By Helen Widman
It took three years working as a medical assistant before Alejandra Almaraz realized that she did not want to work in the healthcare field for the rest of her life. But after discovering materials science and engineering, Almaraz found a way to incorporate her passion for biomedical research into tangible, impactful applications with materials science.
Almaraz transferred to Boise State University in Boise, Idaho and decided to switch to engineering. She ultimately chose materials science.
Almaraz is also a 2023 scholarship recipient from the American Ceramic Society (ACerS) and the Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation (CGIF) administered by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). She is the current SHPE President at Boise State and is passionate about increasing the awareness and diversity of engineering.
“I just think it’s super important to have all the different perspectives and for young minds to be able to see that people of color and women are welcome in fields that are traditionally white male dominated,” Almaraz says.
She first got involved with SHPE when she arrived at Boise State and saw an opportunity to revive the chapter on campus. She also serves as an officer of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), a College of Engineering (COEN) Ambassador, and she often attends outreach events such as a recent Hispanic youth leadership summit.
Almaraz’s research in materials science focuses on additive manufacturing techniques like 3D printing. She uses aerosol jet printing to deposit a material and its nanoparticle-based inks, and the ink that she prints her structures with is made from titanium carbide MXenes, a type of 2D material. Most of her structures are only about a millimeter in length and width.
“The ones I’m working on right now are biological sensors, and I’m working on characterizing them and functionalizing them to be able to sense cortisol—the stress hormone—in sweat, so we can detect it,” Almaraz says.
Her research was originally funded by the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium (ISGC), which Almaraz received in the summer of both 2022 and 2023. The biological sensors are designed to be flexible and wearable so that they can be used to detect the cortisol levels through an astronaut’s sweat.
“Being able to collaborate with them (NASA), visit their facilities, and work with them has been really, really cool,” she says. “I would think that’s my dream job, but I just want to be a researcher. I think I would be happy as long as I am able to continue doing something that I love no matter where it is.”
She hopes to continue her research upon graduating in 2024 by pursuing her PhD at Boise State. Even though she has a passion for materials science, she still works at a medical clinic on weekends and will graduate with a bachelor’s in materials science and engineering and a minor in biomedical engineering.
Almaraz is thankful that ACerS, CGIF, and SHPE were able to provide support for her through the CGIF’s Underrepresented Student Scholarship Fund.
“This gives me the freedom, the financial freedom, to maybe not pick up shifts on some weekends at the clinic and focus more on things that are really going to drive my future like doing community outreach, outreach with my COEN Ambassador position, and furthering my research during the week,” she says.
Help CGIF support more underrepresented students in materials science and engineering like Alejandra by visiting ceramics.org/donate.