Published: May 14, 2021

A whopping 25 CU Boulder engineering students have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships this spring, a recognition of their strong potential for outstanding research in graduate school and beyond.

Fellows in the competitive program receive a three-year stipend of $34,000 annually, coverage of tuition and fees, and opportunities for international research and professional development. Out of roughly 13,000 applicants last year, only 2,000 were offered fellowships.

“These awards are extremely beneficial to the pursuit of their personal passions in their field, and it’s also incredibly helpful to their department and the university,” said Meredith Canode, director of graduate programs for the college. “We are delighted for these students and so proud of their efforts.”

For the first time last fall, the College of Engineering and Applied Science collaborated with the Graduate School to host an NSF GRFP informational seminar and writing workshop, with additional financial support from the College of Arts & Sciences. 

The workshop assisted prospective applicants with small-group coaching with scientific and technical writing instructors to prepare strong submissions. Nearly 20% of workshop attendees received the fellowship this year. The workshop will repeat in September or October 2021 for the next cycle.

Congratulations to all of our deserving fellowship winners!

Pablo Argote

Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering

"As a biomedical engineer by training, I am interested in the intersection of electromagnetism and biomechanics to evaluate joint health for healing disease and optimizing performance. As a mechanical engineering PhD student and research assistant in the Soft Tissue Bioengineering Lab led by Corey Neu, my research focuses on the noninvasive measurement of cartilage electromechanical properties by MRI.

Specifically, we are probing for new diagnostic biomarkers of osteoarthritis at the earliest stages with custom-built MRI-compatible loading devices for in vivo applications. Tremendous potential exists in the translation of the imaging methods and algorithms we are developing, especially since it will expand our understanding of the solid mechanics and electrokinetic influence on ionic and interstitial fluid flow in cartilage and osteoarthritis.

I’m excited about my research because of the future discoveries and technology developments that could help people ranging from patients to astronauts."

Zachary Baumer

Chemical & Biological Engineering

Baumer focuses his research on engineering proteins with new functionalities, as well as biotechnology for speciality chemical production for applications in therapeutics, biosensors, meat alternatives and more.

"It is an honor to represent my family as a first generation college graduate and now graduate student, as well as the ChBE department at CU Boulder, as an NSF GRFP Fellow. Our department did a terrific job helping us prepare for this fellowship application, and it shows in my many talented peers that were recognized with awards and honorable mentions. This fellowship means a lot to me and I aim to uphold the values of the National Science Foundation and the intentions of the fellowship. I am excited for the doors that this award may open in regards to collaborations and resources to ensure my success in research and graduate school over the next few years.

"There are many people to thank: the NSF, the ChBE department as a whole, my family, friends and mentors, especially those who wrote letters on my behalf: Dr. Carrie Eckert and Dr. Ryan Morrison. I also want to specifically thank my awesome advisor, Tim Whitehead, who has been instrumental to my progress as a scholar and researcher over the last eight years, and for all that he has done for me."

Nathan Bonham

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

In 2011, Turkey and Syria’s heads of state celebrated on the banks of the Orontes River. After decades of disputed territory and no agreements over this transboundary water body, the nations’ leaders laid the foundation stone of a ‘Friendship Dam’ on their shared border. One month later, Syria collapsed into civil war. Today, the Orontes River Basin and its denizens face an uncertain future considering not only post-war recovery, but also plans by Lebanon to further develop the basin headwaters.

Simulation models are often used by government entities and NGOs to inform decisions about infrastructure planning, management strategies, and resource allocation to mitigate unfavorable outcomes. However, high-conflict basins often lack recent ground observations of hydro-climatic parameters and infrastructure needed for traditional model-based decision support. Effective water management strategies can overcome data-scarcity and evolving situations in transboundary water basins by harnessing advances in remote sensing and machine learning while advancing decision making under deep uncertainty. The Orontes River Basin will be used as a case study because its challenges of data scarcity, transboundary complications, and uncertain recovery are indicative of other war-torn basins.

Matthew Bossart

Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering

Bossart’s research focus is on the transient stability of large power systems under high penetrations of inverter-based generation, such as wind and solar. He hopes to leverage novel techniques in scientific machine learning to study the stability regions of such systems, optimize the location of resources, and develop new control strategies. 

Lianne Brito

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

"I am studying a phenomenon called liquefaction which makes the strength and stiffness of saturated granular soils rapidly decrease, due to an increase in excess pore water pressure during earthquake loading, which consequently causes the soil to behave as a "liquid" momentarily, producing substantial damage to building structure and lifelines.

To put it in perspective, during the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquake Sequence in Christchurch, New Zealand, nearly 50% of the central business district in Christchurch was damaged by soil liquefaction, affecting 60,000 residential buildings and properties. I am specifically studying the influence of stratigraphic variability and layering on liquefaction manifestation and consequences near and away from structures.

In order to accomplish this, I will be performing a series of centrifuge models to be tested at 70g centrifugal acceleration in a transparent rigid box I designed at CU Boulder's 400 g-ton, 5.5 m-radius centrifuge facility. We will also be implementing particle image velocimetry (PIV), which, in recent years has been implemented in the analysis of centrifuge experiments to monitor deformation mechanisms within a visible soil section. The test series will allow me to isolate and fundamentally quantify and visualize the different mechanisms of seismic deformation in layered and stratified soils."

Anton Buynovskiy

Ann & H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences

"I am currently the Student Science/Instrument lead for an NSF-funded CubeSat mission studying the LEO environment called Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX). This mission uses a swarm configuration of 3 identical satellites to measure the atmosphere to better understand some of the features and perturbations that occur in LEO.

My research for the duration of my PhD will focus on modeling and characterizing the LEO environment using the latest modeling techniques, as well as developing an instrument called FIPEX to take in-situ neutral atmospheric measurements in LEO. The goal is to launch FIPEX on the SWARM-EX CubeSats to acquire more in-situ data to get a better understanding of the interactions in the LEO environment and help substantiate current physical models. With this research I hope to evolve FIPEX to have a higher Technology Readiness Level and help advance modeling methods for future applications."

Chris Calo

Chemical & Biological Engineering

Calo seeks to use physiologically relevant microfluidic devices to study the innate immune system, specifically to investigate the effects of environmental cues such as extracellular matrix elasticity and composition on the neutrophil response during infection and sterile injury.

"It is a huge honor to represent CU Boulder's Chemical and Biological Engineering Department as an NSF GRFP Fellow. The numerous awards and honorable mentions received by my peers and me are a testament to the strength of our department and how it sets students up to succeed. As such, I would like to thank the department as well as my mentors: Dr. Laurel Hind, Dr. April Kloxin, Dr. Christopher Bowman, Dr. Katherine Wiley, Dr. Paige LeValley and Dr. Heidi Culver for their continued guidance and support.

"I am incredibly excited, as this award will not only help further my research by providing resources and opening doors for new collaborations but also aid in my professional development over the course of my graduate studies."

Bethany-Anne Calvert

Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering

"I am an incoming mechanical PhD student this fall at CU Boulder.

I will be working with Sean Humbert in the Bio-Inspired Perception and Robotics Laboratory. My research will focus on rotary, fixed and flapping MAV flight dynamics and controls. Specifically, I will be manipulating a control system using hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic (HASEL) actuators to mimic the biomimetic movements in bird wings.

With this research, I hope to improve the reaction of MAV flight to react to unpredictable gusts of wind more efficiently."

Allison Crow

Chemical & Biological Engineering

Crow works on scaling and integrating technologies to capture and convert carbon dioxide to high value chemicals to combat anthropogenic climate change. Crow believes electrochemical CO2 can leverage renewable energy to drive the efficient production of carbon-based chemicals.

"I am surprised and honored to win the NSF GRFP. Thank you to my mentors, research team and family for supporting me through this process and my academic career. I look forward to putting this fellowship to work developing new carbon conversion technologies for our clean energy future."

Jeremy Herman

Chemical & Biological Engineering

Herman's research involves understanding polymer networks containing appreciable liquid crystalline content and how they might be used for dynamic optics or as a means of creating solid-state refrigeration devices by harnessing their elastocaloric effect.

"It is a great honor to receive this award. First and foremost I would like to thank my adviser Dr. Timothy J. White for his constant guidance and support in my graduate studies and research. I would also like to thank my undergraduate adviser Dr. Brad Jones at Sandia National Laboratories for his help and guidance in my undergraduate research studies. This award will help me tremendously in my research and academic pursuits in creating new and exciting elastocaloric materials."

Elizabeth Hjelvik

Materials Science & Engineering

Hjelvik seeks to improve the performance, durability and energy efficiency of water separation membranes through chemical modification of material surfaces. Her research background encompasses multiple fields, including surface chemistry, polymers and nanomaterials.

“My interest in NSF started in my undergraduate laboratory,” Hjelvik said. “The researchers would talk about how the NSF was the highest honor a graduate student could achieve.”

Matthew Jungclaus

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

Jungclaus will be working to develop theoretical materials and embodied carbon benchmarks for buildings to inform low carbon design, construction, and policy. Embodied carbon, or the carbon emissions associated with construction and the extraction, manufacturing, and disposal of building materials, is currently responsible for 23% of global CO2 emissions, and will continue to grow as global construction rates rise in the coming decades.

His research will establish a science-based methodology for creating benchmark embodied carbon models that represent common commercial and residential building types in the United States. These models will enable researchers to develop embodied carbon emissions projections for the entire U.S. building stock over the next 30 years, including climate change mitigation scenarios.

Sung Min Kim

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

"My graduate research centers on energy market optimization and high renewable integration to bridge the gap between business decision-making and engineering risk analysis. I have explored financial and economic implications of high renewable generation on power systems and power generation under hydrologic constraints.

My NSF GRFP proposal expands upon previous work to better understand the tradeoffs between energy and water resources via multi-objective evolutionary algorithms in long-term planning optimization for power systems."

Alyssa Lalko

Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering

"I am an incoming PhD student in mechanical engineering and will be working in Greg Rieker’s Precision Laser Diagnostics for Energy and the Environment Lab.

My research objective will be to develop a portable laser that monitors atmospheric toxics. Various pollutants can be detected with mid-infrared (mid-IR) electromagnetic waves, but laser-based sensors must be improved to function in the mid-IR range while being small enough to operate in the field.

I aim to have this technology help cities, companies and countries analyze how they affect air quality at local and global scales, and I am looking forward to beginning my PhD research."

Alison Leonard

Chemical & Biological Engineering

The Whitehead group specializes in designing and engineering proteins for affinity, specificity and function; identifying protein sequences’ functional constraints for evolvability; plant synthetic biology and developing enzymes and microbes for renewable biomass conversion.

"As a biochemistry undergraduate major, I often joke that I came into engineering through the back door. My range of experiences makes me the scientist I am today, and I'm proud that the NSF recognizes and values that about me. Thank you also to the Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology program here at CU for helping to cultivate the skills I need to succeed in computational research."

Shu-Yu (Michelle) Lin

Ann & H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences

"My research considers the cognitive ergonomics of spacecraft habitat design, and I operate within the subfield of space architecture.

I aim to quantify and qualify how architecture design decisions can impact the operability and perception of spaces in ICE (Isolated, Confined, and Extreme) environments. This work has applications for microgravity habitats, surface habitats, analogs, and terrestrial housing with limited volume."

Greg Lund

Ann & H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences

"Senior undergrad continuing onto graduate school in the fall (eventual PhD). Most likely will be going to Stanford for the MS program in Aero/Astro, but this is subject to change.

I was brought onto ARPG to help support the DARPA Subterranean Challenge team MARBLE that is based out of ARPG (includes other faculty in ME/Aero as well). This initial support consisted of hardware development for the robotic platforms, namely a deployable communications beacon to relay information between robots and the human supervisor during competitions. Over the past year I've been more involved in algorithms research, and the project that I led was to investigate methods for effectively navigating robots in human crowds. I've also been helping one of the PhD students with exploration-based visual perception research over the past few months."

Nataliya Nechyporenko

We often see robots with hands, legs, torsos, and heads. Although they are designed to look like a person, we rarely see them behave like one, especially when getting a task done. The cold metallic exterior of a robot does not feel the presence of a human and prohibits it from physical contact. At the Human Interaction and Robotics Group (HIRO) in the Computer Science Department at CU Boulder, I will research novel hardware and software technologies used to maximize the utility of robot embodiment to enhance natural human-robot cooperation. For example, instead of a numb surface robots will be equipped with sensor units that mimic skin. With this technology, I can study how the sense of touch enriches a robot's perception and self-awareness, allowing it to be more versatile and collaborative. I want to see robots widely employed in professional, domestic, and medical settings working side-by-side with their human companions. With the NSF fellowship and my research team at CU Boulder, I have the time and the resources to be creative in a world of technology. The fellowship fosters community giving and support, which I hope to continue through my involvement here in Boulder.

Skye Reese

Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering

Reese is looking into capacitive wireless power transfer applied to vehicle electrification.

Using GaN transistors and resonant tank network optimizations, the goal is to find a safe and cost-effective way to charge vehicles while they are driving on the road, ultimately leading to reduced vehicle emissions. She is also looking into machine learning techniques for predicting component parameters based on commercially available components. This system will be used to more easily design and build converters under various parameter constraints.

Katelyn Reeves

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

"I am currently part of the team collecting wastewater from our on-campus dormitories and analyzing it for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Wastewater testing is powerful in part because both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected individuals shed SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their feces. By sampling from the aggregated wastewater discharges of on-campus residents, we can essentially test whole buildings at once for the presence of COVID-19.

"This effort allows us to get a better understanding of campus infection prevalence in an efficient and non-invasive way. It also allows us to target certain dormitories for comprehensive individual testing for early identification of infected persons. Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, my research will center on engineering applications of the microbial ecology of our built environment, with particular focus on sewer systems. Wastewater is not just waste - it's a valuable resource!"

Victoria Reichelderfer

Chemical & Biological Engineering

Reichelderfer researches how lipid bilayers can be used to stabilize and rescue proteins, such as alpha-synuclein—which causes Parkinson's Disease—and insulin, which has significant pharmaceutical relevance. With tuned compositions, lipid bilayers can be optimized to interact favorably with a wide array of proteins, offering many therapeutic and pharmaceutical applications. Through the use of a variety of spectroscopic techniques, Reichelderfer seeks to observe the changes in the structure of these proteins upon interaction with lipid bilayers to elucidate the underlying mechanism of how the bilayers rescue proteins so effectively.

"I would like to thank Joel Kaar and Dan Schwartz for helping me with the application but also for being outstanding, supportive advisors in general. I also want to thank Dr. Serge Nahkmanson, who was my undergraduate research advisor at the University of Connecticut, and Dr. Erin Corbett, who organizes the volunteer programs in prisons which I participate in. Also, everyone in the Kaar and Schwartz research groups! I am very excited to have received the NSF fellowship and to continue doing exciting research at CU!"

Robert Sasse

Ann & H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences

"I am currently working on Project TORUS, a collaborative research project between CU Boulder, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Texas Tech University, the University of Oklahoma, and NOAA. My research relates to tornadogenesis and is focused on developing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to collect in-situ data for supercell tornado producing weather events.

This work includes designing and running computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to conduct performance analyses of the UAS. The results of these simulations are being used to inform sensor calibration as well as design decisions for sensor placement and orientation on the airframe. The UAS will be flown next spring to collect data on supercell storms around the Great Plains. As I continue my research as a graduate student, I look forward to working on more projects that bring aerospace engineering and climate modeling together."

Lea Savard

Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering

"I am a first-year graduate student working toward a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. My research is at the intersection of biology and mechanical engineering. My research focuses on the study of supportive ligaments in the female reproductive study in order to better understand how pelvic organ prolapse occurs.

My research examines how these ligaments change during pregnancy and with other factors (age, parity: the amount of times a women has given birth, exercise, etc.) I am trying to quantify the mechanical strength of the ligaments as well as understand what happens to the extracellular matrix components of the ligament. Throughout my PhD research, I hope to elucidate the mechanisms that lead to failure in the ligaments, resulting in prolapse."

Kieran Smith

Ann & H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences

"I am studying the feasibility of using galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) as a display to provide users with new forms of information in new ways. GVS uses electrodes behind the ear to stimulate the vestibular system and send orientation information to the user, and I am working to develop a system that can provide both event cues and directional information in a way that doesn't destabilize the user."

Olivia Tonti

Biomedical Engineering

"I am a first-year biomedical engineering PhD student working in Sarah Calve’s Musculoskeletal Extracellular Matrix Laboratory.

My current research explores proteomic changes in developing mouse hindlimbs, focusing on how mechanical loading resulting from embryonic motility affects the development of the tendon-bone enthesis. I plan to translate this research to study the spatiotemporal proteome distribution and mechanical properties of the glial and fibrotic scars after traumatic spinal cord injury."

Emily Zuetell

Paul M. Rady Mechanical Engineering

"I am currently a senior in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics. As an undergraduate at CU Boulder, my advisor was Mark Rentschler in the Advanced Medical Technologies Lab.

Beginning in fall 2021, I will be pursuing my PhD at Carnegie Mellon University in Engineering and Public Policy conducting research with the Electricity Growth and Use In Developing Economies (e-GUIDE) Initiative. My research will aim to leverage machine learning, GIS and data analytics to develop electricity demand models and tools to plan and operate electricity infrastructure in developing regions. This work has applications for the deployment of electricity infrastructure to improve agricultural productivity in East Africa."