UMD Students Receive 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

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University of Maryland students Zackery Benson (Physics), Sabrina Curtis (MSE) and Alan Kaplan (MSE) – all advised by MSE Professor Marina Leite – received fellowship awards from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) Program for the 2018/19 academic year. Honorable mentions were given to Natalie Schwab (MSE), also advised by Dr. Leite, and Aristotelis  Zografos (MSE), advised by ChBE Professor and Chair, Peter Kofinas.

As stated on the NSF website, GRF Program “helps to ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited United States institutions.” 

Zackery Benson obtained his award by combining his commitment to research and society. The first two years of his PhD program focused on excelling in class, advancing his research project and working with students from Eleanor Roosevelt high school. He has published a few papers, presented the results at a conference, and mentored a high school student that is now an undergrad at UMD.

Sabrina Curtis – in her 5th year of the five-year M.S /B.S program in Materials Science and Engineering at UMD – has always had a passion for Mother Nature, which led her to focus on energy materials as a means of preserving the environment. Curtis participated in a NSF REU program at the Colorado School of Mines in summer of 2015, researching methods to recycle rare earth metals. She then participated in the SULI internship program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in summer of 2016, studying redox flow batteries for grid scale energy storage. Her master’s research is conducted in the Power and Energy Division at the U.S Army Research Laboratory, studying stretchable crystalline semiconductors. During her senior year she lead a MSE Capstone senior design team on the development of stretchable silicon photovoltaics for wearable renewable energy generation. This invention landed the team as finalists in the 2017 National Inventors Hall of Fame Collegiate Inventor Competition. Curtis will use her NSF Fellowship to continue her research on stretchable power and energy devices. She will be joining Prof. Eckhard Quandt’s Inorganic Function Materials group for one year starting this fall at the University of Kiel, Germany.

Alan Kaplan’s research is focused on the interaction between light and noble metals (e.g. silver and gold) at the nanoscale. “By alloying these metals,” he said, “we can achieve optical properties not accessible by pure metals, important for applications in energy harvesting, catalysis, nanoscale sensing and imaging, and optical circuitry, among others.” Kaplan’s proposal for the NSF GRFP was based in knowledge gained from his experience working in the Leite lab, as well as hands-on MSE courses where he was exposed to a wide range of advanced materials characterization techniques. He credits Dr. Leite with teaching him how to present science well – a skill that helped his obtain this fellowship and that will stay with him throughout his career.

Natalie Schwab will start her research, under Dr. Leite, on elucidating the origins of degradation in perovskite solar cells this summer. She applied to the NSF GRFP as a first-year graduate student. Schwab’s undergraduate REU experience involving lead-halide perovskites with transparent metal oxides (ZnO, NiOx) is what sparked her passion for solar energy. Schwab strives to advance her knowledge of the materials physics of perovskite solar cells, and contribute to the greater good among science and the public by setting goals that benefit society and the next generation's quality of life.

Each Fellow will receive three years of support totaling $34,000 each in addition to a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the University of Maryland.

For a complete list of the 2018 awardees and their research interest, follow this link.

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Published April 9, 2018