My Experience as Junior Researcher

By Angel Griffith
10th Grade, University Prep Science, and Math High School
Detroit, MI

Angel Griffith, a high school sophomore at University Prep Science and Math High School in Detroit, MI, writes about how receiving a $500 research grant from the SPE Foundation impacted her STEM research, which was focused on developing innovative ideas around sustainable materials for use in electric vehicle interiors.  

My name is Angel Griffith, I am in the 10th grade and I attend University Prep Science and Math High School in the City of Detroit.  I have been a researcher in Ecotek Lab for two years.  I received a $500 research grant from the SPE Foundation to expand my learning in materials science. I never experienced or had the opportunity to receive a grant to do a science investigation before, so I didn't know what was required of me when I got one. When I received the grant, Mr. Keith Young, Founder, and CEO of Ecotek Lab, along with Ms. Eve Vitale, Chief Executive at the SPE Foundation, told me what was expected of me such as creating and monitoring a project budget; developing a research plan; working with mentors in the automotive industry; and presenting my research at a professional conference.

My project was focused on developing innovative ideas around sustainable materials for the interior of electric vehicles. I have been able to investigate and test different materials that can be installed in EVs to make the car more sustainable and recyclable. Before doing this project I barely knew anything about how the interiors of EVs were made or what specific materials were used in them and this opportunity allowed me to learn a lot. There are a lot of things to consider and investigate when dealing with sustainable material engineering.  After researching my topic thoroughly I narrowed my research down to sustainable vegan leather for seating. While working in the lab and meeting with my SPE mentors - Ms. Amy Stephen, Ms. Allison Collins, Mr. Chuck Jarrett, and Mr. Evan Morton - I was able to do a deep dive into material properties and examine different types of vegan leather.

I found three types of vegan leather that seemed to be the most accurate and promising. My next step after picking three of the best materials, was to order samples and do performance testing ranging from moisture absorption testing to flexibility testing. The purpose of this work was to determine which vegan leather material met the requirements for my project.

I am very grateful to everyone who helped and supported me through this experience, that includes the mentors that guided me, my family, friends, teachers, and of course Ecotek and Mr. Young. I was introduced to Mr. Young through one of my teachers at University Prep Science and Math High School on a field trip, and since then I have had great opportunities such as attending STEM conferences, going to automotive award galas in engineering, and working in Ecotek Lab; visiting the labs at Ford Motor Company and meeting other students in the City of Detroit that are passionate about science and math. This project has helped me build my confidence in working on complex topics in science in a group setting. It has also provided me with access to more real world opportunities in STEM.

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