Bridging Theory with Practice: From Lab Manager to NIST Employee

It’s no surprise that we value hands-on experience at NIU CEET.  Almost every single one of our classes requires a lab component so our students are not just learning about engineering concepts, they are actually applying those concepts to hands-on work they complete in our laboratories.  In addition to class labs, the majority of our students partake in undergraduate research and internships with industry that lead them into a successful career as an engineer after graduation.  Last May, Mechanical Engineering major Justin Whiting proved our college motto to be true by bridging theory with practice, landing him a job with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), one of the biggest organizations in the engineering world. 
I’ve found that a large part of what makes you successful in science, engineering, and research is knowing what’s available; you need to be aware of the tools available before you can begin learning how to use them,” Whiting said.   “The exposure I found in the Advanced Research of Materials and Manufacturing (ARMM) lab was invaluable as a tool to develop as an engineer.  Not only is the equipment available for students, but the professors place the necessary trust in the students to allow them to learn.  These experiences have allowed me to find a passion I have for this type of work.”
Just three years ago, Whiting was working for a landscaping company and didn’t realize how far research could take him.  Since then, he has traveled to New York, Michigan, and even South Korea for various conferences and trainings. 
“From my first days conducting research with Dr. Sciammarella as an undergrad, I was exposed to many concepts that were completely new to me,” Whiting said.  “I quickly learned about things like acoustic emission, additive manufacturing, laser interferometry, and countless other technologies and methods of describing the phenomenon observed in scientific study.  My interest and drive to conduct meaningful research grew immensely.”
Whiting gives much thanks and praise to Dr.’s Sciamarella and Gosner for trusting their students and supporting them.  He said their openness, helpful guidance, and real-world experience really helps students like him to get a jumpstart on research as an undergrad.  It was actually Dr. Sciammarella who introduced Whiting to his new employer.

Justin Whiting working in EB 265, our ARMM Lab
“Dr. Sciammarella informed me of an opening at NIST about a year ago.  Of course, I immediately applied, but didn’t hear anything back for months.  In the beginning of 2015, I received an email from someone with NIST asking if I was still planning on graduating in May.  I ended up driving to Maryland in May to do a seminar sharing some of the work I conducted at NIU.  I guess it went well, because I start working for NIST on the 24th of August!  It is a full-time position and if things go well I might be pursuing a PhD while working with the organization.”
While at NIST, Whiting will be conducting research on additive manufacturing processes, particularly the measurement of them.  Much of the work he completed using the LENS machine in our ARMM lab will be directly transferrable to NIST as they are acquiring a LENS machine just like ours.  
“These machines use the process known as Laser Engineered Net Shaping or Laser Powder Forming to effectively 3D print metallic parts,” Whiting said.  “A high power laser creates a molten pool in the substrate.  Powdered metals are projected into this pool and upon the pool, rapidly solidifying a solid metal piece is deposited.  Line by line and layer by layer, this process continues eventually creating the desired part.  Since this technology is rather new, techniques of measurement need to be implemented and standardized.  This is where the work at NIST enters the picture.”

As he ventures on to the “real world”, we wish Justin all the best with NIST.  Staying humble, he thanks Dr. Santner, Dan Nikolov, Kyle Riley, Adam Springer, Jon Knopp, Benyamin Salehi, and other students who dedicated hours of research in EB 265.  We know you’ll represent NIU in the best way Justin!

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