Published: May 31, 2023 By

NSF LogoTwenty eight CU Boulder engineering students have earned National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for 2023.

These prestigious awards recognize and support outstanding grad students from across the country in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees and have strong potential to become leaders in their fields.

Awardees receive a $37,000 annual stipend and cost of education allowance for the next three years as well as professional development opportunities.

CU Boulder ranks 11th among universities in the United States for NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients for 2023, with 43 awardees across all majors. CU Engineering also has a strong track record with winning the fellowships — 23 students received GRFPs in 2022, and 26 students received them in 2021

The 2023 Honorees

Sophie Anderson

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Jade Morton
Lab: Satellite Navigation & Sensing Laboratory

Sophie Anderson is a second year PhD student in the CU Boulder Satellite Navigation and Sensing Lab. Her research focuses on the use of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals for remote sensing of the cryosphere. GNSS signals are present everywhere on Earth, with 24/7 all-weather availability, and their reflections off of Earth's surface can be harnessed for scientific studies in a method called GNSS-Reflectometry (GNSS-R). GNSS-R has been successfully used for a variety of applications, and Sophie's research aims to expand its utility to retrieve the surface elevation of land ice regions. This advance would significantly increase the temporal resolution of surface elevation and ice mass balance measurements, helping to quantify ice loss and predict sea level rise.

Kaitlyn Bishay

Civil Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Ben Livneh
Lab: Water and Climate Research Group

The overarching goal of my research is to quantify the impact of warming temperatures on high-mountain snowpack and downstream effects on water supplies. Previous research acknowledges that different model types vary in strengths and weaknesses; therefore, my research will employ an ensemble of models underscored by the principle that no single model is correct, but that there is wisdom across a range of varied models given their unique structures, assumptions, etc. My project will focus on two categories of hydrologic models: statistical models, which rely upon relationships between basin characteristics and streamflow, and physical models, which seek to represent physics-based fluxes of water through the hydrologic cycle in space and time. By quantifying the effect of seasonal warming on vital water resources, this work will provide scientists with an understanding of future Colorado River Basin flows, as well as insights for other snow-dominated regions.

Kylie Boenisch-Oakes

Environmental Engineering PhD Student

Advisors: Sheldon Masters and R Scott Summers
Labs: Masters Group and Summers Lab

Kylie earned her bachelor's degree from Oregon State University and started at CU Boulder in the Fall of 2022. Her research focuses on direct potable wastewater reuse (DPR), which is the process of treating wastewater to high standards for human consumption. DPR will become increasingly critical as climate change and drought strain existing water systems. A key component of treatment is disinfection, which destroys harmful pathogens. During disinfection, the disinfectant can react with organic matter and form a class of chemicals called disinfection by-products (DBPs), some of which are known to be harmful to human health. There are more precursors for these harmful DBPs in treated wastewater. Her research is centered around understanding the behavior of these compounds in the water distribution system and in buildings in wastewater reuse scenarios to inform regulations and protect public health.

Liliaokeawawa Cothren

Electrical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Emiliano Dall'Anese
Lab: Dall'Anese Group

My research interests intersect the core areas of optimization, control, and learning with applications to dynamical and cyber-physical systems. In particular, I aim to develop algorithms and theoretical guarantees that prioritize safety and efficiency to address societal and engineering needs. Importantly, my research interests are necessarily interdisciplinary due to the need to develop foundational theory, verify via computations, and highlight application-motivated concerns.

Kiera Croland

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Stephanie Bryant
Lab: Bryant Research Group

The overall goal of this project is to develop a mechanically-functional osteochondral composite composed of a soft hydrogel and stiff 3D-printed structure capable of directing osteochondral repair. I will focus on probing the interface between infilled hydrogels and the 3D printed structure using techniques such as confocal microscopy, immunofluorescence,and rheology. The goal of my project is to quantify the spatial variance in material properties and identify the impact on cell behavior within the composite.

David Dezell Turner

Aerospace PhD Student

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

Turner completed his bachelor’s degree at MIT and is now a first-year PhD student at CU Boulder studying astrodynamics. His current research interests include designing stochastic guidance algorithms for nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP), a type of space propulsion known for its balance between high thrust and high fuel-efficiency. His research also involves designing an interactive mixed reality platform for interplanetary trajectory design.

Alysse DeFoe

Biological Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Jason Burdick
Lab: Burdick Biomaterials and Biofabrication Laboratory

My research focus is on tissue engineering for meniscal injury repair. In particular, I am guiding the extracellular matrix deposition of cells via 3D printed molds to grow anisotropic meniscal tissue in the lab.  The overall goal of this work is to build implantable scaffolds to replace damaged portions of the meniscus and promote total integration with native tissue, thereby preserving knee joint function and preventing early onset osteoarthritis in patients with meniscal injuries.

J Flores Govea

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Hisham Ali
Lab:  Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory

When a vehicle is at hypersonic speeds, a layer of heated, partially ionized plasma exists in front of the vehicle due to a strong bow shock. In the presence of an applied magnetic field, this conducting plasma flow experiences a body force called the Lorentz force. This Lorentz force reacts an equal and opposite force on the vehicle, causing a “plasma drag.” Additionally, the applied magnetic field repels the bow shock further from the vehicle surface, reducing the thermal heat flux experienced. My research focuses on experimentally investigating this magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) interaction by developing an electromagnetic device that can provide active flight control and thermal protection in the hypersonic regime. Using the inductively coupled plasma wind tunnel in the Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory, I will test the device through various planetary atmospheres. Using experimental data from these tests, I will implement it into existing computational models and analyze the system impact of an electromagnetic device on hypersonic vehicle design. As a result of this work, I aim to provide the hypersonics community with a prototype electromagnetic device, aerothermal and plasma experimental data, and vehicle system analysis.

Annamarie Guth

Environmental Engineering Master's Student

Advisor: Michael Hannigan
Lab: Hannigan Air Quality and Technology Research Lab

I am currently an EVEN master’s student and will be transitioning into the mechanical engineering department in the fall to pursue my PhD. My research focuses on emissions and fuel characterization of prescribed fire in the western US. The goal of my research is to investigate the impact of commonly used prescribed fire ignition techniques on fuel reduction efficiency, emissions of {PM}_{2.5}, CO, VOCs, and {CO}_2, and modified combustion efficiency (MCE).

Ben Hammel

Materials Science & Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Gordana Dukovic
Lab: Dukovic Research Group

I use scanning transmission electron microscopy to map the elemental composition and electronic structure of nanocrystals with nanometer resolution. This enables me to understand how the distribution of elements in nanocrystals influences properties such as band gap, with significant implications for catalytic and optoelectronic applications. Funding from the NSF GRFP will allow me to fully leverage CU Boulder's Facility for Electron Microscopy of Materials (FEMM), home to the highest-resolution electron microscope in Colorado. Support from the NSF will allow me to explore a broad range of materials, which I hope will reveal general design principles for compositionally-complex nanocrystals. One of my goals is to understand how we can design nanocrystals to achieve greater photocatalytic activity, which would help us leverage solar energy to produce sustainable fuels.

Mathew Jaeschke

Biological Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Kristi Anseth
Lab: Anseth Research Group

Mesenchymal Stem/Stromal Cells (MSCs) have immense therapeutic potential due to their secretory properties. However, MSC-derived therapeutics in the clinic are limited. My work in Professor Kristi Anseth’s lab is to utilize biomaterials to protect and control MSCs for regenerative medicine applications.

Rachel Johnson

Civil Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Ute Herzfeld

My research over the next several years will involve using numerical modeling of surging and deformation of polythermal glaciers. I will furthermore investigate the interglacial hydrological response to such surging events. My research will also aim to incorporate a machine learning framework, specifically one involving a physically-informed neural network, to replicate portions of the glacial model.

Kendra Kreienbrink

Materials Science & Engineering PhD student

Advisor: Wyatt Shields
Lab: Shields Lab

My research is focused on developing a new mechanism for designing dexterous microscale robots by leveraging the assembly of individual, simple to fabricate subunits. In particular, we are using external magnetic fields that interact with ferromagnetic patches deposited on polymeric subunits to guide the assembly and reconfiguration of these microrobots. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to predict and program microrobotic behaviors based on their subunit sequence.

Dylan Ladd

Materials Science & Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Michael Toney
Lab: Toney Group

I study structural dynamics and disorder in crystalline materials using x-ray scattering and spectroscopy. I'm focused on (and quite excited about) structure-property relationships in hybrid metal halide perovskites and colloidal III-V and II-VI nanocrystals as new materials for energy and optoelectronic applications.  This is a large collaborative and interdisciplinary effort in the NSF-funded IMOD Science and Technology Center, with the ultimate goal of designing next-generation solar cells, LED's, sensors, and quantum computing/communication technologies.

Ethan Leong

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Hisham Ali
Lab:  Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory

Ethan's research will investigate the usage of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) to mitigate flow separation caused by shock wave/turbulent boundary layer interactions (SWBLI), which will reduce heating rates and energy losses on hypersonic vehicles. MHD involves the coupling of a magnetic field and electric current on an electrically conductive fluid such as plasma to induce the Lorentz force on the fluid. Because post-shock flow in hypersonic flight can create plasma, the Lorentz force created by MHD can be used to control the plasma and augment post-shock flow properties without moving parts. Multiple MHD models will be optimally designed and tested across varying conditions in an in-house inductively coupled plasma wind tunnel to provide physical characterization of MHD plasma control. This will inform and build upon previous experimental and computational work for a more detailed understanding of MHD plasma control in reducing SWBLI-induced flow separation.

Scott McKinley

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Hanspeter Schaub
Lab: Autonomous Vehicle Systems (AVS) laboratory

My proposed research will advance physics-informed neural networks for gravity field modeling around small bodies in the solar system. The improved networks will be able to use diverse sources of data to generate a robust gravity solution, which will then be used to autonomously evaluate potential spacecraft trajectories. This work will enable more complex and scientifically rewarding missions to small-body systems.

Jesús E. Meléndez Gil

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisors: Will Medlin and Wilson Smith
Labs: Medlin Research Group and Smith Lab

Currently focused on gaining fundamental understanding about the interactions, behavior and nature of the catalyst/ionomer interface in electrochemical systems.

Kal Monroe

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Iain Boyd
Lab: Nonequilibrium Gas and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory (NGPDL)

In a hypersonic flow, such as a space-shuttle reentry, the extreme aerothermodynamic environment imparts significant heat loads to the surface of your vehicle. These loads are particularly high near stagnation regions and can result in material failure if unmanaged. My research aims to investigate a novel thermal protection system for these regions using thermionic materials, which, when heated, emit high-energy electrons that carry heat away from the surface. To accomplish this, I will construct a computational framework to simulate thermionic emission in hypersonic environments. This framework will then support an analysis of a conceptual hypersonic vehicle utilizing thermionic materials. Mission characteristics, such as maximum range, speed, and payload capacity will be calculated to characterize any benefits in vehicle performance this technology may offer.

Jonathan Musgrave

Electrical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Shu-Wei Huang
Lab: Ultra Photonics Research Group

My research focuses on the study of ultrafast multimode-nonlinear dynamics in photonic systems. We hope incorporate novel dynamics to enhance device performance with emphasis on sensing and imaging applications.

Musgrave is also a 2023 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship recipient. Program rules require him to choose only one of the two programs. He has selected the NDSEG.

Claire Niemet

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Christopher Bowman
Lab: Bowman Research Group

I am exploring a new acrylate-forming chemistry that could be used to make controllable polymer networks. Specifically, these materials could be utilized to form degradable polymers, therefore helping to address the plastic waste issue. Alternatively, they could be used to form two-stage networks, which has the ability to change its mechanical properties with a stimulus such as light or heat.

Anna Pauls

Civil Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: John Crimaldi
Lab: Ecological Fluid Dynamics Lab

My research sets out to parameterize sniffing as a prototypical active sensing modality to enable future work for bio-inspired chemical sensors by means of numerical modeling and physical experiments. In doing so, naris morphology and sniff forcing must be quantified to understand the dynamics and structure of the interior and exterior sniffing flows, and by extension, entrainment and dispersion of local odors en route to the olfactory epithelium. This will set the groundwork for future research to develop bio-inspired search algorithms and implement active sensing into technology.

Ritu Raj

Chemical Engineering PhD Student

Advisors: Ankur Gupta and C. Wyatt Shields IV
Labs: LIFE - Laboratory of Interfaces, Flow and Electrokinetics and Shields Lab

The goal of my research is to build a deeper physical understanding of how microrobots behave in complex biological environments. This is done by coupling state-of-the-art fabrication and microscopy techniques with theoretical multiphysics models. The forward-looking goal is to develop design rules that might enable scientist and engineers to build microrobots which are extremely capable in biomedical applications that currently lack effective solutions.

Antonio Salcido-Alcántar

Biomedical Engineering Bachelor's Student

Advisor: Maureen Lynch
Lab: Lynch Lab

Tony has completed his biomedical engineering bachelor's at CU Boulder and will be starting his PhD in bioengineering at Stanford in fall 2023.

Amrita Singh

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: James Nabity
Lab: Bioastronautics Lab

Understanding and mitigating the risks posed by the presence of lunar dust is critical to ensure safety during lunar missions. Spacesuits are particularly vulnerable during don and doff, as lunar dust may migrate to the suit’s interior and cause abrasive damage to the bladder layer. This damage may render the suit unable to hold pressure, posing a major risk to not only crew health and performance, but also mission success. I propose research on the integration of passive dust mitigation technologies with the spacesuit bladder layer to prevent dust adhesion and subsequent abrasive damage, resulting in a higher level of spacesuit robustness and reliability over repeated use.

Ava Spangler

Civil Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Joseph Kasprzyk
Lab: Kasprzyk Research Group

My research will involve studying hydroclimatology, in particular, the increase in wildfire frequency and severity which creates many unknowns around post-fire conditions. As a result of these unknowns, water managers lack the information needed to anticipate, mitigate and recover from uncertain wildfire scenarios and support these decisions using simulation models. Some of these intervention strategies may include flushing pipes to clear contaminated water, improving the current pipe network to be more disaster resistant or having teams ready to clear debris and replace damaged network parts. Currently, water managers in wildfire-prone districts struggle to decide which sets of interventions to implement, as available information is constantly evolving. Decisionmakers do not know which forecasted wildfire scenario might occur, and as such, cannot know the relative importance of each recovery or prevention objective. I plan to develop decision making under a deep uncertainty framework to allow water resource managers to make informed choices around preparing for and recovering from wildfire disasters.

Mark Stephenson

Aerospace PhD Student

Advisor: Hanspeter Schaub
Lab: Autonomous Vehicle Systems (AVS) laboratory

Mark's research studies decentralized satellite autonomy policies for optimization of constellation-wide search-and-image tasks, in which agents collaboratively search for and identify new targets and image them, maximizing the science output of the constellation. Advances in spacecraft technology have enabled observational satellite constellations containing a greater number of imaging agents, allowing for more complex planetary and climate science missions such as those to observe emergent geothermal activity on Enceladus or transient climate-influenced activity on Earth. However, current methods for constellation operation identify targets and generate multiagent satellite scheduling solutions offline, which has various drawbacks. This research will increase the responsiveness of terrestrial constellations for environmental monitoring and enable deep-space constellations about bodies with dynamic planetary science environments where communication with offline systems is costly, if not impossible.

Marena Trujillo

Electrical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Bri-Mathias Hodge
Lab: Hodge Group

Marena's Research Aims:

  1. Develop a graph-theoretic approach for analyzing large-scale systems with high levels of inverter-based resources that considers both voltage and frequency stability.
  2. Utilize analysis techniques developed in 1) to formulate a method for determining how storage can best be deployed in a large system to most effectively support frequency and voltage stability.
  3. Validate analytical methods for analyzing voltage and frequency stability and determining optimal headroom with simulations.

Eli Weissler

Electrical Engineering PhD Student

Advisor: Josh Combes
Lab: Combes Theory Group

Quantum computers are an exciting new technology that has the promise to solve certain problems faster than any computer that exists today. However, the basic logical units, or qubits, that make up today's quantum computers are too susceptible to environmental noise to realize this promise. My research aims to design new qubit architectures that are more noise resistant. My focus is on so called "superconducting qubits," which consist of small circuits made of superconducting metal, cooled down to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero.