Student Feature: Xudong Zhuang, MSSE ’22

“The love and spirit I’ve obtained from music has always inspired me to care about life, future and people, which is the main motivation for my study and research.” Xudong Zhuang is a part of the first cohort of MSSE (Molecular Science and Software Engineering) master’s students, slated to graduate in May 2022. Here, he shares about his experience in the MSSE program, simultaneous interests in Material Sciences and Engineering (MSE), and passion in classical music performance. – – –  Xudong standing in front of the water at sunset.

Tell us about yourself!

Hi, I am Xudong Zhuang, currently a master’s student of Molecular Science and Software Engineering (MSSE) at UC Berkeley. As the MSSE program is a part-time online program, I am simultaneously obtaining another full-time master’s degree at Northwestern University majoring in materials science and engineering.   Currently I live in Evanston, IL due to my simultaneous enrollment at Northwestern University, but I am originally from Xiamen, which is a picturesque seaside city in southeast China. My study and research interests are centered around renewable energy industries, mainly focusing on applying novel techniques like data science, software engineering, and exploring better materials to boost the development of renewable energy and helping to create a more sustainable future for the next generation.  Apart from those technological works, I am enthusiastic about all kinds of music, and I’ve played different musical instruments for years. The love and spirit I’ve obtained from music has always inspired me to care about life, future and people, which is the main motivation for my study and research.

What did you study for your undergraduate degree?

I obtained my undergraduate degree at Huazhong University of Science and Technology majoring in Energy and Power Engineering. During my undergraduate studies, I’ve done research on molecular modeling and simulation for hydrogen storage materials. With my research, I’ve noticed how the application of autonomous technologies such as computational chemistry, data science and machine learning has changed the field of materials science greatly. Specifically, the cost of traditional trial-and-error approaches can now be greatly lowered by the aforementioned techniques — I believe this can influence the whole industry profoundly.  Therefore, for my current path and future career, I want to explore how these automation technologies can bring changes to the field and I look forward to seeing them applied deeply in the concerning industries.  Up to now, I would like to regard myself as someone who is still in the energy industry, especially the renewable energy industry, but simply works from a different perspective. Equipped with the knowledge I’ve learned from my undergraduate period and the new knowledge from the MSSE program, I can better apply these automation techniques into concerning fields.

With your interests in mind, what brought you to the MSSE program, especially given that it’s a fully online graduate program?

I am interested in how automation technologies, including software engineering and data science can revolutionize traditional and important industries, such as the energy industry and related fields. However, I had limited chances to learn about these technologies during my undergraduate period. To understand more about these technologies, I considered the MSSE program at UC Berkeley an ideal opportunity. Through the MSSE program, I want to further solidify my understanding of computers and enh my coding skills. From my perspective, learning knowledge such as data science and software engineering online or on campus makes little difference in terms of learning outcomes. Additionally, it can save money as I don’t have to be in California in person.

Earlier, you mentioned that you’re also pursuing another full-time Master’s degree in MSE (Material Sciences and Engineering). What made you decide to pursue this degree while also in the MSSE program?

MSSE in my mind is essential for the development of many fields of engineering, and batteries, fuel cell, and gas storage devices, which are important for renewable energy. Additionally, during my undergraduate studies, though I did research concerning materials for energy application, I lacked knowledge about materials science, especially the theoretical basis and hand-on experience with experiments. Therefore, I planned to learn systematically about materials science in preparation for my future development.

Is there anything you’re passionate about outside of your academic work?

Apart from all the science, technology and engineering, I am a big fan of music and mainly focus on classical music (though recently I started to explore the jazz world). I’ve played the piano since I was 3 and played the french horn since I was 12. I regard myself as a semi-professional french horn player and have served as the principal horn of my high school and university orchestras. (My high school orchestra is among the top 10 high school orchestras in China, bravo!)  Currently, I am one of the alumni that has been honorarily included in the advisory board of my high school orchestra, and I’ve been actively participating in auditions for the brass section and other works. As I’ve been working in orchestras, listening to classical music has been my daily routine and my favorite composer is Gustav Mahler, who provided me with endless passion and power towards my life and future!

As you are wrapping up your final year of the program, what advice do you have for future MSSE students and grads?

Communicate efficiently and don’t hesitate to ask for help from the administrators. Additionally, as this program has just been launched, suggestions from students are vital to improving the program quality. Therefore, for future MSSE students, don’t hesitate in providing your opinions about this program in a constructive way. Finally, work hard and enjoy the trip of learning new things!

Any plans for the next chapter in your life?

I will try to apply for my PhD degree in materials science or electrical engineering and conduct research in the fields of interests as stated above. Hopefully, I can make an impact in these fields. – – – Connect with Xudong Compiled and edited by Alison Huh