Spartan Showcase: Alessandro d’Amico

Next time you pop a frozen meal into the microwave, pay close attention to the small ice crystals that have formed on the food. If it’s a filled pasta dish from Nestle, you may notice fewer of them thanks to the efforts of Case Western Reserve University student Alessandro d’Amico. 

Under the mentorship of Abhinendra Singh, d’Amico and fellow first-year student Ryan Pappalardo worked together on a project to improve packaging to reduce the occurrence of such particles, gaining recognition from Nestle employees.

The experience wasn’t d’Amico’s first working with a highly recognized national brand: as a high school student, he completed an internship with Boeing. This summer, he’s adding to his resume with an internship at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago.

d’Amico also has made a mark on campus. He joined a research lab as soon as possible, playing an early role helping Singh establish his lab at Case School of Engineering. Alongside peer Snehal Choudhury, d’Amico co-founded CWRU’s ChemE Car Team, through which their team designs, builds, and runs an RC-sized car powered by green chemistry.

Despite having such impressive accomplishments, d’Amico remains humble about his experiences.

“This is not a story about individual exceptionalism,” he said. “Rather, it is a story about how by working together with passionate people we can all raise the bar and achieve more than would otherwise be possible alone.”

Learn more about d’Amico below. 

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

1. What do you enjoy most about your major?

The thing I like most about my major is problem solving. While all engineering students are taught how to solve technical problems, I’ve managed to leverage my chemical engineering education to try my hand at solving a very wide variety of problems. From machining and fabrication challenges in ChemE Car to theoretical math and physics challenges in my research, I am able to take different approaches to problem solving, which is incredibly fun! I have the privilege of working with incredible people and our passion for finding innovative solutions makes creativity blossom.

2. Can you briefly describe your research topic?

I study systems where particles are tightly packed and suspended in a fluid (think like wet sand). We can then force this fluid to flow making the tightly packed particles interact with each other, changing the bulk behavior of the system. Because how strongly you force the fluid to flow (AKA how much stress you use) changes the particle-particle interactions, the fluid’s viscosity (AKA resistance to flow) is not constant as it would be in, for example, pure water. 

While this has been a known phenomenon for some time, no complete theory exists relating the particle networks to their bulk behaviors. I analyze simulations of these systems (called shear-thickening dense suspensions) to find links between network theory characteristics and bulk response.

3. What interests you most about your research?

What interests me most about it is how there is no clear answer. As every member of the lab group constantly churns out and tests hypotheses we can see an ever-clearer image emerge, and that’s exciting. 

4. What do you hope will come from this research?

I have several goals that I want to achieve as part of my research. I want to learn how to work in a research lab. I want to learn both how to be a good apprentice and a good mentor. I want to understand how to perform every step involved in publishing a research paper. I want to learn how to pitch myself and my research. I want to improve my coding and technical communication skills. I also want to see if soft matter physics is something I want to dedicate my career (or at least my foreseeable future) to. Finally, I want to leverage my research experience to both create a network and then use that network to further my career.

5. After undergrad, what are your aspirations?

I want to go to graduate school to get a PhD and study the intersection between chemical engineering and materials science. I want to dedicate those years to research that will be able to further our knowledge in chemical engineering, material science, and condensed matter physics. 

After that I wish to go into industry where I hope to be able to help people by accelerating exciting advancements and allowing them to be introduced into everyday households. In the end, I want to be a force for good in this world like all of the mentors that helped me along the way. 

6. Are you involved on campus in any other ways?

I am the co-captain of CWRU’s ChemE Car Team. We compete against other universities to see which team made the most reliable and precise car. It is a unique and exciting engineering challenge that contains elements of design, manufacturing, wet lab, control systems, and soft skills like teamwork. 

Last year our team put over 600 combined total hours into this car and the results showed as CWRU was able to beat more established teams. 

When I founded this club alongside fellow chemical engineering student Snehal Choudhry we had no experience but last year was our first year competing and despite being the youngest and smallest team with the youngest members we placed in the top 10 in our region. This collaborative effort is extremely challenging but incredibly rewarding and I look forward to optimizing every single aspect of the car for next year, maybe even making it to nationals. 

I also was part of CWRU’s theater department productions both semesters my first year and wrote as well as acted in CWRU Players’ Theatre Group Neo fall 2023.