A passion for papertronics: Graduate’s research published in prestigious journals
Mya Landers ’21, MS ’22, credits Watson College professor for mentoring her as undergrad, grad student
As a kid in the small farming town of Callicoon, N.Y., Mya Landers ’21, MS ’22, had a passion for science. Astronomy, biology, physics — she loved them all.
She came to Binghamton University as an engineering major. Her sister, two years older than her, studied at the Decker School of Nursing, but Landers didn’t have a strong sense of which field she’d like to pursue.
Through its Engineering Design Division program, every first-year student at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science learns about the various choices available at Binghamton — and the puzzle-like skills needed to create electrical circuits flipped on the lightbulb in Landers’ mind.
“I think I just got lucky, because I found I really enjoyed working on projects physically, rather than a lot of other jobs working at desks or doing something on your computer,” she said.
Landers quickly put her newfound skills to the test, while also learning the value of teamwork.
“During my first year, I entered a hardware hackathon with a group of people that I kind of knew but didn’t know very well,” she said. “They were mainly from computer science, and then there was an electrical engineer and a mechanical engineer.
“I decided to join at the last minute, and it was one of the most fun experiences ever. You’re staying up for like 36 hours with a whole bunch of other students trying to come up with a random idea for some sort of physical project to show judges at the end. It was so much fun because I barely knew anything. I wasn’t learning any sort of electronics in high school, so it’s just whatever I learned already in my first semester at Binghamton. We built a little robot that ran around and told you the temperature and humidity, and you could control it with a little remote,” Landers said.
Although the ratio of women to men studying at Watson College has increased steadily in the past few decades, with groups like the Society of Women Engineers offering camaraderie and support, female students are still around 25% of the college’s population.
Landers said that she hasn’t experienced any problems as one of the few women in her electrical engineering classes, and it only makes her redouble her efforts to do well.
“There’s an internal feeling that I must prove women are just as good at engineering as men are,” she said. “There’s a little bit more drive and dedication to put out good work. Because you’re a woman, you want to represent all other women in a good light.”
A key mentor during Landers’ time at Binghamton has been Professor Seokheun “Sean” Choi, a faculty member in Watson College’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. As both an undergraduate and graduate student, she did research in Choi’s Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab.
“I’ll always appreciate Professor Choi, because there is no possible way I would have been able to achieve any of this without his guidance,” Landers said. “He’s always 10 steps ahead of everything with his ideas, and he keeps everything in his lab so organized and running smoothly. He’s just an amazing advisor, an amazing professor. I’ve been really lucky to work with him throughout all this.”
For her master’s thesis, she studied and wrote about two topics that are in Choi’s research wheelhouse: paper-based microbial fuel cells and circuit components. Through a process of wax-patterning, screen-printing and the application of various semi-conductive inks, she designed customizable circuits composed of transistors, resistors and supercapacitors, all within a single sheet of paper.
As a potential power source for these cheap, disposable circuits, she presented bacterial metabolism-fueled biobatteries on a paper substrate. The novel approach to using human bodily fluids for battery activation and enhancing shelf-life capabilities using robust, spore-forming bacterial biocatalysts resulted in a journal publication in Nano Energy.
These kinds of fully integrable, paper-based electronic components and power sources show promise for future use in single-use electronic devices with potential applications in point-of-care diagnostics, logistics tracking, and environmental and food testing.
“Mya is one of the best students that I have mentored for the last 10 years here at Binghamton,” Choi said. “She was a hard-working researcher, never giving up her work until she gets what she hypothesizes. She successfully completed her MS thesis work with two articles published in top journals and one manuscript under review. Her work revolutionarily designed and fabricated a novel bacterial power source that can enable a self-powered diagnostic test for anyone, anywhere and anytime.”
Landers found that staying at Binghamton for an extra year to pursue her graduate degree was an easy decision when most MS programs take two years. The difference? Some undergraduate credits are double-counted toward a master’s.
“You’re already here, you’re already familiar with the area, you’re settled in, you know the professors and what you’re getting yourself into,” she said. “It’s just one more year after four years of being here. To do a master’s in just one additional year is something you can’t really pass up, especially the financial and convenience aspects of it.”
Landers didn’t have a job lined up when she graduated in May, because she hopes to relax a bit this summer after five years at Binghamton, but she’s pursuing industry positions in research and development.
“I like to joke that I’m going to carry around my 87-page thesis in my purse, so in case anybody ever mentions it, I can whip it out and show them!” she said with a laugh.
She has some advice for incoming students: “Don’t be intimidated by what you think engineering students should be. I never had any sort of experience with engineering before coming here. In high school, I never showed any specific promise for engineering.
“But when I came here, there was some part of me that said, ‘Why not?’ That was one of the best decisions I’ve made. If you give it a shot and see if you like it, it may surprise you, and it may end up being a field that you become really passionate about.”