Making The World A Better Place Through Research And Sharing Knowledge

Committed to sustainability, fascinated by research and dedicated to sharing her knowledge with others, Master of Applied Science student Madisyn Szypula sees engineering as a way to make a difference in the world. 

Madisyn Szypula

Madisyn Szypula

  • Degree: Master of Applied Science
  • Campus: Okanagan

An interest in STEM from a young age

Madisyn knew early on that she wanted to be an engineer. She’d long gravitated to STEM subjects and realized that engineering was a career where she could pursue her passions and do something practical to make the world a better place. 

In Grade 11, she was selected to participate in UBC Okanagan’s Stewards in Engineering Education, a one-week program that gets high school students involved in engineering research projects. “It was very exciting to work with two graduate students on their research and to stay on campus in the dormitories,” she says. “That experience got me interested in engineering research and studying at UBC Okanagan – and coincidentally, my current lab is next door to the one I was working in then!” 

Stewards in Engineering Education

UBC Okanagan


Pursuing opportunities in mechanical engineering

She chose UBC Okanagan for many reasons, including the smaller campus, tightknit environment and ability to have more undergraduate research opportunities with professors. 

Although she’d originally thought she might end up in civil engineering, she chose to specialize in mechanical engineering because she liked the broadness of the discipline and its opportunities to pursue research in many different areas.

While only in second year, she was part of an undergraduate research project with Dr. Lukas Bichler to advance the use of biomass material that has a high composition of pure carbon. “This opportunity confirmed my enthusiasm for research – we were investigating if biomass waste material from industry and agricultural sources could produce a high concentration of carbon to be used to create graphene for applications like rechargeable batteries.” 

Madisyn completed her capstone project in her fourth year, designing a tadpole recumbent bike from scratch. The idea was to design a bike that someone could easily build on their own using readily accessible construction material and bike parts so that it would be less expensive than others.

Her enthusiasm for working in the machine shop led to the offer of a TA position while still an undergraduate to teach the third-year Mechanical Engineering course that introduces students to the machine shop – a TA position she continues to hold.

Madisyn with the bike

Civil engineering

Mechanical engineering

Dr. Lukas Bichler 

Researching biocomposite materials as a graduate student 

“My decision to do a master’s degree was motivated by what made me want to go into engineering in the first place,” she says. “It’s realizing that I can make the biggest difference by continuing my education, pursuing novel research and sharing my knowledge with others.”

Madisyn is doing a Master’s of Applied Science in mechanical engineering, focusing on biocomposite materials. She’s working with Dr. Abbas Milani and industry partner NetZero Enterprises Inc., which holds a patent to a chemical process called plastination that can be used to extrude moisture from natural fibres, like wood, flax and bamboo.

There are many applications of this technology, including in the lumber industry. Western Red Cedar, for example, can rot easily, but there may be ways to treat the wood using this process to block moisture and shield against microbial degradation. As Madisyn notes, “Because we are adding something to the material, we have the opportunity to add other materials, like nanoparticles, that could generate additional benefits, like reduced flammability or increased strength.”

Madisyn in Lab

Dr. Abbas Milani NetZero Enterprises


Advancing our understanding of the benefits of dog therapy

Madisyn’s research interests are not just confined to engineering – they also branch into psychology. Since her first year of university, she’s been involved in UBC Okanagan’s program B.A.R.K. (Building Academic Retention through K9s), and starting in her second year she began doing research with B.A.R.K. on the role of therapy dogs in promoting well-being. 

She says that most research in this field has demonstrated the positive effects on women students. Her research project looked at whether participants who did not identify as women also benefitted to the same extent.

The study looked at a gender-diverse population – including women, men, non-binary, gender fluid, two -spirit – who spent 20 minutes with the dogs and then completed an assessment of well-being. The study found that there was “no significant effect of gender on well-being” and that dog therapy on university campuses is “equally effective across participants of varied genders.”

In one of her graduate courses, she’s bringing together her passion for therapy dogs and interest in technology, investigating whether creating a virtual reality environment that looks like a typical B.A.R.K. session could generate similar emotional benefits. 

Madisyn with a dog

B.A.R.K  Research Paper

Inspiring the next generation of engineers 

Madisyn attended a small school that included students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and she started a science club to give younger students more opportunities to explore science. When she got to university, she wanted to continue giving back and inspiring others. She connected with UBC Geering Up, starting out as an instructor and coding curriculum planner and then moving up to a leadership role to oversee all aspects of summer camps, workshops and outreach. 

“I taught students from Kindergarten all the way to Grade 12 – introducing them to engineering and basically anything that overlaps with STEM. I think it’s important to diversify the STEM fields and show students who are quite young how interesting and fun it can be.”

She believes programs like Geering Up play an important role in diversifying the engineering profession thanks to its programs that have designated spaces for girls or programs that partner with First Nations communities from around the province. 

“There is still a significant gender imbalance in some engineering areas,” says Madisyn. “In mechanical engineering, I am sometimes the only female in the room. Programs like Geering Up are important for getting more diverse people interested in STEM.”

UBC Geering Up


Committed to making a difference

With her passion for research, commitment to sustainability and interest in inspiring and educating others, Madisyn is excited for what lies ahead. 

“There are so many opportunities in the field of material science and sustainability,” she says. “We have a huge potential to make an impact.” 

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