Published: May 5, 2021

The National Science Foundation has awarded six prestigious Graduate Research Fellowships to University of Colorado Boulder mechanical engineering students, a signal of the innovative and impactful research they will perform in the years ahead.

The awards recognize outstanding graduate students from across the country in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

2021 Award Recipients

Pablo Argote

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.

Bethany-Anne Calvert

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.

Alyssa Lalko

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.

Lea Savard

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. 

Olivia Tonti

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

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.