MSE celebrates several NSF GRFP award winners

A total of 10 MSE-affiliated students have received a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
MSE celebrates several NSF GRFP award winners

Current students who have won a 2023 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship include (top) Kalyn Fuelling '23, Virgil Watkins '23, (bottom) Rishabh Kothari '22, Jason Manassa (PhD, Hovden), and Victor Vogt (PhD, Dasgupta).

MSE is proud to announce that 10 MSE-affiliated students have received 2023 NSF Research Graduate Fellowship (NSF GRFP) Awards, one of the highest counts in recent memory. Five are current undergraduate/graduate students, three are non-MSE students currently working in MSE labs, and two are MSE alumni.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing full-time STEM research-based master's and doctoral degrees. It provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated potential for significant research achievements.

Our winners and their research - sorted by affiliation - are listed below.

Current undergraduate and graduate students

Kalyn Fuelling '23 (Dasgupta group) - The reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) to multi-carbon products through electrochemical processes offers a promising solution to reduce elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Copper is the only known metallic heterogeneous catalyst that can produce hydrocarbon products from the carbon dioxide reduction reaction (CO2RR). However, controlling selectivity of the numerous possible gaseous and liquids products such as CO, methane, ethylene, ethane, formate, ethanol, and n-propanol remains a significant challenge. In addition, the instability of the catalyst during extended electrochemical reduction can directly impact the product evolution over time, preventing its industrial implementation. To improve selectivity and stability, bimetallic Cu catalysts have been synthesized with secondary elements including Ag, Au, and Pd. The addition of a second metal has been shown to lower the overpotential, influence the electron affinity for oxygen and carbon atom absorption, and modulate the binding energy, all of which will help improve selectivity or stability compared to Cu alone. However, these elements that are often used for bimetallic catalysts are rare and costly. Therefore, I propose to research the stability and selectivity of bimetallic Cu catalysts made from Al and Fe to create an earth-abundant, cost-effective, and highly selective CO2RR catalyst.

Rishabh Kothari '22 (Yalisove group, currently interning at Sandia Nat'l Labs) - Transistor technology is constantly being pushed to achieve smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient devices. To realize these goals while prioritizing sustainability, both novel materials solutions and processing options are required. Refractory metal silicides have been shown to improve device performance when used alongside or as a replacement for polysilicon. Of these silicides, tungsten disilicide (WSi2) can better withstand harsh conditions during integrated circuit manufacturing. By investigating the use of ultrafast lasers to fabricate WSi2, we can provide a low-energy and low-complexity processing option that will improve devices and reduce their fabrication energy cost.

Virgil Watkins '23 (Li group) - In Professor Yiyang Li's group Virgil studies the volatility and predictability of analog memory states in oxygen-vacancy based electrochemical random access memory (ECRAM) devices. ECRAM devices can be used as computing devices that co-locate the memory and processing elements on the same chip, allowing for drastic improvements in energy efficiency and faster computing speed. Using the fundamentals of thermodynamics, material kinetics, and electrochemistry Virgil grows oxygen-based ECRAM devices that are able to predictably switch between nonvolatile analog memory states.

Jason Manassa (PhD., Hovden group) - I am currently working on 3D visualization of nanoscale structures.  My group fuses experimental work imaging nanomaterials at the atomic length scale, and computational advances to reconstruct in 3D how particles look.  We can also slice through these objects to see the internal atomic structure, and even map where each element resides in our sample. I am also working on taking these 3D reconstructions and pairing them with holographic technology so that researchers can see and interact with the nanoscale structures they are imaging on an electron microscope. My research aims to enable researchers a new way of visualizing their materials that better encapsulates the 3D world we live in.

Victor Vogt (PhD., Dasgupta group) - My research focuses on atomic layer deposition (ALD) coating of silica aerogels for concentrated solar thermal (CST) energy applications, which has the potential to decarbonize industrial process heat. ALD modification can improve the thermal stability of aerogels to upwards of 800°C, and I am currently investigating its impact on the mechanical properties of aerogels. I am also working on the scale up of ALD modification to much larger tiles for a 1 meter scale prototype solar thermal receiver, which we are developing in collaboration with the Lenert lab in Chemical Engineering.


Non-MSE students working in MSE labs

Rameen Ahmad (PhD, Mehta group)

Madeline Eiken (BME PhD, Loebel group) - Alveoli, air sacs of the distal lung where gas exchange occurs, are composed of a variety of cell types. Alveolar epithelial type 2 (AT2) cells produce surfactant and act as stem cells that differentiate into squamous alveolar epithelial type 1 (AT1) cells which enable gas exchange. Recent studies indicate that there is a pre-AT1 transitional cell state (PATS) that emerges during AT2-to-AT1 differentiation. PATS cells persist in pulmonary fibrosis, a disease associated with an increased elastic modulus (stiffness) in the lungs. PATS persistence prevents complete differentiation, although the mechanism is not understood. My thesis work utilizes in vitro 3D models of the alveoli called alveolospheres. Alveolospheres are typically cultured in a naturally derived matrix called Matrigel, which offers no control over the modulus. My project utilizes hydrogels, water-swollen polymer networks with a tunable elastic modulus, as a scaffold for alveolosphere growth. I will utilize hydrogels to study the impact of stiffness and the role of cell signaling on differentiation. The approaches used in this project have broad applicability in studying the impact of stiffness on epithelial cell differentiation.

Emily Rennich '23 (ME, Hovden group) - Despite transmission electron microscopy (TEM)’s incredible potential for the exploration of quantum materials or radiation-sensitive matter, shortcomings in current ultra-low-temperature designs make these materials difficult or impossible to study. To dramatically expand the capabilities of these electron microscopes, we have designed a novel ultra-low-temperature TEM sample holder compatible with liquid helium. The holder, which can be loaded into modern TEM microscopes, achieves sub-35 K base temperatures with ±2 mK thermal stability continuously over +8-hour periods. A prototype of the tool has been used to detect a charge density wave transition in 2H-NbSe2 with a transition temperature of ~35 K, highlighting the capability of the instrument for the study of phase transitions in quantum materials.


MSE alumni

Jacob Pietryga '22 (Hovden group, now at Northwestern)

Alex Zimmerman '22 (Goldman group, now at Stanford)