Weisensee making big strides early in academic career
Dr. Patricia Weisensee earned her PhD in mechanical engineering from Illinois in December of 2016 and just one month later she had joined Washington University in St. Louis as an assistant professor.
Weisensee earned a master’s degree in materials engineering in 2011 from Illinois through an exchange program, in the midst of completing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with high distinction from The Technical University of Munich (TUM) in 2013. She then returned to Illinois for her PhD, working under the mentorship of MechSE professors Bill King and Nenad Miljkovic.
“Patty was one of the first students to join my lab after I started at Illinois in 2014,” Miljkovic said. “I owe much of my early career success to her as she was instrumental in starting up my lab, building equipment and experiments, gathering and analyzing data, and helping guide junior students. Many of these students are still in my lab today and all are excelling due their development with Patty.”
Now leading her own research program, Weisensee studies the interactions of liquids and solids for energy applications. Focusing on experimental study, most of her research is fundamental and in turn has a vast array of possible applications.
As new faculty, she invested a lot of time and energy getting her lab up and running, but in this past year, many exciting developments have taken shape for her research group. The lab has had two papers published, with a third in review – and one of those papers even made the cover of the journal, Soft Matter. Weisensee also won National Science Foundation funding to study droplet nucleation and condensation on lubricant infused surfaces, a NASA Early Career Award for the development of a liquid metal heating switch to use on spacecraft, and a grant from the American Chemical Society to study the effect of heat transfer on the development of flow fields in microporous media.
“She hasn’t missed a step since starting at WashU, receiving multiple highly competitive awards,” Miljkovic said. “I look forward to her continued success as an independent researcher and am proud to call her an Illinois alumna.”
Weisensee’s path to academia wasn’t always certain. She was extremely curious, but her first undergraduate research experience left her feeling uninspired and after her first industry internship she was disappointed with the depth of the work. She wanted to really dig deep into a topic and truly explore it. It was when she entered Illinois’ MatSE graduate program that she discovered what she loved. Her work with Professor David Cahill introduced her to experimental research and the optimal branch of academia for her interests.
“Academia was the path I wanted,” Weisensee said. “I think the driving factor was curiosity.” In her experience at Illinois, she said the most impactful insights she gained were learning to ask questions, work independently, and accept that nothing will be perfect. She also grew working with the POETS center – the interdisciplinary nature of the research taught her how to communicate with people in other fields.