Iran Hernandez Imbert’s research experiences at Mercer University paved the way for her graduate studies and set into motion a path toward a career in automotive research and development. She’s now a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at Duke University and was recently awarded the prestigious Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship.
Hernandez Imbert, a 2021 mechanical engineering graduate, developed an interest in automotive engineering in high school when she learned how to drive a manual transmission. Once she got to Mercer, she took advantage of opportunities for research and international travel. She worked in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Hill, associate dean and associate professor of mechanical engineering, and participated in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates in a mechanical engineering lab at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis.
During her junior year at Mercer, Hernandez Imbert studied abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, a valuable experience that prepared her to return to the country after graduating from the University.
“I feel like all those experiences gave me a leg up. I felt very prepared when I went in for my master’s and Ph.D.,” Hernandez Imbert said. “I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve received.”
As the recipient of a Fulbright Graduate Study Award, she was able to hone in on automotive engineering through a one-year master’s degree program at Coventry University in the United Kingdom. She expanded upon her skills and knowledge while working with the university’s wind tunnels and other specialized automotive technology. Her research there involved modeling a hydrogen-fueled microgas turbine, in an effort to improve the infrastructure of charging stations for electric vehicles.
Outside her classes, she gained new athletic experiences as a member of the university dodgeball team, a Gaelic football team and her church’s netball team.
“It was a very cool experience. I’m very grateful I got to do it,” Hernandez Imbert said of her time at Coventry. “I got to try some pretty cool things with different support.”
After completing her master’s degree, she headed straight to Duke University to begin the mechanical engineering Ph.D. program. Impert was accepted to the program a year prior, but she deferred her enrollment to fall 2022, so she could pursue the Fulbright opportunity.
At Duke, Hernandez Imbert works in a fracture mechanics lab, which involves a lot of computational engineering.
“My research is focusing on the fracture networks of enhanced geothermal systems. You dig really far under the (Earth’s) surface and pump water, and you create fractures. You basically get energy out of the heated water,” she said. “We look at ways of how to make the fracture network, so it can be more efficient.”
Hernandez Imbert hopes to devote her career to developing clean and sustainable forms of technology for the automotive industry.
“I think ultimately I’d like to go into research and development for the automotive sector; that’s the long-term goal,” she said. “I still have quite a ways to go, but my focus is definitely on energy and sustainability.”
In May, Hernandez Imbert was one of 39 students across the United States to be awarded the Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship.
Funded by the DOE Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration, the program “trains top leaders in computational science,” according to its website. The fellowship will cover Hernandez Imbert’s tuition for four years and provide her with a stipend, a grant for research, and opportunities for internships at national labs, she said. She recently completed a summer internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where she did finite element analysis using a new modeling software program.
Hernandez Imbert also spent some time in Washington, D.C., this summer. In July, she met other computational science graduate fellows during an annual program and promoted the Fulbright Program on Capitol Hill as a Fulbright alumni ambassador. In her ambassador role, Hernandez Imbert visits universities and attends conferences to share her insights on the program. She spoke at Mercer earlier this year and will go to a conference in Chicago later this year.
“That’s been a cool opportunity. I feel like I really benefited from (Fulbright), and I wanted to be able to talk to more people about it,” she said. “I wanted to help other universities and other students have the resources they need to be competitive.”