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The Next Generation of Scientists

August 5, 2010 - 11:23am

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The DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellowship program, a $22.7 million program to support outstanding students pursing graduate training in the sciences, received an infusion of $12.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As a result, 150 graduate students will receive a three-year graduate fellowship, which includes tuition, living expenses, and research support.

The Graduate Fellowship program reflects the Office of Science’s strong commitment to our nation and complements the President’s mission to support math and science education, especially in areas of national need like energy. This program is unique because it introduces these young scientists to our national laboratories to accelerate their work on energy-related topics.

The 2010 graduate fellows were selected from a competitive pool of young scientists from across the country. It is my pleasure to introduce to you a few of the exceptional young scientists who may hold the key to our nation’s energy independence.

Emily Gardel, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University will use the fellowship to examine how to use bacteria to generate electricity. “I am interested in how we can harness the electrons deposited by bacteria during respiration as a potential energy source,” says Gardel. “This fellowship will not only help me financially, but it will allow me to get together with all of the other fellows and energy scientists.”

Stephen DeWitt, a doctoral pre-candidate at the University of Michigan, is looking into nanoscale materials to generate hydrogen directly from sunlight. “The hydrogen approach that I am working on is relatively stable, will keep indefinitely, and can generate clean electricity with the only byproduct being water,” says DeWitt. “With this fellowship, I can follow my own path and begin collaborations with other non-traditional energy scientists.”

Kathryn Gabet, a doctoral candidate at The Ohio State University is interested in how to make turbulent combustion more efficient. “By making small tweaks to an engine, we can improve efficiency by a couple percent,” explains Gabet. This may seem small, but Gabet contends that a one percent tweak to power plants and vehicle engines could save the United States 60 million barrels of oil a year.“My project is preliminary basic research that is laying the foundation for improved energy efficiency.”

Ashley Corrigan, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, San Diego (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), is studying the impact of organic aerosols on climate. “Aerosols play an important role in the radiative balance of the atmosphere and remain one of the largest uncertainties in understanding climate feedbacks,” explains Corrigan. “This fellowship has allowed me to stay with my current advisor, despite the current difficulties with California’s budget. I am truly thankful for the wonderful opportunities the DOE Graduate Fellowship will make available to me.”

Andrew Fidler, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, is examining the mechanisms that make plants so efficient at capturing sunlight. “Ultimately, understanding how photosynthetic compounds work could be duplicated in synthetic systems, like solar cells, to collect incoming solar radiation in an efficient and controllable way,” says Fidler.

The 2010 graduate fellows are sure to make important contributions to basic energy science that will advance the nation’s energy security and promote economic competitiveness. I hope this program can continue to benefit the nation and the young scientific community for years to come.

To read more about these and other graduate fellows, visit scgf.orau.gov/news/blogs.

William Brinkman is the Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy

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