Sterling Croft traveled across the U.S. from Boston, Massachusetts to attend Boise State University. At 25 years of age, he was intent on making a good decision about which university to attend. Seeking a more affordable cost of living and manageable higher education costs, Boise, Idaho rose to the top of the Sterling’s list. “Living in Boston nearly broke the bank,” Sterling said, “I had to find a more affordable place to earn my degree. Boise State’s reputation as a great engineering university was a big attractor.”
Discovering Materials Science and Engineering
Before enrolling at Boise State, Sterling served a 2-year mission for his church and then worked full-time for a few years to support his family. He had attended college briefly, between working and serving on his mission, but his ultimate goal was to get a college degree. Growing up, one of Sterling’s role models was his father, an electrical engineer. Sterling found an interest in science based on his father’s work, but had not yet found an area of expertise that resonated with him. He had an “aha” moment after attending a lecture presented by Dr. Peter Mullner, distinguished professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering. “It seemed like the perfect blend of chemistry, structure, and engineering so I became a materials science and engineering major and haven’t looked back,” Sterling says, “Being a part of the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering is exciting because it has a strong reputation in academics and especially because of the great research opportunities made available to undergraduates.”
Sterling is spending his final semester at Boise State finishing up his course requirements and conducting research in Dr. Claire Xiong’s Electrochemical Energy Materials Laboratory. Sterling works with a team of undergraduates, graduates, and researchers to study sodium-ion batteries and potential additives that could increase their stability and performance. Sodium-ion batteries could have significant impact on future electrochemical energy storage systems. Sodium is widely available and relatively inexpensive to produce in comparison to lithium, which is currently used to create long-life energy storage solutions. While lithium-ion batteries have transformed the industry of portable electronics (cell phones, laptop computers, etc.,) meeting larger application demands like supplementing the power grid and filling gaps in wind and solar power production present greater challenges. Rechargeable batteries allow load-leveling and the shifting of intermittently generated energy from wind turbines and solar panels. These techniques provide on-demand electricity, making green energy solutions more viable for widespread use. Ultimately, rechargeable sodium-ion batteries could provide more efficient and cost effective methods for storing and using energy across the globe.
Sterling recognizes his unique opportunity to conduct hands-on lab research as an undergraduate student. One of his recent projects involved assisting Ph.D. Candidate Pete Barnes in his research on developing an electropolishing process to produce a uniform surface finish on niobium and titanium metals. These metals are used as substrates to grow electrochemically nanostructured metal oxide anodes for the batteries, so the quality of their surface finish affects battery performance. This electropolishing process is now regularly used in the lab with excellent results. “Being in the lab and conducting research is vital to understanding how materials science can influence positive change. I have learned so much more by working with a research team and I feel well prepared to make great contributions in industry,” says Sterling.
Continuing the Journey to a Great Career
After completing his degree requirements and gaining valuable hands-on research experience, Sterling has reached a milestone. He graduated from Boise State with a Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering in May 2018. He has always worked 20-30 hours per week while taking classes to pay for his education. “The road to achieving a degree has been challenging, but worthwhile. I plan to work as an intern immediately after graduation to gain some industry experience,” Sterling reports. Many great career paths are available to Sterling now that he is obtaining a degree from the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering. He is considering graduate school in the future but admits that a full-time career that comes with a full-time salary is very appealing after his hard work and dedication to higher education.