Kent Nitta B.S. materials science and engineering
Class of 2023 graduate Kent Nitta, B.S. materials science and engineering. (Steve Zylius/UCI)

You could say that Kent Nitta and UCI are a perfect match. The materials science and engineering major seeks to contribute toward the transition to cleaner energy by developing new materials for energy storage and alternative energy applications. Nitta, who grew up in Fountain Valley, found the perfect place to pursue this interest at UCI, a campus with a legacy of sustainability known for offering undergraduates the chance to participate in cutting-edge research. He’s the lead engineer on a design project seeking to use a type of graphene foam in the development of efficient and durable energy storage and transfer systems. The high-achieving student and researcher has a relaxing outlet in archery, an activity Nitta took up as a child. The hobby has taught him to do his best and be OK with the results. “In archery, it doesn’t help to get mad and frustrated,” he says. “Aggression doesn’t make you a better player. You just learn to let go and try again.”

Can you describe a time you felt most proud to be an Anteater?

UCI is very research-focused, and I’ve had the incredible experience of being able to design experiments and organize my team. The opportunity to present results during poster sessions is very satisfying. I don’t know if other materials science programs encourage such student-led efforts and entrepreneurial thinking, but they were gratifying experiences, and I’m thankful to UCI for the opportunity.

What are your plans after graduation?

I will pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and plan to focus on new fabrication methods for the semiconductor industry.

“Since Kent Nitta joined my research group, he has exhibited an above-average enthusiasm for scientific research. He was motivated to first learn and then make important contributions to the synthesis of 3D scaffolds of graphene for energy applications. He has recently transitioned to formulating his own hypotheses for research, which is a strong indicator of his future potential to make contributions as a scientific leader.”

– Regina Ragan, professor of materials science and engineering, The Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Who has been your biggest influence at UCI?

My principal investigator, professor Regina Ragan, who gave me the opportunity to work in her lab and learn from her. Also my mentor Peter J. Santiago, a graduate student. Both were able to instill skills as a researcher and student. They helped me prepare myself to be able to get into graduate school. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without them. They gave me the opportunity to interact with people and allowed me to do a lot of problem-solving, as well as working on my writing and research skills. Darryl Mack, research and development engineer supervisor, has helped with designing experimental systems and with how to see projects to fruition.

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

I would have started research sooner. I started at the end of my sophomore year, and then COVID happened. As a freshman, being able to be in a research group helps with hands-on experience and thinking about applying classwork to real-world situations. I would also advise incoming students to try to focus on fundamentals, even low-level chemistry or math courses. All these things you learn help you down the line to understand advanced concepts like machine learning, general synthesis knowledge in biology. Freshmen don’t always dig deep into those concepts.