Published: April 27, 2022 By

Four graduate students from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering accepted offers to join the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP), which provides recognition and financial support for outstanding students working in STEM fields.

“Our department proactively supports our students' pursuit of national fellowships such as the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship," said Gallogly Professor of Engineering and graduate chair Timothy White. "We are proud of the collective talents of our graduate students and work to support them to secure recognition such as this to enable their professional development as they progress towards their independent research careers.”

Davis R. Conklin, Weimer Group

Davis Conklin’s research focuses on particle atomic layer deposition (ALD), an ultra-precise technique for modifying the surfaces of particles.

“This is an incredibly useful tool that has a wide range of applications, such as increasing the lifetime of lithium-ion batteries, tailoring catalysts to help close the carbon cycle and creating robust nuclear fuel elements to propel the next generation of crewed spacecraft,” Conklin said. “The performance advantages of ALD are well-documented, but there is a disconnect between academic research and widespread commercial implementation due to challenges in scaling up the particle ALD process.”

The money from the fellowship will allow Conklin to develop a new type of reactor for ALD experiments, one that will significantly increase scalability through continuous operation.

"Converting particle ALD to a continuous process will require new insight into ALD surface reaction kinetics, modeling and verification of a new reactor design, and collaboration with industry partners to ensure commercial viability,” he said. “If successful, my research will make high-precision, solvent-free ALD coatings more accessible to manufacturers and accelerate the deployment of advanced energy technologies.”

Melvin E. and Virginia M. Clark Professor Alan Weimer is Conklin’s advisor.

“Davis is particularly interested in computational modeling with experimental validation, doing both theory and experiments for fine metals deposition by atomic layer deposition,” Weimer said. “He has three years of research experience with both NIST and NREL. He has published nine peer-reviewed papers and made three presentations at professional meetings. Davis has been a very strong mentor with undergraduates and supporting fellow graduate research assistants. He contributes enthusiastically to scientific discussions, is a strong team player and has an excellent curiosity for research."

Jessica Hauck, Weimer Group

Jessica Hauck utilizes ALD to study and develop catalysts for sustainable energy applications.

“Specifically, I am investigating a one-step catalytic-chemical vapor deposition process to produce carbon nanofibers, carbon nanoparticles and hydrogen from methane with the ultimate application of repurposing flared natural gas,” Hauck said. “In partnership with the Hubler group in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, we are researching the carbon product to reduce cracking and improve the durability of ultra-high purity concrete.”

Hauck is also advised by Professor Alan Weimer.

“Jess has a strong interest in catalysis, coming to CU Boulder after three years in industry working for a small startup catalyst company in California,” Weimer said. “As an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara, Jess served as president of the Engineers Without Borders chapter for three years and carried out remote projects in Kenya and Rwanda. She is empathetic, smart and mature, is a team player, has a positive attitude and is perseverant when challenges arise. She is a great addition to my research group.”

Trisha Nickerson, Toney Group

Trisha Nickerson’s research goal is to better understand the molecular-level processes that determine the performance of polymeric water filtration membranes.

“We will be probing the local, nanoscale environment of ions within hydrated commercial membrane polymers to understand their hydration state and bonding environment using advanced X-ray characterization techniques,” Nickerson said. “Knowledge of an ion's local bonding environment will help elucidate transport pathways and rejection mechanisms that determine membrane performance and hopefully allow for the development of improved computational models and membrane materials.”

Nickerson is co-advised by Professor Michael Toney and Professor Anthony Straub.

“Trisha’s research involves developing better ways to purify water through innovative approaches to understand molecular-level interactions responsible for purification,” Toney said. “In addition, Trisha is very passionate about energy justice and the social justice aspects of clean water. This, along with her research, led to her receiving this award. Professor Straub and I are proud of her accomplishments."

Lacey Roberts, Toney Group

Lacey Roberts researches zinc metal batteries (ZMBs) with various aqueous electrolytes, including highly concentrated electrolytes, through collaboration with researchers from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research.

“ZMBs offer a safer and lower cost battery compared to lithium ion but suffer from degradation associated with recharging,” Roberts said. “I am studying these degradation processes by utilizing characterization techniques such as x-ray diffraction and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. The research produced with my collaborators at the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research will be used to design optimal electrolytes for ZMBs.”

Professor Toney lauded Roberts’ research achievements and STEM outreach efforts.

“I am very proud of Lacey for receiving an NSF fellowship related to her research on aqueous Zn-batteries and for her outreach activities in the Boulder Valley School District and now for Denver public schools,” Toney said. “She brings a lot of enthusiasm to both the broader impacts of her work and outreach as well as her Zn battery science as part of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research. I look forward to seeing the impact of her electrochemical energy storage research on grid-level storage.”

The NSF GRFP provides three years of financial support with annual stipends of $34,000 for the students, with an additional $12,000 provided as a cost of education allowance to their respective institutions.

Alexis Phillips of the White Group was also selected but accepted another fellowship. Talaial Alina of the Cha and Goodwin Group received an Honorable Mention from NSF.