Five Rensselaer graduate students have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, and six more have been recognized with honorable mention. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship 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.

“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recognizes some of the very best graduate students in the country,” said Prabhat Hajela, provost. “We are proud of these students for having garnered this distinctive recognition from the NSF and congratulate them on their achievement. I believe this award will support and encourage even greater success in future years.”

The graduate students are: Michael Deagen, Clifford Morrison, Gina Oliver, Stuart Smith, and Hannah Siobhan Trasatti.

Deagen, a graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is researching in the area of advanced optics for multicolor LED systems. Deagen will advance our fundamental understanding of visible light propagation through 3-D mesoscopic periodic structures, while also developing new pathways to efficiently fabricate these advanced structures. Deagan is co-advised by Chaitanya Ullal, assistant professor in materials science and engineering, and Linda Schadler, the Russell Sage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and vice provost and dean of undergraduate education.

Morrison, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, will investigate the ability to develop recombinant microorganisms that can potentially utilize methanol as a carbon source. Understanding how electron equivalents are transported into cellular organisms, and generating microorganisms that can grow on alternative carbon sources using tools from synthetic biology, holds great promise for the next generation of sustainable bio-fuel alternatives. Morrison is researching in the labs of Mattheos Koffas, associate professor of chemical engineering and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and Ravi Kane, the P.K. Lashmet Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and department head.

Oliver, a graduate student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will investigate how extreme microbes isolated from deep-sea hydrothermal vents adapt to high-pressure environments, specifically focusing on the role of volatile composition in microbial growth and metabolism. Studying extremophiles that thrive in deep, high-pressure environments will expand our understanding of habitability on the early Earth and throughout the solar system. Oliver is studying under Karyn Rogers, assistant professor in earth and environmental sciences and a member of the New York Center for Astrobiology.

Smith, a graduate student in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy, is focusing on elucidation of the tuning and control of cofactors in light-driven charge transfer reactions in natural and artificial photosynthesis. This includes the development and application of cutting-edge electron-nuclear spectroscopic techniques for the observation of transient photochemical intermediates and large-scale pure quantum mechanical calculations. This research is at the interface of chemistry, physics, biology, and material science with important implications on the future of renewable energy. Smith is working in the research groups of K.V. Lakshmi, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, and Shengbai Zhang, the Gail and Jeffrey L. Kodosky ’70 Senior Constellation Professor of Physics, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship.

Trasatti, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, is investigating hyperstable proteins in human plasma. Her research focus will be on identifying hyperstable/degradation-resistant proteins in human plasma and exploring their potential biological and pathological roles. Understanding how the plasma profile of degradation-resistant proteins changes as a result of normal aging and aging-related diseases has implications for biomarker discovery. Trasatti is working in the lab of Wilfredo Colón, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Six Rensselaer graduate students were also awarded honorable mentions by NSF: Sean Patrick Ogden, Samanatha Ann McBride, Teresa Esposito, and Max Andrew Winkelman.