Amelia Brown has let her passion guide her in new directions during her time at Washington State University, a strategy that has led to success, including receiving a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

Amelia Brown stands in front of a shrub.
Amelia Brown

The $7,500 scholarship is a nationally competitive scholarship, awarded to only 240 students nationwide including five from Washington. It can be used to cover tuition, room and board, and fees.

Originally from Lake Forest Park, Washington, Brown grew up in an engineering family. Her mother is a chemical engineer, her father is a computer scientist and software engineer, and her brother recently received a degree in computer engineering from WSU (‘16).

When she arrived on campus, she wanted to take a different path from her family and initially chose to study physics. After a semester, she returned to her roots and decided on a more practical, real-world major – materials science and engineering.

“I never felt like I had to become an engineer and because of that I originally thought I would be in something else, but look at where I am now,” she says with a smile.

The Goldwater Scholarship has also opened up new opportunities for study for her, including possibly adding a second degree in mechanical engineering.

At a crossroads

Brown has taken her research interests in new directions during her time at WSU.

Her first research experience was as a high school student, where she volunteered with a University of Washington astronomy professor.  She helped collect data on star brightness for a paper on oscillation frequency, and updated the computer code of a UW telescope at Manastash Ridge Observatory in Ellensburg so that a new spectrograph could be installed.

When she came to WSU, she spent two weeks studying microbiological life in waters off Antarctica and visiting scientists at remote research centers.

In the summer of 2016, she worked with associate professor Scott Beckman’s research group, focusing on the mathematics and physics of materials.

Amelia Brown tests polymer in a small research vessel.
Brown tests a polymer film barrier that can be used in hydrogen storage tanks.

Now, she is working in the Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Lab where she is helping test a thin polymer film barrier that can be used in hydrogen storage tanks to reduce weight and to prevent permeation.  Currently, the hydrogen storage tanks developed in the HYPER Lab are lined with copper making the tanks heavy.

“If we can create a thinner, polymer barrier for hydrogen tanks, this will reduce their weight and if they were to be used in rockets, the decrease in weight can help better its fuel efficiency,” she said.

Eventually, Brown hopes to continue the research in the HYPER lab as a graduate student

“There are a lot of cool projects that I would love to work on!” she said.

Full support

Despite the various changes, Brown’s family fully supports her choices—if she can answer one question.

“Whenever I move onto another interest my parents always ask, ‘what’s your backup plan?’,” Brown said.  “If I can answer that question, they are cool with it.”