Materializing at the top

Katherine “Katy” Hitchcock is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Duke. CONTRIBUTED
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Katherine “Katy” Hitchcock is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Duke. CONTRIBUTED

Local grad supports Joint Chiefs in Pentagon internship.

It was at Wright State University where Katherine “Katy” Hitchcock did a deep dive into materials science. Today, the engineering alumna has the ear of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when it comes to evaluating new materials.

Hitchcock earned her bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from Wright State in 2015. She received her master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Duke University. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Duke, and expects to graduate later this year.

Hitchcock grew up in Springfield and attended Dayton Christian High School in Miamisburg. Following her graduation in 2011, she joined Wright State on a valedictorian scholarship.

In January, Hitchcock began a full-time Pentagon internship advising staff members of the Joint Chiefs about new research in science and technology from universities and industry.

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The Joint Chiefs are the most senior uniformed leaders in the Defense Department who advise the president, the secretary of defense, the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council on military matters.

“My main focus is quantum-based technology, mainly evaluating the current state within the literature and providing updates,” Hitchcock said.

One of her fondest memories Wright State memories was serving as recitation instructor for the Introduction to Materials Science course under Raghu Srinivasan, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

One impactful moment for Hitchcock was something she learned from a problem on her first Thermodynamics of Materials exam, which mentally paralyzed her because she knew how to solve the problem but felt she didn’t have all of the necessary information.

“One of the biggest lessons I learned from that class was that things didn’t have to be precise or perfect to get an idea of what would happen,” she said. “There’s a time and a place for perfect and precise calculations and data. But some of the best ideas have started as back-of-a-napkin calculations.”

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From 2013 to 2015, Hitchcock interned at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, working in multiple laboratories on gallium nitride and silk fibroin materials.

“Through this experience, I gained several very strong mentors who have supported me through my entire academic journey,” she said. “It was also through this experience that I decided to push myself further by getting my Ph.D.”

Hitchcock said her professors at Wright State and mentors at Wright-Patterson inspired her to focus her efforts toward the Department of Defense.

“I wanted to do something that gave me a sense of purpose, and developing technology for the warfighter was the fit for me,” she said.

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Katherine "Katy" Hitchcock is shown at left during her Wright State University graduation. She placed pearls on her cap. WRIGHT STATE UNVIERSITY / CONTRIBUTED

Katherine "Katy" Hitchcock is shown at left during her Wright State University graduation. She placed pearls on her cap. WRIGHT STATE UNVIERSITY / CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Katherine "Katy" Hitchcock is shown at left during her Wright State University graduation. She placed pearls on her cap. WRIGHT STATE UNVIERSITY / CONTRIBUTED

At Wright State, Hitchcock was involved in Engineers Without Borders and the Society of Women Engineers. And she helped with the Pre-College Engineering program, co-teaching the math models for cardboard boats and helping students with their designs.

Hitchcock said one of her favorite memories at Wright State was her study-abroad experience in Taiwan.

“I slept through a typhoon while I was there,” she said. “But I was also able to work with a lot of students from different countries, which really built my confidence as far as traveling goes.”

Of her selection for the Pentagon internship, she said, “They were also interested in me because of the teaching and tutoring opportunities I have had at Duke show that I can communicate technical topics to an audience with diverse backgrounds.”

Christine Payne, director of graduate studies at Duke’s Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, said Hitchcock is a great fit for the Pentagon internship.

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“She is really good at communicating difficult science and engineering concepts to a wide audience, and I expect that will be useful in this role,” said Payne.

After graduation, Hitchcock plans to continue to focus her efforts on technology development for the military and hopes to be able to work as an adjunct professor.

Despite her hectic schedule, Hitchcock works out daily, has recently been learning the Brazilian martial art of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and may continue to do triathlons, endurance races that feature swimming, cycling and running.

This article’s writer, Jim Hannah, works for the Wright State University Office of Communications.

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