Fourteen students at the University of Notre Dame will receive competitive research fellowships to advance research in clean and sustainable energy solutions and change the trajectory of climate change.
The Center for Sustainable Energy (ND Energy) has selected seven undergraduate students and seven graduate students to receive these prestigious awards, recognizing the students for their academic excellence, scholarly initiatives, and desire to gain a deeper understanding of the grand challenges in energy. These fellowships support interdisciplinary research, research collaborations, and career opportunities for students to expand their networks beyond the laboratory and develop new partnerships and connections with other professionals.
Students will also gain additional knowledge and skills in leadership and communications by participating in outreach activities involving translation of their research into meaningful demonstrations and interactions with the broader community. Additionally, students will present their research projects during the monthly seminar series for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows hosted by ND Energy.
Many students expressed appreciation upon receiving their award letters. One student said: “I am so elated to hear this good news! Thank you very much for finding me worthy of such a prestigious award! I look forward to actively participating in the various programs accompanying this award."
Awards are generally used to support student stipends and assist with purchasing research supplies and travel for students to present their research at a national conference. This year, the award structure was reevaluated and now includes significant increases in stipends and other support areas to better align with the University’s policies and procedures.
"We are pleased to provide additional funding for student fellowships and are grateful that students will be adequately recognized for their invaluable contributions to Notre Dame’s research landscape," said Ginger E. Sigmon, managing director for ND Energy.
The current award structure provides $2,500 per semester for each Academic Slatt Fellowship and $8,500 for each Summer Slatt Fellowship; $9,930 for each Eilers Fellowship; and $6,000 for the Forgash Fellowship.
"We are grateful to the donors who have generously funded these fellowships and have allowed nearly 300 students to pursue their research and scholarly interests in energy,” said Peter C. Burns, Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. “Not only do students with well-defined career paths benefit from receiving these awards. There are many undergraduate students who conduct research for the very first time and because of it realize they would like to pursue a graduate degree.”
The application process for Slatt, Eilers, and Forgash Fellowships is held annually from October 1 to November 15. Another call for applications for Summer Slatt Fellowships will be held February 1-28, 2023.
Below are brief introductions of the 2023 fellowship recipients and their research projects.
Vincent P. Slatt Fellowship for Undergraduate Research in Energy Systems and Processes
(established 2006 by Christopher '80 and Jeanine Slatt in honor of Vincent P. Slatt, Notre Dame Class of 1943)
Konstantin Bauer ’25, physics major and Glynn Family Honors Scholar, will conduct his research project this spring titled “Combustion Synthesis and Characterization of Thorium Dioxide” in the laboratory of Khachatur Manukyan, associate research professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy. Bauer will explore the possibility and feasibility of preparing amorphous thorium dioxide through the use of a rapid and energy-efficient combustion synthesis method to decrease sintering temperatures. Specifically, he will conduct thermal analyses of reactive solutions producing thorium dioxide, study the combustion synthesis of thorium dioxide, and characterize prepared thorium dioxide.
Chloe Behringer ‘24, mechanical engineering major, sustainability minor, and a Grand Challenges Scholar in the College of Engineering with a concentration on renewable and sustainable energy, will conduct her research project this fall titled “Modeling Solvent Assisted Ion Transport in Structured Battery Electrolytes” in the laboratory of Jonathan Whitmer, associate professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Behringer will conduct molecular simulations of interactions between various solvents and ionic liquid crystals, a structure whose conductivity has potential for applications in safe, fast-charging energy storage devices.
Ryan Bencivengo ‘25, aerospace engineering major with a minor in engineering corporate practice, will conduct his research project this spring titled “Optimization of Energy Deposition Pattern at Plasma-Assisted Combustion” in the laboratory of Sergey Leonov, research professor, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. The goal of this project is to test the viability of plasma-based combustion and flame-holding in supersonic flow, where the successful implementation could lead to more efficient scramjet engines and an expansion of the capabilities of hypersonic vehicles in general. Bencivengo will work specifically on the circuitry to trigger and maintain the plasma for testing.
Evan Bursch ’24, physics, philosophy, and theology major and a Sorin Scholar, will conduct his research project this spring and fall titled “Extending A Model of Marshak Waves For Inertial Confinement Nuclear Fusion” in the laboratory of Ryan McClarren, associate professor, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Nuclear Fusion is one of the most promising avenues for clean energy production. In this research, Bursch will seek to extend models of radiation hydrodynamics, the physics governing nuclear fusion, in order to increase the accuracy and reliability of nuclear fusion simulations.
Elliot Como ‘24, chemical engineering major with minors in engineering corporate practice and energy studies, will conduct his research project this spring and fall titled “Architecting Self Semi-Interpenetrating Network (ss-IPN) Structure in PIM-1 Membranes for Enhanced Physical Aging Resistance” in the laboratory of Ruilan Guo, Frank M. Freimann Associate Professor of Engineering, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Polymer-based membranes for gas separations represent a great opportunity for reducing cost, energy usage, and CO2 emissions in chemical separation processes. Como will test different structures in PIM-1 Membranes to attempt to increase the useful life of the membrane.
Eva Homberger ’24, mechanical engineering major, energy studies minor, and Sorin Scholar, will conduct her research project this spring titled “Batch Sorption of U60 Nanocluster to Muscovite in the Presence of Electrolytes” in the laboratory of Peter C. Burns, Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. This project is a batch sorption experiment that will build upon the line of research studying the behavior of uranyl peroxide nanocluster U60 in the presence of minerals, specifically examining the sorption of U60 to muscovite. Homberger will gain insight into the behavior of U60, which is critical to understanding proper nuclear waste treatment strategies and ensuring the long term sustainability of nuclear energy.
Zachary Muetzel ’23, chemical engineering major, will conduct his research project this spring titled “Development of 3D-printed Modules to Evaluate the Performance of Photoresponsive Polymer Membranes” in the laboratory of William Phillip, Rooney Family Collegiate Chair of Engineering and associate professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Muetzel will study the development of unique 3D-printed modules to evaluate the performance of photoresponsive polymer membranes. Photoresponsive membranes are those that undergo chemical changes when exposed to light and show promise in separation applications due to their increased versatility and flexibility in comparison to conventional membranes.
Patrick and Jana Eilers Graduate Student Fellowship for Energy Related Research
(established 2012 by Patrick '90 and Jana Eilers)
João Dinis Oliveira Abranches, second-year graduate student in chemical engineering, will conduct research titled “Novel Sustainable Materials Design with Thermodynamics-Informed Machine Learning” in the laboratories of Yamil Colón, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Edward Maginn, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Engineering and Associate Vice President for Research. In this project, Abranches will design novel sustainable materials using artificial intelligence with an emphasis on solvents for the extraction and refinement of rare earth elements.
Carmen Chamberlain, third-year graduate student in chemistry, will conduct her research titled “High Pressure Studies of Uranium (VI) Minerals to Promote a Safer and More Sustainable Future for Nuclear Energy” in the laboratory of Peter C. Burns, Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. In this project, Chamberlain will use high pressures to study uranium (VI) minerals relevant to nuclear waste to further the fundamental understanding of uranium chemistry for safe storage and treatment of used nuclear fuel.
Russell Clarke, second-year graduate student in chemical engineering, will conduct his research titled “Low-Temperature Dehydrogenation and Coupling of Light Alkanes using Nonthermal Plasma-Assisted Catalysis” in the laboratory of Jason Hicks, Tony and Sarah Earley Professor of Energy and the Environment, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, College of Engineering. This project proposes using an electrically driven nonthermal plasma coupled with a heterogeneous catalyst to activate the C-H bonds in shale gas and selectively form more valuable products, such as olefins or hydrocarbon liquids. The impact of this work is rooted in the current underutilization (i.e., flaring, venting) of shale gas resources, which has created an engineering opportunity to develop a process that uses renewable energy to reform the shale gas to condensable hydrocarbons that are more easily stored and transported; thereby reducing unnecessary CO2 emissions and establishing a more sustainable fuel source.
Wedage Lakna Nuwanthi Dayaratne, second-year graduate student in chemistry and biochemistry, will conduct his research titled “Hybrid Molybdenum Bronzes for Energy-Related Applications” in the laboratory of Adam Jaffe, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. With the growing global demand for energy, the development of a new class of materials that can better store or utilize energy is imperative. In this project, Dayaratne will seek to develop a tunable material platform by combining the favorable structural, redox, and electronic properties of extended inorganic molybdenum oxides with the variable functional groups and synthetic control of organic molecules as potential candidates for battery electrodes, electrochromic devices and pressure-induced switching devices.
Garam Lee, fourth-year graduate student in chemical engineering, will conduct his research titled “Understanding the Formation and Reactivity of Metastable Azide (N3) on Metal Surfaces from the Interaction with Non-thermal Plasma-activated Nitrogen (N2)” in the laboratories of Casey O'Brien, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and David Go, Viola D. Hank Professor and Chair of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Lee will study plasma-surface catalytic chemistry to understand how non-thermal plasmas promote the formation of metastable azide (N3) on surfaces and their surface reactivity that can be further utilized for new greener routes for nitrogen fixation.
Agboola Suleiman, third-year graduate student in chemical engineering, will conduct his research titled “Discovery of High-Performance Gas Separation Polymer Membranes Assisted by Machine Learning” in the laboratory of Ruilan Guo, Frank M. Freimann Associate Professor of Engineering, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Agboola aims to design high-performance target polymers for separation of gases by developing and using machine learning models to predict the best-performing polymers for synthesis and fabrication into membranes. Membrane-based separation technologies are known to dramatically drive down the energy, carbon footprint, and water intensity of traditional thermally driven separation processes.
Forgash Fellowship for Graduate Student Research in Solar Energy
(established 2009 by John '00 and Karla Forgash)
Raúl Torres-Cadena, second-year graduate student in chemistry and biochemistry, will conduct his research titled “Hybrid Organic-inorganic Tungsten Bronzes as Tunable Optoelectronic Materials” in the laboratory of Adam Jaffe, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Tungsten oxides have been investigated for applications including solar cells and electrochromic devices (relevant for smart windows). In this research, Torres-Cadena will focus on developing a new organic-inorganic tungsten oxide platform that contains two-dimensional tungsten oxide, providing the favorable electronic and optical properties of the metal oxide. These 2D layers are in proximity to small organic molecules that can incorporate added functionality to the system, such as catalytic or redox-activity and photo-activity, which is of particular relevance for solar technology.
Contact: Barbara Villarosa, business and communications program director for ND Energy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-631-4776
Originally published by energy.nd.edu on January 24, 2023.at