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NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and Honorable Mentions

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and Honorable Mentions

MSE graduate student Willa Freedman.
MSE graduate student Willa Freedman.

University of Maryland Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) graduate student Willa Freedman and MSE alumnus Nicholas Weadock (B.S. ’13) have been awarded Graduate Research Fellowships by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Three MSE seniors, Chris Berkey, Steven Lacey, and Kathleen Rohrbach, received Honorable Mentions.

The NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to ensure the diversity and quantity of the nation’s scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by supporting outstanding graduate students attending accredited U.S. colleges or universities. NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are among the most prestigious and selective in the country, and Honorable Mentions are considered an achievement in their own right. In 2014, the NSF received over 14,000 fellowship applications. Only 2000 were awarded.

Freedman, a member of MSE professor Ray Phaneuf’s research group, is exploring the use of atomic layer deposition in the conservation of monumental limestone buildings. Due to the limestone’s high porosity, these structures are particularly susceptible to the infiltration of water that promotes chemical and physical decay.

The subject of Freedman’s study is pietra di Trani limestone, found in the Apulian region of southern Italy and used in buildings such as the 13th century Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage site. She is investigating whether thin coatings of amorphous alumina, applied using atomic layer deposition, are capable of slowing the degradation of the stone by protecting it from environmental pollutants and harsh weather. The coatings must be formulated to preserve the appearance of the stone, and must be removable without causing damage.

Wheadock is currently a graduate student at Caltech, where he is a member of Professor Brent Fultz’s research group and developing a new electric vehicle battery. “With the NSF fellowship, I will be able to supplement this project with additional research on the phase transitions that occur in metal hydrides,” he says. “This work will hopefully shed some light on how to improve the performance of these materials as battery anodes.”

NSF Honorable Mentions are granted to meritorious applicants who do not receive fellowship awards as an acknowledgement of significant national academic achievement. Recipients of Honorable Mentions are granted access to TeraGrid, the NSF's open scientific discovery supercomputing infrastructure. TeraGrid provides 2.5 petaflops of computing capability, over 50 petabytes of online and archival data storage, and other online tools to researchers throughout the country.

Lacey, one of the department’s three Honorable Mention recipients, is interested in electrochemical energy storage and conversion, renewable energy, sustainability, and advancing the use of nanomaterials in rechargeable batteries. Outside of class, he is a guest researcher at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, where he is leading a study that is using in situ atomic force microscopy to determine the electrochemical properties and nanomechanics of 2D battery electrode materials. This fall, Lacey will join MSE assistant professor Liangbing Hu’s research group and begin his studies in MSE’s Ph.D. program.

To learn more about the NSF Graduate Fellowship Research Program, please visit

April 24, 2014

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