College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Research

Sarah Sandler heads to graduation as a published researcher and world traveler


Sarah Sandler has conducted research in two countries, presented her findings to an international audience and seen her work published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The list sounds like the accomplishments of a graduate student, but the Clemson University senior is still a month away from claiming her Bachelor of Science in materials science and engineering.

Sarah Sandler, right, works with Thompson Mefford, who said she is a "natural in the research environment."
Sarah Sandler, right, works with Thompson Mefford, who called her a “natural in the research environment.”

Sandler turbocharged her education by participating in several of the key programs that are aimed at preparing students for their lives and careers after graduation. Even better, she still found time to backpack through New Zealand, hit the beach in Australia and serve as an officer in Clemson’s sailing club.

And she has stayed on track to graduate in four years.

“I like to keep busy,” she said with a smile.

Sandler’s undergraduate journey illustrates the world-class experiences available to students in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said Brad Putman, the associate dean for undergraduate students.

“It is becoming more common for students to conduct research and study abroad while still undergraduates, but Sarah has taken her Clemson experience to the next level,” Putman said. “She has made the most of her time here, and she is well prepared for the next chapter in her life. Her honors and awards are well deserved.”

Sandler, a member of the Calhoun Honors College, has excelled academically. Her name has five times made the Dean’s List, which requires at least a 3.5 grade point average.  She also made the 2018 President’s List, an honor reserved for students with a perfect 4.0.

Like anything worthwhile, it has taken work.

“I’m not the top student in all my classes– things don’t just click for me,” she said. “I go to office hours. I make sure professors know me. I’m not the smartest, but I care a lot. The research gets me really excited, and I want to learn more about things that are difficult for me to understand. It’s that quality that makes me comparable to graduate students.”

Sandler, who grew up in Merrick, New York, said she discovered Clemson while touring universities in the South when she was a high school student.

She had her first research experience at Clemson by joining a Creative Inquiry course dealing with oyster restoration in the Charleston area.

Later, a friend told her about the work of Thompson Mefford, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, and she joined his Creative Inquiry course. It was the start of her research into metal ferrite nanoparticles, a technology that shows promise for fighting bacteria and shrinking tumors.

“I ended up deciding to major in materials science and engineering because of that project,” Sandler said.

Mefford said the project required Sandler to understand chemical synthesis, nanomaterial characterization and special measurement techniques, such as AC calorimetry and susceptibility.

“Sarah has grasped all these complex ideas at the rate of a graduate student,” Mefford said. “She is a natural in the research environment.”

Sandler’s research and studies have taken her around the world. She went to Paris and Berlin as a Dixon Global Policy Scholar during her sophomore year.

The following summer, Sandler worked for two months in the lab of Quentin Pankhurst at University College London.  

She traveled again during Clemson’s 2018 spring semester, this time taking courses at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Sandler didn’t waste a single day when she returned to the United States, flying into Colorado. The next day she started her summer job as an undergraduate research fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder.

In addition to her studies, research and hobbies, Sandler works in the college’s Global Engagement program as a peer ambassador.

She helps fellow students navigate study-abroad programs, assists with marketing and talks to classes about the advantages of global engagement in their education.

“Sarah is fantastic,” said Matt Long, the program’s manager. “She is living proof that an engineering student can study abroad three times. She is a true Renaissance woman, and I am sure she will go on to do awesome things.”

A guiding force in Sandler’s journey through Clemson was Grand Challenges Scholars, a program aimed at creating a new breed of leaders ready for the engineering challenges of the 21st century.

One of the requirements is that students make progress in the program’s components, including talent competency (which includes research), multidisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship, multicultural studies and social consciousness.

“I wanted to do those things anyway,” Sandler said. “Entrepreneurship was the only one I wasn’t sure was really for me. But now I’m in an entrepreneurship class, and I want to be an entrepreneur someday.”

Sandler is graduating from Clemson with a cache of honors, awards and experiences that underscore just how much she has done– and the stage keeps getting bigger for her.

A year into her research, Sandler’s team presented its findings at a poster session in the Watt Family Innovation Center and won best undergraduate poster.

Sandler later won another poster contest, this time in front of an international audience at the Frontiers and Biomagnetic Particles Meeting. In 2017, she served as second author on “Extended LaMer Synthesis of Cobalt-Doped Ferrite,” an article that appeared in the journal IEEE Magnetic Letters.

And this month, she will be one of two students to win the college’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher award.

With graduation nearing, Sandler is weighing whether she wants to pursue her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England or continue her work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, putting her on track to a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Kyle Brinkman, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, congratulated Sandler on her success.

“Sarah is an outstanding student, talented researcher and a world traveler with demonstrated leadership abilities,” Brinkman said. “She is well-positioned for success, and we hope to see her back at Clemson often after graduation.”

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