Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Illinois

National Science Foundation honors ChBE graduate students

Congratulations to Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate students who’ve been recognized by the National Science Foundation. Mai Ngo has won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and honorable mentions have been awarded to Daniel Bregante, Marjorie Bridgewater and Katelyn Dahlke.

Launched in 1952, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program is the nation’s oldest and largest fellowship program for graduate students. It is also one of the most prestigious. This year 36 University of Illinois students have won NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. Of the 36 awardees, 31 are graduate students, and five are undergraduates. An additional 51 students were accorded honorable mentions.

Ngo joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering as a graduate student in Fall 2015 after earning a BS in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015.

Graduate student Mai Ngo
Graduate student Mai Ngo

A member of Dr. Brendan Harley’s lab, she is incorporating vascular structures into a hydrogel platform used to model glioblastoma multiforme, one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer.

“In doing so, I will study the impact of vessels on tumor invasion and tumor response to hypoxia, as well as the effect of the perivascular niche on the cancer stem cell population,” she said.

Katelyn Dahlke is a member of Dr. Charles Sing’s research group, Marjorie Bridgewater is a member of Dr. Damien Guironnet’s group, and Daniel Bregante is a member of Dr. David Flaherty’s research group.

Bregante, whose BS is from the University of California-Berkeley, focuses on understanding the mechanism behind olefin epoxidation on metal-oxide catalysts with hydrogen peroxide “and what descriptors we can find to help develop more selective and active catalysts.”

“By using framework substituted zeolites, I can directly compare different transition metals and understand how their intrinsic properties affect their ability to epoxidize olefins,” he said.

Bridgewater, whose undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, is working on developing a new type of polymeric dye to be used as a sensitizer in photoelectrochemical cells. The polymeric dye consists of porphyrins incorporated into a conjugated polymer backbone, and the bandgap can be tuned via backbone modification, thereby allowing optimization of energy transfer within the cell, according to Bridgewater.

As for Dahlke, who received her bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, her research is in computational polymer physics. She studies the cooperative behavior of DNA and protein interactions specific to prokaryotic cells, and eventually would like to use the coarse-grained simulation methods she develops to simulate an entire nucleoid.

The NSF-GRF supports students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social science fields. Applications are evaluated according to NSF’s two review criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts. Awardees generally are those who demonstrate exemplary promise as researchers as well as show a record of using their research and related skills to benefit society. Approximately 17,000 students applied this year, and 2,000 were offered awards.

Fellowships provide three years of support and come with a $34,000 annual stipend along with coverage of tuition and fees.  Awardees also have access to international research opportunities, supercomputing resources, and internships with federal agencies.

“Our students’ success with the Graduate Research Fellowships this year highlights the stellar quality of our graduate programs as well as our ability to recruit and train some of the nation’s most promising young scholars. Each of our awardees and honorable mention designees deserve congratulations for the years of hard work that factored into this outstanding accomplishment,” said Graduate College Dean Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko.

More information, please visit the University of Illinois News Bureau.