From NYU to Skoltech: a Journey in Renewable Energy.
Charles Belina, MSc graduate / Materials Science
Meet Charles Belina, graduate of the Materials Science Master's program from the United States. After studying physics at NYU, Charles made a life-changing decision to move to Moscow and join Skoltech.

It was a decision he didn't regret.
about me
I was born and raised in Memphis, TN, a large city in the American South. During high school, it became clear to me that I wanted to study in a different part of the States to see new surroundings and meet different types of people. These desires led me to New York University (NYU), where I double-majored in Physics and Philosophy. About half-way through my undergraduate program, I realized that of my two majors, I was drawn more to physics and began conducting research in NYU's Center for Soft Matter Research.
why Skoltech?
The main factors in my decision to apply to Skoltech were the university's location near Moscow and the fit I felt with the Center for Electrochemical Storage [editor's note: now it's the Center for Energy Science and Technology, CEST]. The prospect of moving across the world to Moscow and living in Russia really appealed to me because I was studying the Russian language and wanted to immerse myself in the culture. For someone who had only lived in his home country, Skoltech promised the adventure and excitement of getting to know a foreign culture.

More importantly, I found a good fit between my passion and the education offered at Skoltech. I was interested in the problem of climate change throughout my undergraduate studies, and as I explored various master's programs, I was viewing them with this in mind. In particular, I wanted to move into research facilitating the transition to more sustainable energy sources. At Skoltech, I found a program dedicated to just that.

I applied because of the two reasons above, but it was not until I actually visited Skoltech over the Selection Weekend event that I really fell in love with the university. Over those days, I got to know both (1) how smart the people I would be studying with were, and (2) how collaborative and team-oriented a Skoltech education would be. I still remember leaving that weekend feeling so excited and hopeful that Skoltech would accept me.
studying at Skoltech
My two favorite courses were Stochastic Modeling and Processes (Prof. Chertkov) and Ideas to Impact (Prof. Tekic). My thesis research work required me to program quite a bit, and in the first of these courses, I enjoyed using this computer programming knowledge to solve different types of problems. For example, my final project involved taking blurry images and using stochastic processes to recover some of the lost details.

The Ideas to Impact course encourages you to think about how to translate pure scientific knowledge into useful technology. You frequently run across this concept at Skoltech, and because of this, Ideas to Impact really encapsulated and drove home the Skoltech experience for me.

If I were to describe this experience in 3 words, they would be:

  • Independent because I had a large amount of freedom when it came to research. Skoltech research trajectories are very student-driven, and the decisions about where your research goes ultimately lie with you.
  • Collaborative because sharing and developing ideas with my peers was a large part of Skoltech for me. Many courses revolved around group projects, and some of my fondest memories from that time are of working until late into the night to finish projects with my teammates.
  • Fast because the two years flew by. Make sure to explore and take advantage of all the resources at your disposal while you are a student!

research
My research (under Prof. Zhugayevych) focused on furthering our understanding of organic polymers which can be used in solar panels and flexible electronics. In particular, we focused on explaining how different atomic-level microstructures lead to different optoelectronic properties in the resultant material. These organic polymers are interesting because, due to their lack of rigidity, the same polymer can settle into one of a multitude of positions.

We took one of these polymers and used molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to determine how different annealing temperature influence the microstructures which emerge. This dependence is important because the optoelectronic properties which govern how these polymers behave in devices are themselves functions of the polymer microstructure. Thus, in linking annealing temperature to microstructure and then microstructure to optoelectronic properties (i.e., performance), one can optimize a production process which uses these polymers.

Materials Science
Modern industry is in great need of professionals in materials science, ready to develop new materials and devices for application in renewable energy, consumer electronics, healthcare, and other areas. Our practical approach gives our graduates the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills for success in electronics, energy, chemicals, automotive industry, and other sectors. Learn more>>
professional life and future plans
Although my current work is much different than my research at Skoltech, many of the skills I learned there help me today. I believe the general analytical framework reinforced at Skoltech works, regardless of which industry you enter.

For the past year and a half, I have been working in consulting in New York for Management Solutions and am currently working on my third project. The clients I have worked with are large, multinational banks and a financial risk agency, and although the projects differ in nature, they typically deal with credit risk modeling or reimagining bank processes. For example, one bank we consulted for was concerned with the machine learning models it uses for consumer lending and wanted to better understand the decisions which the models were making.

In the near future, I hope to marry the work I am doing in finance now with the climate change concerns which led me to Russia. My experiences at Skoltech involved me in the scientific side of the energy industry and the power sources of the future, and the work I am doing now allows me to understand the financial drivers which move energy markets. As climate risk is becoming a hot topic in finance and concepts such as ESG investing are taking off, our firm is starting to build projects around helping clients assess climate risks present in their investments. My near-term goals are to contribute on these types of projects and to continue furthering my understanding of the energy industry.

advice for students in STEM
My advice for incoming Skoltech students, and for STEM students in general, would be to take ownership of your research path early on. This means being proactive in your first days on campus, connecting with your professors, and understanding their specific research interests. There are many different types of research going on at Skoltech, so it takes time, diligence, and constant questioning to refine your general interests into a specific research problem; however, once you have settled on this problem, it will motivate you and drive your decisions over the two years.
and now about Skoltech
We are Skoltech – a new international English-speaking STEM university that was founded by the group of world-renowned scientists in 2011 in Moscow, Russia. In just 8 years, we united dozens of researchers and globally renowned professors, built a stunning campus, set up world-class labs and made it to the top 100 young universities in the Nature Index. Read more >>
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