineering field, I believe we can create a more diverse, inclusive and innovative environment that benefits everyone. 

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