Published: Sept. 28, 2022 By

Twenty three CU Boulder engineering students have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for 2022, a recognition of their strong potential for outstanding research in graduate school and beyond.

Fellows in the competitive program receive a three-year stipend, coverage of tuition and fees, and opportunities for international research and professional development.

CU Boulder ranks 10th among universities in the United States for graduate research fellowship recipients for 2022, with 39 awardees across all majors.

Congratulations to all of our deserving fellowship winners. Find out more about each student and their research below:

The 2022 Honorees:

Caroline Austin

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Torin Clark
Lab: Bioastronautics Lab

Austin earned her bachelor's at the University of Alabama and began her PhD at CU Boulder this fall. Her research is in the use of galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) to recreate the disorientation experienced by astronauts upon return from space flight. She is testing a prototype GVS device and developing an algorithm to appropriately couple stimulation levels with different head movements. This research will provide a new training method for astronauts. 

Michael "Griff" Bibbey

2022 Chemical and Biological Engineering BS Graduate

Advisor: Jennifer N. Cha

Bibbey completed his bachelor's at CU Boulder and is now a Bioengineering PhD student at Harvard University.

Tom Chaney

Materials Science and Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Michael Toney
Lab: Toney Group

Chaney is working towards developing high performance organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices for renewable energy applications. OPVs are solar cells made of an ultrathin film of organic molecules that allows them to be flexible, semi-transparent and lightweight which provide advantages over traditional silicon solar panels in applications such as building integrated photovoltaics. His research aims to understand how the morphology, or arrangement of molecules, within the OPV can influence the efficiency of the device, and ultimately how we can modify the chemical structures of the molecules along with processing conditions to optimize the morphology for device efficiency. To better understand the structure-processing performance interplay, he is utilizing high-intensity X-rays generated by synchrotrons to probe the morphology of these OPV materials during various stages of film formation. Measuring how these X-rays scatter through the OPV material reveals information on the arrangement of molecules that will provide a broad understanding of how these films form and explain why performance changes with different chemistries and processing conditions.

Davis R. Conklin

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Alan Weimer
Lab: 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. 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. If successful, my research will make high-precision, solvent-free ALD coatings more accessible to manufacturers and accelerate the deployment of advanced energy technologies.

Catherine Crichton

Mechanical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Greg Whiting
Lab: Boulder Experimental Electronics and Manufacturing Laboratory

I am currently a mechanical engineering PhD student at CU Boulder in the BEEM Lab led by Greg Whiting.

My current research focuses on biosensing through the use of printed, conformal electronics. Specifically, we are designing electronics to study plant responses to different, potentially stressful, environments. 

Applications for my research range from improving plant growth and crop yields for future space missions to monitoring carbon sequestration in large-scale carbon farming endeavors on Earth.  

Samuel Everett

2022 Applied Math BS Graduate

Everett completed his bachelor's in Applied Math at CU Boulder in 2022. He is now working toward a PhD in theoretical computer science at the University of Chicago.

Rachel Cueva

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Jay McMahon
Lab: Orbital Research Cluster for Celestial Applications (ORCCA) Lab

My research focuses on the dynamical evolution of binary asteroid systems. A key component of this evolution is solar radiation pressure (SRP). SRP interacts with binary asteroid systems and can cause the mutual orbit between the two asteroids to expand or contract, which controls the long-term secular evolution of these systems. This is known as the BYORP effect, which has been shown to be highly dependent on asteroid shape changes. Binary asteroids also experience solid body tidal effects due to gravitational interactions between the two bodies. Asteroid shape changes can occur from these tidal interactions and from various surface activity processes such as impact cratering, seismic shaking, and YORP spin-up. This research will look at the relationship between the BYORP phenomenon, tidal interactions, and surface activity to further explore the exciting dynamical environment at binary asteroids and their resulting evolution. Improving our knowledge of these systems helps us better understand the near-Earth asteroid population and origins of our solar system, and this research also has applications for planetary defense.

Jasmine Garland

Architectural Engineering PhD student

Advisors: Kyri Baker and Ben Livneh
Lab: GRIFFIN Lab and the Water and Climate Research Group

My graduate research is at the confluence of climate change, extreme weather, and power networks. Here, I will use data modeling and machine learning methods to identify risk factors for power system vulnerability from natural disasters and probabilities that compounded power grid and climate events may occur. This is increasingly important as major cities such as Atlanta, GA, and Phoenix, AZ, report that power failures increased more than 60% within the past five years due to abnormal heatwaves and aging infrastructure, and the 2021 winter blackout in Texas left approximately 10 million people without electricity for periods reaching multiple days. Accordingly, this work can be used by government agencies, utilities, and policy makers to contribute to a more equitable and reliable power system.

Cyrus Haas

2022 Chemical and Biological Engineering BS Graduate

Advisor: Timothy Whitehead

Haas completed his chemical and biological engineering bachelor's at CU Boulder and is now working toward a PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Washington.

Jessica Hauck

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Alan Weimer
Lab: 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. 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.

Juliet Heye

Biomedical Engineering PhD student

Advisor: Corey Neu
Lab: Soft Tissue Bioengineering Lab

I am a first-year Biomedical Engineering PhD student in Corey Neu's Soft Tissue Bioengineering Lab. I got my BS in biomedical engineering from Purdue University and worked in the medical device industry before deciding to pursue a PhD. I'm passionate about improving patient lives through biomedical innovation, so my research interests include translational tissue engineering concepts that can directly inform medical treatments. My research aims to create scaffolds that promote cartilage healing in musculoskeletal injury and disease, such as osteoarthritis. While mature cartilage lacks innate repair capabilities, developmental cartilage demonstrates scar-free healing, so I plan to use developmental cartilage as inspiration in my regenerative scaffold designs.

Jenny Horing

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Iain Boyd
Lab: Nonequilibrium Gas & Plasma Dynamics Laboratory

Due to the extreme aerothermodynamic environment, hypersonic air-breathing vehicle designs are driven to be completely integrated systems, using the compression from the shock as the compressor for the engine. This integration creates close coupling between the flow-field, airframe and propulsion system (often a scramjet), which calls for an interdisciplinary approach for designing and analyzing the vehicle. My research aims to create a multidisciplinary tool to investigate the highly complex and coupled interactions of the fluid-thermal-structural response of the vehicle forebody and engine inlet. Additionally, I will develop a multi-objective shape optimization tool to enhance certain performance metrics such as inlet compression and overall drag, while maintaining realistic vehicle conditions such as temperature, deformation and stress within the body.

Horing is also a 2022 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship recipient. Program rules require her to choose only one of the two programs. She has selected the NDSEG.

Ben Kraske

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Zachary Sunberg
Lab: Autonomous Decision and Control Lab (ADCL)

My work focuses on transforming the national airspace in order to safely and efficiently incorporate unmanned aerial systems (UAS). My current work applies partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) to management of component faults and failures onboard UAS. My proposal addresses securing and coordinating aircraft. We plan to use principles from POMDP optimization to increase the robustness of autonomous systems to cyber-physical attacks. Using principles from game theory and Markov decision process optimization, we also plan to develop a framework for coordinating use of airspace by multiple autonomous agents with differing priorities.

Annabel Mungan

Environmental Engineering MS Student

Advisor: Julie Korak
Lab: Korak Lab

My interests are in water and wastewater treatment, specifically in remote areas. Currently, my research is on removal of hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) from drinking water. Cr(VI) is naturally occurring in groundwater sources around the world and has been identified as a human carcinogen. My lab work seeks to develop and test a new technology combining ion exchange and adsorption treatment processes to selectively remove trace Cr(VI) from contaminated drinking water sources. The goal is to create a more economical solution for Cr(VI) removal in rural communities that currently cannot afford to treat their water.

Payton Martinez

Biomedical Engineering and IQ Biology PhD Student

Advisor: Mark Borden
Lab: Borden Research Lab

I am a first year PhD student in IQ Biology and Biomedical Engineering. I will be working in Mark Borden's lab for the remainder of my PhD. My research involves the use of ultrasound contrast agents, or microbubbles, and focused ultrasound to temporarily disrupt the blood brain barrier. I will be using this technology to improve the treatment of diseases in the brain by providing a targeted pathway for large drugs to pass into the brain. Currently, I am working on using this technique to safely and effectively deliver chemotherapeutic agents to a childhood cancer, DIPG, in the brain. 

Trisha Nickerson

Chemical Engineering PhD student co-advised by Environmental Engineering

Advisor: Michael Toney (ChBE)
Co-Advisor: Anthony Straub (EVEN)
Labs: Toney Group and Straub Research Group

The goal of my research is to better understand the molecular-level processes that govern the performance of polymeric water filtration membranes. We'll 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. 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.

Alexis Phillips

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Timothy J. White
Lab: Responsive and Programmable Materials Group

My research is largely focused on developing and optimizing reconfigurable optical materials. I explore the synthesis, response, and device utility of stimuli-responsive, selectively reflective cholesteric liquid crystal elastomers (CLCEs). The periodic chiral nematic alignment yields selective Bragg reflection in these materials. The reflection wavelength is dependent on the pitch length which can be altered by applying a stimulus. My goal is to realize color change in fully solid CLCEs by manipulating the selective reflection using an electric field as a stimulus. The electro-optical reconfiguration in these materials could be used to vary transmission/reflection, attenuate undesired light in windows, and create tunable optical filters in the visible or IR regions of the spectrum.

Phillips is also a 2022 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship recipient. Program rules require her to choose only one of the two programs. She has selected the NDSEG.

Lacey Roberts

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Michael Toney
Lab: 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. 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.

Tyler Souders

Mechanical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Peter Hamlington
Lab: Turbulence and Energy Systems Laboratory (TESLa).

I am a first-year Ph.D. student studying mechanical engineering and working in Peter Hamlington’s Turbulence and Energy Systems Laboratory (TESLa).

My group uses computational fluid dynamics to simulate complicated flows in a wide variety of applications. My research involves simulating flames in extreme environments, such as those found in aviation applications. By using computers to simulate these conditions, we obtain insight into the chemistry and physics in ways that are difficult or impossible to capture using traditional experimental techniques. While simulations give amazing insight, they can be very expensive, and so my group also focuses on techniques and modelling strategies that allow these simulations to be tractable.

Using these simulations, I hope to contribute to our understanding of greener alternatives to typical fuels such as gasoline and jet fuel.

Shelby Tillema

2021 Environmental Engineering BS Graduate

Advisor: Azadeh Bolhari

I graduated from CU Boulder with my BS in Environmental Engineering in Spring 2021 and have since been working as a researcher at CU Boulder on several interdisciplinary projects. These include a performance analysis of acrylic concrete rainwater harvesting structures, as well as engineering education research related to innovation self-efficacy and community cultural wealth. With the support of CU Boulder's RISE (Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) Interdisciplinary Research Theme, I have also been researching how household capacity and resiliency develops in the aftermath of disasters such as the 2021 Marshall Fire in Boulder County. Previously, I have worked on topics such as water reuse, PFAS destruction and remediation, and resource recovery from waste products. I will be pursuing a PhD in Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University starting in Fall 2022, where my research will continue to focus on resource recovery, emerging contaminants, and exploring the intersection between engineering and the social sciences.

Martin Torres

Architectural Engineering PhD student

Advisor: Wil Srubar
Lab: Living Materials Lab

The primary objective of my PhD research is to formulate novel statistical methods for accurately quantifying uncertainty and variability in life-cycle assessments (LCA). LCA is the primary method used to assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, transportation, construction, and end-of-life of building materials, often referred to as embodied carbon. Embodied carbon constitutes roughly 11% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so there is an urgent need to decarbonize. My research will enable more informed design decisions, enhance comparability between whole-building LCAs with more accurate sensitivity analyses, and help standardize accounting methods used for biogenic carbon (carbon uptake associated with living materials such as wood).

John Tucker

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Zachary Sunberg
Lab: Autonomous Decision and Control Lab

As cyber-physical systems become more complex, it is increasingly important to understand how they might fail due to natural disturbances or the actions of an adversarial actor. My research strives to find these failure modes through a black-box reinforcement learning-based approach known as Adaptive Stress Testing (AST). We hope to apply AST to new fields such as space domain awareness in addition to expanding AST’s theoretical foundation to make it more effective at finding ways cyber-physical systems can fail. Ultimately, AST presents a promising method for finding these failures and subsequently improving the system to make it more robust.

Keenan Wyatt

Materials Science and Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Michael Toney
Lab: Toney Group

Wyatt’s proposal for the NSF GRFP is based on research into metal halide perovskites. These are materials that have a lot of hype and promise to become the superior solar photovoltaic technology within the next decade. There are plenty of scientific challenges to overcome with perovskites including stability and environmental safety. In his proposal, he suggested a way to electronically dope the perovskite while simultaneously removing toxic lead from the baseline material. To address the stability issue, he suggested partnering with a computational group to screen for stable and metastable stoichiometries.