With her help, we can build better bridges (and better bones)

Jessica Faust. Photo courtesy of Jessica Faust.

Researching the chemical properties and structure of man-made and natural materials is what gets Jessica Faust up in the morning. And every morning for the past four years, in between a commute that sometimes stretches to five hours, she’s been hunched over her workstation in the lab, tackling important and complicated questions about composite materials.

Faust, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Northeastern, has put in numerous hours in labs across Boston, including at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, and Northeastern. She is in the pursuit of developing new high-performance composite materials, which are formed by combining materials together to form an overall structure with properties that differ from that of the individual components. Composite materials are typically used for buildings, bridges, and structures, such as bathtubs and countertops.

An additional area of focus for Faust is creating a material that can be used in bone grafts. She and her team are developing a hydrogel that starts out weak to which they add a biocompatible ceramic similar to natural bone to improve the mechanical strength and the cells’ ability to regrow natural bone.

Faust’s achievements have earned her an Outstanding Graduate Student Award in Research, which honors outstanding students for their significant contributions and accomplishments while pursuing a graduate degree at Northeastern.

The award recognizes graduate students who have demonstrated an exceptional ability to conduct high-impact research and make contributions to the scholarly literature in their field.

Randall Erb, an associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, characterized Faust as “the single most impressive graduate researcher that I have ever advised, worked with, or even met.”

“After five minutes of talking with new acquaintances, Jessica leaves them with astonishment,” Erb says. “She is exactly the dedicated and high-caliber student that this award was established to recognize. Jessica is our top graduate student.”

Faust says she was excited to receive the award.

“The Outstanding Graduate Student Award [in] Research has always been the highly sought after award in my department, so I am just ecstatic to receive it,” she says. 

Faust is a member of the Huntington 100, a program at Northeastern that recognizes students who have recorded achievements in research, athletics, entrepreneurship, community service, leadership, and on co-op.

She is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which she used to study fundamental breakthroughs in mechanical and thermal composite materials. 

She has also worked at the frontier of the electronics industry by creating electrically insulating thermal heat spreaders, which includes electrical circuit boards. Her research has yielded one patent and more than a dozen conference presentations.

A participant in the Young Scholars and Science Without Borders programs, Faust has mentored 11 students at both the high school and undergraduate levels, and she has participated in workshops at the Museum of Science in Boston, explaining high-level science to the general public.

Having successfully completed her dissertation defense, Faust will now set her sights on finding a suitable position in the research and development of composite materials.

“I’m not sure exactly what the future holds yet, but I know it will be filled with exciting experimental research in high performance composites,” she says. “I’m very much looking forward to taking the next step and applying the knowledge that I have gained during my time at Northeastern.” 

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