Savannah Cofer is passionate about research. Her interest was sparked in high school when her robotics team designed a solution for a friend who had developed hand-tremors. The team was able to decrease the amplitude of the tremors by 65 percent.
“That inspired me and made me realize the impact that innovative research can have on people’s lives,” she said. “Seeing how research can impact and improve our world made me want a mech degree.”
In 2017, she traveled to Japan as a Nakatani RIES Fellow. The program serves as a catalyst for U.S. and Japanese students interested in future graduate study and research. U.S. Fellows spend a summer in Japan, working with a host lab.
“The program is nice because the program allows students to be fully immersed in Japanese culture,” she said. “The 12 American Nakatani Fellows split up and go to different host labs, and you make friends both at the Japanese host lab and with the Japanese Nakatani Fellows. The fellows spend the first three weeks together in Tokyo, which is an opportunity to bond with the other fellows and take language classes that give you more confidence with speaking skills.”
Cofer is currently working in professor James Tour’s lab as part of Rice’s Century Scholars Program, which funds freshmen and sophomores to pursue research with a mentor.
Her current research deals with the 3D printing of graphene. Graphene is a 2D material with unique mechanical and electrical properties. Her most recent goal was to build a machine to additively manufacture 3D printed objects out of graphene – and she ended up building two.
“Working in the chemistry department as mechanical engineering major, I got to explore the intersection between these two disciplines,” she said. “I saw how mechanical automation can have an impact on microstructures.”
Her advice for new students is simple: “Pursue interesting things.”
“I would recommend that new students carve out their own path. Don’t feel pressured to pursue any pre-set track,” she said. “Learn about things that are interesting to you and find things that you are passionate about, even if it’s outside of your field.”
She said her own experience with research has propelled her along this track.
“Nakatani was my first experience doing nanoengineering research abroad and I hope to continue to pursue interdisciplinary research in the future.”
Jennifer Hunter, Engineering Communications
Photo: Wes Yee