An interest in math and science, combined with a love for cars and a desire to make a difference, is leading a Mercer University alumna to pursue a career in the research and development sector of the automotive industry.
Iran Hernandez Imbert, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, recently received a Fulbright Graduate Study Award and will pursue a one-year master’s degree in automotive engineering at Coventry University in England. As part of the award, she will receive an offer of placement at iconic British luxury sports car maker Aston Martin.
She is one of three Mercer students, including Kallysta “Kally” Jones and McPherson Newell, who received a Fulbright U.S. Student Award to study or teach abroad. Newell will be featured in a future Den story.
“I’m really excited,” Imbert said. “I’m just ready to be there and starting my courses and whatever research I’ll be able to do there as well.”
Imbert’s interest in automotive engineering began at her high school in Kennesaw, where she took some “really cool” math and physics classes. At the same time, she learned how to drive a stick shift on her friend’s Honda Accord sports coupe.
“I thought cars were really cool. I loved learning how to drive a stick shift, and I just wanted to learn more about it,” she said.
Her high school required an internship during her senior year, so she started working in a mechanical engineering laboratory at Georgia Tech studying liquid piston heat engines, which helped move water over long distances.
“They have applications to shuttle water in developing countries, where you have wells in far off places, to get clean water,” Imbert said. “I just thought it was so, so cool that we were doing something that was actually going to be able to be implemented somewhere else.”
At Mercer’s School of Engineering, she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Hill, associate dean and associate professor of mechanical engineering, on an evaporation box for desalinizing water.
“She came into the lab and helped build the prototype we were working on and did some analysis behind the scenes to see if it would actually work and just jumped in,” Dr. Hill said. “She didn’t get class credit for it, but she was just interested, and she wanted to get involved.”
Imbert is very personable and has a degree of stubbornness, he said.
“She works hard and diligently to get the answer, and it has to be correct,” he said. “I keep telling her sometimes it’s not going to be always right. Sometimes you just have to work the process.”
Imbert also participated in a National Sciences Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
During the REU, Imbert researched reinforcing carbon fiber composites through electrospinning.
“The idea is that it would eventually be strong enough to replace aluminum in cars and aircraft,” she said. “So if you replaced the aluminum, it would make the aircraft lighter, which means you spend less fuel per flight, and you also can increase the life of the plane.”
Imbert said she felt like she was part of the team at IUPUI; her name was included in published research, and she won a poster contest.
“I felt very humbled by that, but I was also very proud of it, you know, that I was able to be part of a team that was really doing research that I thought was really cool,” she said.
Later, at a STEM Summit, Imbert met a man who worked in research and development at Ford Motor Co. She asked him how she could get a job like his, and he recommended that she get a Ph.D. Imbert plans to pursue her Ph.D. at Duke University after completing her master’s at Coventry.
By working in research and development, she hopes to find more sustainable sources of energy for vehicles.
“I really love cars, and I love the mechanics behind them, but I also realize that they’re this huge contributing factor to pollution, and they’re not very sustainable for our planet,” she said. “I want to focus on continuing to develop clean and sustainable forms of technology for the automotive industry.”
Imbert said she wouldn’t be satisfied if she had a job that she liked but at the same time was harmful in some way.
“I always wanted to do something that I felt was important and I felt was making a difference or making an impact,” she said. “It makes me excited at the idea to be able to help in that way and be able to be part of a team that’s like, ‘Hey, we came up with this solution,’ and two years later it’s in the car driving down the street, and it’s producing solutions or making the world a better place.”
This won’t be Imbert’s first time traveling to England. She studied abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton and enjoyed it so much that she became a study abroad ambassador.
While at Mercer, she also was a student leader at Mercer ESPN Broadcasting, a club soccer player and treasurer of the Aces Up Card Club.
Dr. Hill said he was excited to learn that Imbert received the Fulbright award.
“I knew this is what she wanted to do — automotive engineering — and she found a place where she could actually do it, and I know she’ll do well,” he said.