Published: April 5, 2024 By

Five chemical and biological engineering graduate students and one ChBE undergraduate student have received 2024 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, a prestigious award that recognizes and supports outstanding students in a wide variety of science-related disciplines. This year the NSF awarded 27 University of Colorado Boulder students, including 18 from the College of Engineering and Applied Science, with the graduate research fellowship.

Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $37,000 and full coverage of tuition, fees and insurance, along with opportunities for international research and professional development that span five years. 

Emma Aldrich

Biological Engineering
Advisor: Kayla Sprenger

My research leverages computational tools to address questions in immunology, inflammation and cancer. Specifically, I aim to investigate novel therapeutics between Alzheimer’s Disease and glioma, using physics-based simulations to identify and target mechanisms that disrupt the tumor immunoediting process. One of my current projects is investigating how TREM2, a protein expressed on the immune cells of the brain, can mediate tumor suppression mechanisms of a platinum-IV chemotherapeutics in colorectal cancer. Creative applications of computational pipelines allow me to ask new questions at the interface of immunology, oncology and engineering, hopefully leading to solutions to urgent challenges. 

Timotej Bernat

Chemical Engineering
Advisor: Michael R. Shirts

My research focuses on development of software and techniques for constructing and modeling general organic polymer systems at the atomic, molecular and nanoscale using molecular dynamics. Polymer design is essential to many active research areas including identifying suitable sustainable and recyclable plastics, compatibilizing polymer-biopolymer interfaces for biomedical engineering and therapeutics, and designing self-healing materials with dynamic covalent networks. However, systematic exploration of chemical and morphological polymer design spaces is practically impossible using experimental methods alone and requires assistance from computational structure-function models. I am currently active in two sustainability-driven collaborations with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), dealing with high-throughput screening of biomass-derived replacements for petroleum plastic monomers and lignin-derived replacements for common commercial plasticizers, respectively.


Zoe Cruse

Chemical and Biological Engineering (undergraduate)
Advisors: Wyatt Shields and Ankur Gupta

The goal of my research is to build a deeper understanding of active particle systems for improving targeted systems, such as targeted drug delivery. By leveraging both computational frameworks and experimental methodologies, I will gain a holistic understanding of how we can fabricate microparticle systems and integrate them into biological environments safely and effectively. In doing so, I hope to develop a framework that allows researchers to bridge the gap between the lab bench and patient bedsides. I look forward to starting my  PhD at the University of Michigan this fall! 

Olivia Irvin

Biological Engineering
Advisor: Timothy Whitehead

In my research, I use protein engineering to make better influenza vaccine immunogens. I use computational design tools, yeast display and deep sequencing techniques to redesign viral proteins. Upon immunization with these proteins, the immune system should more robustly target regions of the influenza protein that offer broader protection against a variety of flu strains. 

David Saeb

Chemical Engineering
Advisor: Kayla Sprenger

My research uses computational tools, namely molecular dynamics simulations, to determine the protein-ligand binding mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, I aim to understand how an immune receptor protein known as TREM2, and its soluble form, modulate neuroinflammation. The ultimate goal of my project is to combine computational and wet lab tools to design novel Alzheimer's therapeutics. 


Katie Trese

Biological Engineering
Advisor: Wyatt Shields

Some immune cell types are particularly good at migrating to sites of inflammation, such as solid cancer tumors. The goal of my project is to harness this capability of immune cells to bring drug-loaded nanoparticles directly to diseased tissue. To do so, I will investigate nanoparticle engineering, the ability of sound waves to purify cells, and the effect of nanoparticles on immune cell behavior. My hope is that the work done in this project will improve accessibility and patient outcomes for cell-based immunotherapies for a variety of treatment scenarios.