Undergrads Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

(From the left) Dmitriy Zhukov, Nick Davy and Frankie PelaezChE undergraduates Nick Davy, Frankie Pelaez and Dmitriy Zhukov have been awarded Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support their higher education and further research-including projects that could lower fuel prices, improve cancer research and fight infectious diseases.

The highly competitive fellowships provide support for three years that includes annual stipends of $30,000, full tuition, medical insurance coverage, opportunities for international research and professional development and TeraGrid Supercomputer access.

Nick Davy hopes to use his fellowship to research C02 reduction to fuels or photoelectrocatalysis of water splitting for hydrogen production at Princeton University.

“Methods for transforming carbon dioxide into a source of fuel, such as methane or methanol, could offer an attractive way to decrease atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases,” Davy said.

“Sustainably produced fuels could be integrated into existing natural gas infrastructure to supplement and eventually replace fossil fuels. This technology could mean consistently low home heating costs, or affordable, sustainable fuels at the pump.”

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities’ graduate program is pleased to host Frankie Pelaez starting this fall. Pelaez is interested in studying the structure and dynamics of DNA in nanochannels, which affects its dynamics, or movement.

“With nanochannels, we can observe and quantify the dynamics of individual strands of DNA,” said Pelaez. “We can also separate DNA individually based on size. The better we understand this, the better we can engineer systems to separate and analyze DNA.  Finding smaller and cheaper ways to analyze DNA will lead to better cancer research that is more affordable.”

Dmitriy Zhukov will work on design of microfluidic technology for diagnosis of infectious diseases at the California Institute of Technology.

“Although treatment is available for some widespread infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, the main impediment to controlling these epidemics is the deficiency of current diagnostic technology in many affected regions of the world,” said Zhukov.

“I will be working to improve diagnostic tools to make them compact, inexpensive, and capable of operating outside of ideal lab conditions.  Early diagnosis and disease flare monitoring can put an end to some outbreaks and significantly improve the prognosis for affected patients.”

Students like Davy, Pelaez and Zhukov contribute to a culture of excellence that led UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering to rank second in the nation for the number of NSF fellowship recipients this year.

The students credit hard work and dedication for much of their success, but also their mentors.

“At the highest level of competition, everyone is talented,” said Davy.  “Hard work and creativity are what can separate you from the pack.  The importance of discipline and hard work shouldn’t be underestimated.

What will they miss about UT?

I will miss the people the most-it’s the people that make UT such a warm and vibrant atmosphere. I’ll also miss Austin as a whole, and, of course, Texas footballNick Davy

I will miss the tower. It’s weird, but seeing a huge tower lit up in burnt orange never gets old. Towers at other schools don’t compare. I will miss faculty and staff too-they’ve been very supportiveFrankie Pelaez

The intellectual resources and the community. There is always something going on, and it is hard not to get involvedDmitriy Zhukov

“Additionally, the mentors I had while at UT were very influential.  They shaped my character, my direction, and, ultimately, my future.”

Pelaez echoed Davy’s sentiment. “You don’t have to be smart, rich, lucky, or the best to be successful here,” he said. “Studying chemical engineering requires a lot of sacrifices, but patience and hard work go a long way.

“Time here at UT is a once in a lifetime opportunity-everyone should make the most of it.”


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