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M.E. alumnus Charlie Sanabria awarded 2016 FSU College of Engineering Graduate Student Leadership Award

Charlie Sanabria at the 2016 Leadership Awards

Imagine being an undergrad in Mechanical Engineering. Now, imagine having the opportunity to travel to France as an undergrad and delve into the intricacies of revamping one of the largest magnetic systems in the world for the purpose of fusion as an energy source. For Charlie Sanabria, one of Mechanical Engineering's most accomplished undergrads turned Materials Science and Engineering graduate student, this scenario was a reality. As an undergraduate in 2008, Charlie was among five undergraduate research assistants selected to help the ITER organization in France reconstruct their superconducting cables and thus improve their magnetic fusion system. For this and many other accomplishments, Charlie earned the 2016 Florida State University College of Engineering Graduate Student Leadership Award.

Raised in Bogotá, Colombia, Charlie and his family moved to Panamá when he was a teenager, where they discovered the Florida State University-Republic of Panama campus. A pursuit of Mechanical Engineering following enrollment led to graduation from Florida State University in Tallahassee.

When Charlie took the opportunity to go to France and work with ITER as an undergrad, the experience took him to new heights both academically and personally. Academically, as a researcher, engineer, and scientist, Charlie's work was key to improving ITER's superconducting cables so that they could create the magnetic fields necessary for fusion of plasma. The metallographic analysis he provided led to a presentation at the 2011 Conductor Design Reconciliation Workshop in Aix-en-Province, France. Additionally, Charlie discovered the fun, carefree side of the top scientists with which he worked, realizing that his chosen profession didn't require him to sacrifice pursuing interests beyond engineering. At that time, the interest of exploring the French cities of Marseille and Paris rounded off Charlie's once-in-a-lifetime experience, as he "walked and walked through these cities, taking pictures and embracing every little thing, from the food and the music to the architecture and the museums."

Following undergrad, Charlie became a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering and wrapped up his work with ITER. His analysis of the mechanical integrity of their system's malfunctioning superconducting cables, along with insight into other wire vendors, provided him a strong foundation as a budding scientist. For this he was rewarded with a 2013 IEEE Council on Superconductivity Graduate Study Fellowship, followed by a 2014 2nd place award for Best Student Paper at the Applied Superconductivity Conference and a 1st place award two years later. Charlie also received praise for his research from US ITER magnet program manager Nicolai Martovetsky.

The next research endeavor Charlie tackled was aimed to improve the superconducting wires used for the Large Hadron Collider upgrade, a particle accelerator based in Geneva, Switzerland. As a visiting scientist for Oxford Superconducting Technology, Charlie improved the magnetic stability of the wires for the LHC by 30% (after observing Oxford's wire processing methods). Once back in Tallahassee, he improved the heat treatment of the wires, leading to a 28% improvement in current density. The project is the focus of his dissertation, which he will defend in the spring.

On his work with ITER and the LHC, Charlie comments, "I have been very fortunate to have done research on two major large-scale projects that are at the frontiers of human knowledge. And through this research, I've realized that in science and engineering, it is not about being the most intelligent, it's about being the most curious."

In fact, Charlie advises other students to realize that it's okay not to have all the answers. All they need to do is admit what they don't know, ask all the questions they need to, and develop a sense of truth.

"Don't hide your ignorance with the illusion of knowledge, because sooner or later someone will expose it, and the sooner it happens, the easier it will be to accept it," Charlie shares.

Charlie's philosophy has proven useful not only by virtue of the fact that he's accomplished so much through his research with ITER and LHC, but also through ensuring future researchers understand their pursuits, having done so through teaching as well as providing tutorials on YouTube. His teaching efforts have also included demonstrations at the National High Magnetic Field Lab's Open House.

In the midst of research and teaching, Charlie has published six journal articles, with a book chapter on the way. He has given several talks at various international conferences, and been an invited speaker at the National High Magnetic Field Lab's "Science Café" event as well as schools in Georgia and California. He has peer reviewed articles for submission to scientific journals and proposals for submission to the Department of Energy. He boasts a patent, awards for Best Paper and Best Student Paper, a fellowship, and of course FSU's 2016 College of Engineering Graduate Student Leadership Award. Considering his accomplishments and ongoing thirst for knowledge, it is easy to see why.