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Amnahir Peña-Alcántara

PhD Student
Materials Science and Engineering
Story originally published on Jun 2021
When I was a kid, I went to my older brother’s Lego League practices all the time. That’s really where I fell in love with the concept of building things that do something else.

In fact, all of my siblings and I pursued engineering, maybe because our parents are both engineers and we could see what a good life they built for our family. All three of us overlapped at MIT, actually.

I’ve always been an athlete. I spent nine years in ballet, where I learned so much about how the body works, because that’s what a dancer’s training centers on. I played volleyball and swam. At MIT, I was a varsity fencer. I always thought it’d be interesting to explore bioengineering in part because of this background. But then I got interested in the intersection of fashion and engineering, so I started studying smart textiles. That’s what turned me on to materials science.

I ended up in Dr. Zhenan Bao’s lab because flexible electronics are fascinating and I love her approach, which is very fundamental. Very simply, our group is creating conjugated polymers that will make electronics that are inherently stretchable and flexible. There are fascinating bio-related applications, like pressure or strain sensors that could detect tumor growth in bodies, sensors to analyze cortisol and hormones released in your sweat, or that might wrap around arteries to measure pressure.

I’m not sure what’s next for me – I still have time. There are a few companies, though not many, that do this kind of work since it is lab-based. I’m exploring those but I’m also thinking about possibly forming my own company. I’ve taken business development and entrepreneurship seminars here. Until graduation, I’m enjoying what I do and I also like making a point of getting to know Stanford graduate students who don’t have a STEM focus. I like hearing their different perspectives and I’m learning a lot from them too.

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