Margeaux Wallace: A Ceramics Queen in the Making
Early career professionals are a lot like freshmen in high school – a little awkward and not really sure where they fit in. Yet just four years into her career, Margeaux Wallace’s story already reads like that of a seasoned engineer’s.
Margeaux’s love for science is deeply rooted. There was never any question she would pursue a career in materials science & engineering, specifically microstructure-processing-properties relationships. In simple terms, this is the understanding of how transforming a material from its raw state into a finished product influences the material’s structure, and therefore its properties and performance.
An undergrad degree in materials science and engineering from Cornell University parlayed into graduate school at Penn State University. There, Margeaux’s PhD advisor was Susan Trolier-McKinstry, a well-respected ceramic science and engineering professor who has co-authored hundreds of papers on thin films for dielectric and piezoelectric applications.
“Dr. Trolier-McKinstry is a remarkable role model who exemplifies the type of person I want to be. She is very good technically, very kind, but also has very high expectations,” said Margeaux. “She came up at a time when science was a lot less friendly to women. For that and many other reasons I have a great deal of respect and admiration for her.”
Margeaux quickly found herself dabbling in ceramics, and while that continues to be her focus today, her true passion remains materials science in general.
“Regardless of the material, it still has to obey the laws of physics, and there are a lot of interesting problems out there to solve! I’m most interested in working on difficult problems, regardless of the material system.”
Margeaux joined GE Research in March 2016. For her, it was a goal come true; she had become quite familiar with GE’s work in materials science during her time at Penn State. A strong work ethic and impressive proficiency in the field gained her a great reputation, grabbed the attention of GE Research leaders, and earned her a promotion to lead engineer for ceramics in April 2018.
Serving in this role today, Margeaux’s focus is on ceramic-based thermal barrier coatings (TBCs), mainly for GE Aviation applications. These coatings are applied to turbine components to increase engine performance by augmenting temperature capability and/or extending component service intervals. TBCs have been around for decades, but their microstructures and application methods continue to evolve.
Margeaux is playing a key role in this journey for GE, working with Aviation’s services group to address issues they see in the field with solutions that keep engines flying longer. For TBCs, a big challenge is that in hot and harsh conditions, deposits of fine particulates from the environment (e.g. sand, ash, sea salt, etc.) are ingested into the engine and can degrade the coating.
“Our goal is to introduce and develop materials and techniques to shield or restore our TBCs in these aggressive environments. It’s even better when we can do these repairs while the engine is on-wing, providing as little disruption to the customer as possible,” said Margeaux. “With aviation growing in areas with more aggressive conditions, we are seeing new degradation mechanisms and materials issues we need to understand. As materials scientists, we play a pretty important role in solving these problems.”
Executing TBC research & development means Margeaux spends a lot of time in the lab at GE Research Niskayuna brainstorming and developing new materials solutions to problems facing TBCs. She communicates regularly with her collaborative partners at GE Aviation, spends time at the business’s headquarters in Evendale, Ohio, and travels all over the world to GE Aviation repair shops and customer sites to complete in situ testing.
GE Research’s TBC program has celebrated many victories since Margeaux joined the team, and GE Aviation has recognized the young engineer’s contributions. In the third quarter of 2019, Margeaux was awarded a GE Aviation Engineering Excellence Award for her leadership of shop trials and engine trials for two TBC repair programs – TBC Shield and TBC Patch. Margeaux worked hard to ensure collaboration between all parties involved; trial success means the programs continue to move forward.
Outside of her duties as lead engineer, Margeaux helps plan and run events for the GE Women’s Network, an internal organization designed to attract, develop, inspire, and retain female professional talent. Margeaux’s involvement is personal and by way of the organization she has not only found more great role models, but she’s building the confidence of the next generation of female engineers.
“I think women and minorities have a tendency to discount themselves and question opportunities, and I think that has a lot to do with a lack of role models,” she said. “But GE’s setting a great example with their Women’s Network. The program empowers women, helps members cultivate leadership skills, builds confidence, and shows us a clear path for future career opportunities.”
As the leader of the scholarship committee for the Women's Network Capital District NY Hub, Margeaux raises money to fund scholarships that are awarded to female engineering students through the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). These merit-based scholarships can have a huge impact, and as Margeaux explained, often instill confidence in young females that their talents are wanted and needed in the field.
In 2018, the GE Women’s Network recognized Margeaux for consistently delivering in uncertain times; for the past three consecutive years, she has led or co-led the committee in raising enough money to fund seven (sometimes eight) scholarships, equating to more than $35,000 raised annually.
Moving forward, Margeaux hopes to climb the ladder at GE and looks forward to having more of a voice in shaping GE’s future. In the meantime, she’s enjoying her time in ceramics and confidently saying yes to the opportunities that come her way.