Published: May 16, 2024 By

NSF LogoThe National Science Foundation has bestowed 22 prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards to University of Colorado Boulder engineering students.

The national 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.

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 is in the top universities 15 nationally for the NSF fellowship recipients for 2024, with 27 awardees across all majors. CU Engineering also has a strong track record with winning the fellowships — 28 students received GRFP awards in 2023, 23 students received them in 2022, and 26 students received them in 2021.

The 2024 Honorees

Emma Aldrich

Biological Engineering

Advisor: Kayla Sprenger
Lab: Rationally Designed Immunotherapeutics & Interfaces Research Group

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
Lab: Shirts Research Group

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

Advisors: Wyatt Shields and Ankur Gupta
Labs: Shields Lab and Laboratory of Interfaces, Flow and Electrokinetics (LIFE)

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! 

Bryan Durham


Advisors: Iain Boyd and Daniil Andrienko
Lab: Nonequilibrium Gas and Plasma Dynamics Laboratory (NGPDL)

I'll be investigating the coupling effects between high-energy, short-duration fluid-laser, and material-laser interactions. The aim of the project is to try to understand the physical processes that occur when an ultra-short femtosecond laser interacts with a surface adjacent to a high-speed chemically reacting flowfield.

Mikaela Felix


Advisor: Hisham Ali
Lab: Magnetoaerodynamics and Aerospace Plasmas Laboratory (CU-MAPLAB)

I will be focused on Entry, Descent, and Landing research.

Shantae Gallegos

Biomedical Engineering

Advisor: Corey Neu
Lab: Soft Tissue Bioengineering Laboratory

My research addresses the emerging and multifaceted field of Cartilage-Bone Crosstalk (CBC), a key factor in musculoskeletal health and disease, yet its underlying mechanisms remain largely unexplored. Cartilage and bone transmit mechanical forces within joints, but alterations in their structure and function can disrupt cellular communication, leading to diseases like osteoarthritis. To understand CBC, it is crucial to experimentally replicate both healthy and pathological tissue structures. A major challenge has been the lack of an in vitro platform that accurately mimics the joint’s mechanical environment, essential for studying cellular interactions. Our research will address this by developing a new on-chip system that introduces mechanical stimuli to effectively simulate the joint environment, thereby providing insights into how mechanical forces influence cellular communication and contribute to musculoskeletal health and disease. This innovative approach will advance our understanding of disease mechanisms, pave the way for breakthroughs in drug discovery, and accelerate the development of precise therapies for joint-related disorders.

Dylan Hamilton

Materials Science

Advisors: Michael Toney and Donal Finegan
Labs: Toney Group and the NREL Center for Integrated Mobility Systems

Solid-state Li-ion batteries present a promising pathway to safely increase energy density for longer-range electric vehicles. The use of a solid electrolyte in solid-state batteries creates chemo-mechanical issues as the cathode expands/contracts with cycling that can lead to capacity fade and have yet to be fully understood. My research involves using a suite of advanced X-ray computed tomography characterization techniques (similar to a medical CT scan) to better understand these degradation processes to inform improvements on solid-state batteries.

Olivia Irvin

Biological Engineering

Advisor: Timothy Whitehead
Lab: Whitehead Research Group

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. 

Reegan Ketzenberger

Mechanical Engineering

As a recent graduate of the materials science & engineering department at the University of Michigan, I became interested in materials for renewable energy after working as a summer R&D intern at a hydrogen electrolysis company as well as conducting energy justice research with Dr. Sita Syal at U-M throughout the school year. At CU Boulder, I look forward to pursuing research in the field of electrochemistry and energy storage throughout my graduate studies. Traditional methods of hydrogen production such as coal gasification and natural gas steam reforming rely on fossil fuels, but electrolysis, the reaction that involves splitting water with an electric current to produce hydrogen and oxygen, offers a clean alternative. My proposed research project seeks to understand the impact of porosity and tortuosity of sintered titanium porous transport layers on titanium passivation and in situ mass transportation limits in proton exchange membrane electrolyzers.

Cate Leszcz


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

My research is in the field of hypersonics, specifically computational modeling of planetary entry flows. I will be using NGPDL’s hypersonic Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) code to model the entry environment for the ice giant planets, which are a top priority for the next NASA flagship mission. Hypersonic flows are typically characterized by speeds 5 times the speed of sound or greater, which cause massive heat loads to the vehicle and chemical reactions to occur within the surrounding flow. The goal of my research is to determine the sensitivities of radiative heating predictions from NGPDL’s hypersonic CFD code to the atmospheric composition of the ice giant planets, which is not well characterized. Understanding these sensitivities is important to create a robust spacecraft design for future missions.

Ryan Menges


Advisor: Daniel Scheeres
Lab: Celestial Spaceflight Mechanics Lab (CSML)

My research lies at the intersection of dynamical systems theory and spacecraft navigation. In my current work, I am developing semi-analytical methods for spacecraft state propagation and navigation in cislunar space utilizing high-fidelity dynamical models. I am particularly interested in enabling advanced spacecraft autonomy.

Dylan Meyer

Electrical Engineering

Advisor: Scott Diddams
Lab: Frequency Comb & Quantum Metrology Lab

My research proposal is the development of highly stable and robust millimeter wave time and frequency (T&F) transfer, supporting T&F transfer between atomic clocks. T&F transfer is used to create clock networks that are essential for positioning and navigation, such as GPS and essential infrastructure like the Internet and power grid. These technologies support up to $1 billion dollars of trade and financial transactions a day. In addition, these clock networks are capable of fundamental science experiments capable of probing new and exciting questions related to physics and geodesy.

Madeline Pernat

Civil Engineering

Advisors: Joseph Kasprzyk and Edie Zagona
Labs: Kasprzyk Research Group and the Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems (CADSWES)

My research focuses on large-scale water management in the Colorado River Basin and Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the largest reservoirs in the basin. The current policies governing operations are set to expire at the end of 2026, necessitating the development of new "post-2026" policies. My research utilizes multiobjective optimization to generate new potential operating policies. This approach is used due to the presence of many conflicting objectives within the basin, such as ensuring water deliveries, producing hydropower, and meeting environmental flow requirements. Multiobjective optimization is used to search for a set of policies, where each policy strikes a unique balance among the objectives. The generated policies cover a wide range in terms of performance characteristics, enabling stakeholders to identify policies that cater to their interests while also understanding tradeoffs and potential shortcomings. Secondly, I am developing a novel visual framework to enhance the decision-making process. This framework will enable stakeholders and decision-makers to visualize the array of potential future scenarios, while also illustrating how various policies would perform across them.

Alex Pham

Electrical Engineering

Advisors: Cody Scarborough and Robert MacCurdy
Lab Groups: Electromagnetic Metamaterials Research Group and Matter Assembly Computation Lab

My research proposal is on the application of multi-material additive manufacturing techniques for metamaterial antennas. Metamaterial antennas are capable of more sophisticated capabilities and unique form-factors compared to conventional antennas. By leveraging multi-material additive manufacturing, there are more degrees-of-freedom for the shape and composition of the metamaterials. This research would enhance the design flexibility and capabilities of next-generation antennas to meet the growing performance demands of future wireless systems.

David Saeb

Chemical Engineering

Advisor: Kayla Sprenger
Lab: Rationally Designed Immunotherapeutics & Interfaces Research Group

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. 


Aliza Siddiqui

Electrical Engineering

Advisor: Joshua Combes
Lab: Combes Theory Group

My proposal involves creating a new benchmarking/testing framework for the next generation of error-corrected quantum computers. Given the noise of physical qubits, recent work has suggested combining the state of several physical qubits to create a logical qubit. I will collaborate with Dr. Josh Combes and Sandia National Labs for my PhD. Through this work, the quantum community will have a tool-kit that will help us determine how well a quantum computer performs, diagnose what and where the issues are and create solutions to realize full-scale, error-corrected quantum systems. 

Caleb Song

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: John Pellegrino
Lab:  Membrane Science & Technology

I did my undergrad in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech before coming to Boulder for my PhD in Mechanical Engineering. For the past two years, I've been working on the characterization, tuning, and scale-up of graphene-based membrane electrodes (grMEs). The funding from the GRFP will allow me to pursue low technology readiness level (TRL) electrochemical device development using these grMEs. In particular, I plan on exploring hybrid electrophoretic/size exclusion-based separations for biopharmaceutical development and processing.

Katie Trese

Biological Engineering

Advisor: Wyatt Shields
Lab: Shields Lab

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. 

Jennifer Wu

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor: Daven Henze
Lab: Henze Group

My research will involve using computer simulations and environmental observations to investigate the impact of atmospheric constituents on air quality and climate change. By coupling satellite observations with state-of-the-art air pollution models, I aim to provide more accurate estimates of emissions to better inform climate and public health policy. Previously at Caltech, I worked closely with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in analyzing methane and carbon monoxide measurements in the Los Angeles Basin.

Callie Wynn


Advisor: Torin Clark
Lab: Bioastronautics Lab

I will be studying the impacts of hypo and microgravity on the human body. While I will be exploring multiple research interests, I plan to study SANS (Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome) and the proposed theories as to why this condition develops during prolonged spaceflight, including a headward fluid shift and elevated intracranial pressure. Additionally, I will be conducting research regarding the neurovestibular changes experienced by pilots and astronauts. I will be testing various countermeasures to limit the impact of each condition before, during, and after spaceflight, helping to ensure the safety of future missions.

William Xie

Computer Science

Advisor: Nikolaus Correll
Lab: Correll Lab

Xie's research is focused on enabling accessible & assistive robotics in the open world: in our homes, sidewalks, schools, and stores. Of the manifold components to this problem, his proposal seeks to address three key research areas in the context of a supermarket: 1) understanding human preferences for interacting with assistive robots, hand in hand with 2) developing robust and generalizable robot manipulation with multimodal foundation models, in order to 3) build end-to-end human-robot interaction systems which can be deployed in real-world, cluttered, and dynamic environments.

Raquel Yupanqui

Computer Science

Advisor: Theodora Chaspari

I will be working with Latino communities and will hope to make a positive impact, promoting inclusivity and diversity in tech. I am very excited to pursue a new research project in a field I am passionate about.