GradImpact: Finding a Path from Afghanistan to Materials Science

    One of the challenges facing many graduate students is to find a project that will have practical application. Even more difficult, is to find a project that will help people on days that are painful and frightening. Jeffrey Brookins, a Master of Science graduate in Materials Science and Engineering from Michigan Tech University, is the rare student with a project that does both. Brookins worked on developing improved surgical clips for use during laparoscopic surgeries – minimally invasive procedures designed to minimize external scarring, often within the abdominal or pelvic cavities. Current clips are reported to cause nausea, digestive complications, and localized pain. Jeffrey’s clips, by contrast, are bioabsorbable and disappear harmlessly after they serve their function as a mechanical lock during the natural wound healing process.


    Jeffrey’s journey began at Michigan Tech in 2008. He was a curious student, but didn’t feel in control of his education. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. So, in 2010 he decided to leave Michigan Tech and join the United States Marines Corps. Brookins ended as a Sergeant in the Marines, serving from 2010 to 2013 and spending two tours of duty in Afghanistan.


    While in Afghanistan, Brookins was struck by how valuable medical knowledge was to military operations. It was here that his intellectual curiosity met his passion. After leaving the military, Brookins returned to Michigan Tech with the intention of pursuing a medical career. He was struck, however, by research being done on stents by a Materials Science professor, Dr. Jaroslaw Drelich. After joining Professor Drelich’s research group, Surface Innovations, Brookins worked on a variety of projects and stated that Prof. Drelich “had one of the greatest impacts on me and inspired me to never be content with mediocre work; ask the tough questions and make the hard work worth it.”


    Drelich was also a mentor who supported Brookins’ work and encouraged him to stay on for his master’s degree at Michigan Tech, after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2017. During this time, Drelich learned that Brookins was more than just a good student. “Jeff is very good cook” he joked in an interview with us, “and his Polish cuisine dishes could make his grandmother proud.”


    After receiving his M.S. in 2018, Brookins was accepted to a doctoral program in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Though he has just started his program, Brookins continues to be interested in metallurgy and is focusing his research on building the next generation of high strength metals. These advanced materials could find a broad use from the energy to the structural sectors. Brookins credits his military experience with helping him find his passion and succeed as a graduate student. 


    To learn more about Jeffrey and his work, visit the Michigan Tech website.


    Visit the GradImpact Feature Gallery to learn more about the amazing, innovative research being done by graduate students and alumni across the world.

    The CGS GRADIMPACT project draws from member examples to tell the larger story of graduate education. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of graduate education not only to degree holders, but also to the communities where we live and work. Do you have a great story to share about the impact of master’s or doctoral education? Visit our WEBSITE for more information.


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