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Professional headshot of Cipriani.
Ciera Elyse Cipriani received the 2022 Ethel Ashworth-Tsutsui Memorial Award. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

The experience of coming full circle is how graduate student Ciera Elyse Cipriani felt when she received the 2022 Ethel Ashworth-Tsutsui Memorial Award.

Cipriani, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering received the award on Nov. 11 for her research in 3D printing from the Texas A&M organization Women in Science and Engineering (WISE).

“This is a big deal for me because during my first year in the graduate program, I went to the Ethel Ashworth-Tsutsui Memorial Lecture, and it was on 3D printing and construction. Which is funny because although this year the talk is not over that, that’s pretty close to my research,” Cipriani said. “So it’s full circle because now I received an award for excellence in research that corresponds to that lecture.”

WISE was created to address specific problems faced by women in nontraditional fields.

Ashworth-Tsutsui was a biochemistry and biophysics professor from 1969 until January 1998. She established women’s programs and served as a member of the program advisory committee for women’s studies in 1988 and 1989.

“Women in Science and Engineering wishes to continue Ethel’s legacy of nurturing the intellectual spirit in all women by offering these awards,” according to the award website. 

Cipriani was nominated by Dr. Emily Pentzer, an associate professor in the materials science and engineering department.

“I think she nominated me because my experience in 3D printing helps propel my sub-group research forward,” Cipriani said. “I am also always willing to work a little harder to achieve more, I’m willing to put in the work for it. I was shocked when I opened the email from the award committee. I am quite honored.” 

The two have been working together on research in Pentzer’s lab since August 2019. When Pentzer received the call for nominations, she reached out to Cipriani, asking if she could put her name in the ring. 

“She came to mind because it’s a research award, and she has collaborated with people across different engineering and science departments,” Pentzer said. “She has a broad impact on not only the research my group does but also the community at Texas A&M and the research others do.”

Along with this award, Cipriani has a NASA fellowship that helps direct her research and has published several research papers.

“My research focuses on creating new materials for 3D printing,” Cipriani said. “I have extensive experience in the 3D printing field that started during my undergrad when I worked at my university libraries, and I also got a couple of internships at a 3D printing company.”

Through her experience with 3D printing technology, Cipriani said that she realized the machines themselves were developed, but the materials were limiting the use of 3D printing to its full potential.  

Her research has targeted items for 3D printing, including temperature regulation and aerospace components.

“This includes controlling the temperature in your house without requiring your HVAC unit to run and making materials that could be used for that,” she said. “I have a fellowship with NASA, so currently, my research is focused on 3D printing ultra-lightweight materials for aerospace applications.”

This focus is on understanding structure-properties relationships with applications in mind geared towards low-density material, Pentzer said. 

“Each pound we put on a spaceship costs a lot of money,” she said. “The idea is to make low-density composites that are mechanically strong and understand how to make them in an efficient way with little waste and from commonly available materials.”

When looking at schools to continue her education, Cipriani noticed Pentzer’s lab, which influenced her decision. 

“I saw that Dr. Pentzer was building up the 3D printing sub-group of her lab, and I was excited to play a part in that,” she said. “Of course, she and her group have extensive chemistry and materials science knowledge that has been built into the materials.”

Cipriani has an excellent portfolio of both research across material science and engineering and her involvement within the department of the university, Pentzer said.

“She’s one of those well-rounded students,” Pentzer said. “I think this is a great recognition of the work that she's done and when it comes to the future, I think it will speak to anyone wanting to work with her or hire her and her capabilities.”