Career Spotlight: Engineering and Teaching

Dr. John Howarter is a Materials Engineering and Environmental and Ecology Engineering Instructor at Purdue University’s School of Engineering. Before working at Purdue, he worked the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). You can find further information about research he has done here.

800px-Wonga_wetlands_sewage_plantWhat is your favorite thing about being a University Instructor?
Universities are dynamic places, and I get to be a part of a discovery process on a daily basis, with research we are always aiming to push the frontier of knowledge forward. Even in the learning process, individuals are creating personal “Eureka” moments all the time and I get to be a part of that, every semester!

You worked at NIST before becoming a teacher. What was working in this government organization like, and why did you choose to change careers?
NIST is a great organization with a really cool history solving a lot of technical problems for the nation.  For three years I was able to work alongside some of the brightest researchers in polymer science. Honestly, I don’t really see NIST to Purdue as a career change since I have been involved in materials research at both institutions, granted, I teach courses and do other professor-type things now.

In your opinion, what is the most interesting thing you have ever created or been apart of through engineering?
I built a disastrous robot during my first year as an engineering student.  That process was ‘interesting’ I suppose; being able to learn from failure is a great skill to have.  I was able to develop it extensively during the robot project, so for that reason it tends to stick out in my mind.

You have worked on multiple studies involving various polymers. Could you briefly discuss your work in these studies, and the significance of your findings?
My training and degrees are in materials engineering and over time my career interests have coalesced around polymer materials.  When I was a graduate student, I did a lot of work with polymer coatings and creating new materials that could control the wettability of a surface.  These coatings are useful for self-cleaning applications, tunable adhesion, and we even developed a special anti-fog coating.

What are you currently researching?
Half of my research group is researching polymer thin films, which are used as water membranes, and the other half of my group is researching functional polymer-ceramic nanocomposites.  In both applications we want to understand how material synthesis and processing affects the nanostructure and performance of the final material.

How can more young people, starting in high school, get involved with the field you’re in? What classes do you suggest they take?
The most successful scientists and engineers are well rounded individuals (at least the one’s I know). My favorite classes in high school were chemistry and philosophy; they had a big impact on me because I really engaged in the material. Don’t avoid learning new things.

What is one piece of advice you would give to OHS students interested in engineering or teaching?
Engineering and teaching are both great professions, and I’m lucky to be able to do both! My advice to OHS students would be to meet people ahead of you in your desired career path, that’s the first step in developing a mentoring relationship.

 

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