Functional materials are prevalent throughout the modern world and are constant reminders of advances from engineering. Thus, functional materials research with a mindset toward application/manufacturing is an outstanding topic to engage emerging researchers such as high school students, undergrads, and K12 teachers. This is exactly what is done at the Functional Materials and Manufacturing Institute (FMMI) at University of South Florida (USF) through the Research Experience for High School Students, Undergraduates and Teachers (REHSS, REU, and RET) programs. Materials science and engineering itself is in the process transitioning from the past ways of separate topics (e.g., metallurgy, ceramics, etc) to a modern mindset that includes emphases on hard and soft matter, bio-materials, and nano-materials, unified by an atomistic-level materials perspective. With this mindset, we postulate that materials research is entering discipline unspecific mindset, meaning that researchers across disciplines are interested and able to contribute to solving key problems. That is, researchers in materials science and engineering projects self-select based on interests which are independent of academic training. This hypothesis will be tested by analyzing the correlation between academic major and department of the research advisor for ~ 150 applicants to the NSF-site REU program at the USF FMMI. REU applicants are mainly from science (chemistry and physics) and engineering (chemical, mechanical, biomedical, materials, and electrical) disciplines, and are asked to rank three projects of interest among the potential projects proposed by faculty in similar fields. The results indicate that chemical engineers and chemists are more willing to select research projects advised by mentors in their non-major areas, whereas mechanical and electrical engineers and physics major are less prone to do so. Case studies for REU participants will be discussed for illustrations in which the disciplines between REU and faculty are similar and dissimilar. These initial findings demonstrate need for a more comprehensive study.
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