Published: Aug. 26, 2020 By

Graduate students Kathryn Mains and Kyle Schlafmann have earned fellowships in the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program, a prestigious, national security-focused initiative.

The Department of Defense offers three-year fellowships within the program each year “to individuals who have demonstrated ability and special aptitude for advanced training in science and engineering.”

Kathryn Mains

Kathryn MainsMains, a member of the Fox Group, sees renewable energy as critical to both environmental sustainability and national security.

“I am working to eliminate our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels—a technological achievement that could slow climate change, stabilize energy markets and enhance energy security—by developing biological systems that build oleochemicals from renewable resources,” she said.

“Katie is interested in extending our work on biocatalytic systems to the assembly of microbial ‘factories’ that can synthesize multiple, well-defined sets of oleochemicals—for example, biofuels—on demand,” said her advisor Assistant Professor Jerome Fox. “This focus is motivated by her affinity for sustainable chemistry and her lifelong interest in renewable energy.”

The NDSEG Fellowship will provide the funding for Mains to pursue her interest in using microbial systems to create renewable oleochemicals and help her design her own research projects—a key skill set she will need as an engineer in a national or academic lab. She plans on focusing her research on defense-applicable technologies, including microbes to create fuels, degrading synthetic chemicals like those found in plastics, and the assembly of complex materials such as circuits.

Kyle Schlafmann

Schlafmann works in the White Group, which has a history of working on defense-related technologies.

Kyle Schlaffman“I am honored to have been selected by the Department of Defense and sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for this award,” Schlafmann said. “My interest in developing, advancing and implementing novel optical responses in polymeric materials broadly serves the needs of the Department of Defense and, specifically, the Air Force.”

“I was ecstatic when Kyle told me he received the NDSEG,” said his advisor, Gallogly Professor Timothy White. “We are already seeing benefits of the interaction between our group and  personnel in the Department of Defense. Kyle is a hardworking and diligent student. The NDSEG is a testament to his academic qualifications, communication abilities and research acumen.”

Schlafmann sees the fellowship as an opportunity to connect with fellow researchers and plans to use the funding for professional development as a way to access a variety of events and programs to forge those connections.

“Through summer research exchanges, potential collaborations with Department of Defense researchers and travel allocations for national conferences, I hope to add a unique and enlightening context to my education here at the University of Colorado Boulder, while also preparing myself professionally for the road ahead.”

Congress established the Department of Defense NDSEG Fellowship Program in 1989 to increase the number of American citizens trained in science and engineering fields related to the military, resulting in more doctorate-level researchers working in defense priority areas of research and development.

Mains and Schlaffman join six other CU Boulder student-researchers who earned NDSEG Fellowships, including three students from the Ann & H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, two from the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and one student from the Department of Physics.