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CBE students win 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Michael Charles, currently a student in Professor Bhavik Bakshi’s group, and Blaise Kimmel, a former member of Professor L.-S. Fan’s research group, both won 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, which are among the nation’s most competitive awards and represent a significant achievement.

In addition, Jacob Paul Martin and Hopen Kaichi Yang, former members of Professor David Wood's research group who graduated in Spring 2017, won honorable mentions. Hopen Yang is the son of CBE Professor S.T. Yang.

Vasiliki "Aliki" Kolliopoulos, a senior chemical engineering student who recently graduated, received an honorable mention.

The fellowships allow students to pursue research projects of their own choosing while minimizing the financial burden on their advisor.


Michael Charles presents at the 2017 AISES National Conference in Minneapolis, MNMichael Charles presents at the 2017 AISES National Conference in Minneapolis, MNMichael Charles

Michael Charles’ research is within the area of Process Systems Engineering. He focuses on projects based in Techno-Ecological Synergy (TES), applying sustainable design methods with consideration of both technological and ecological systems. Currently, he is focusing on applying atmospheric transport models of pollutants between industrial sites and surrounding ecosystems to determine areas of ecosystem services and optimal areas for land restoration to most effectively clean local air pollution. The TES framework is relatively young and still has many applications which have yet to be explored, including process and system scope, spatial scales, and timespans.

Applying TES methods to The Ohio State University campus along with developing the Climate Action Plan is another one of Michael’s current projects.

“The research I am conducting could benefit society by revealing opportunities for ‘win-win’ solutions -- ones with less cost and less environmental impact than current technology." -Michael Charles

“I hope this research brings value to ecosystems within our society and brings back many values of traditional and indigenous people who have completely different relationships with nature compared to our modern society,” said Michael, who is a scientist from the Navajo nation. 

Michael has witnessed a lack of representation of American Indian (Native American) students in higher education, and aspires to increase native representation in higher education. He is motivated to pursue excellence in the hope that his work will inspire other indigenous students to pursue advanced degrees and bring their cultures and practices to fields like engineering, providing a unique perspective to the field and as a result, unique research opportunities.

“By studying sustainability and showing the benefits of ecosystems to society, I hope that the value of traditional knowledge of indigenous people also increases across many realms: societal, academic, and political,” he said.

Michael has found that staying focused on subjects he truly cares about keeps the countless hours of hard work and studying manageable. “Each hour is just another step towards my long term goals, and that perspective has always helped lead me to success, even if it took more than one try,” he said.

Michael views community as a critical factor leading to his success. “For me, indigenous community inspired and challenged me through every step of higher education,” he said.

Michael lived in an American Indian program house when he began his undergraduate career at Cornell University, and quickly got involved in the national organization American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

“Throughout every step I've had indigenous mentors and peers remind me of my own personal strength and value and challenge me,” he said.

Last year, Michael was a representative at the 23rd annual United Nations Climate Negotiations (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, where he gave speeches and was involved in writing a recommendation on the need for providing a platform for indigenous people and local communities which was voted on and approved by the chair of the Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

He has also given other talks around the United States, such as the AISES National Conference in Denver last fall, where he won a graduate research award and was invited to be a student keynote speaker at the closing banquet. 

Michael believes it is beneficial for those interested in research to explore different types of projects, whether in a lab with an advisor, working on a project team, or diving deep into a final project for class.

The biomedical research he did as an undergrad is very different from his current work in a computational lab, but he took all the lessons learned from his earlier projects and opportunities to develop a broader research perspective and tune into the things he most enjoys about research.

“This helps me maintain interest and excitement for my research, which is the first step of making a big impact as a researcher,” he said.


Blaise KimmelBlaise KimmelBlaise Kimmel

Blaise Kimmel, now a first year chemical engineering doctoral student at Northwestern University, is using his NSF GRFP to more deeply explore integrated synthetic biology and environmental sustainability. His goal is to leverage biology as a framework to promote novel opportunities for sustainable environmental protection. One research project focuses on optimizing metabolic production of biofuels through the engineering of polyketide synthase - an enzyme that works similarly to an assembly line - to ultimately design a high-throughput process for the conversion of air pollutants to biofuel products. 

By exploiting these highly efficient and renewable microbial cell factories that capitalize on carbon-rich air pollution as a source of nutrition, societys' carbon footprint could be minimized while helping shift the energy sector away from fossil fuel consumption in favor of sustainable industrial biotechnology solutions.

Blaise has a passion for education which he believes is the key component to his motivation as a scientist. “My career is focused on educating the engineers of the future,” he said in a recent interview. “Helping to unlock passion in my students through STEM education, inspiring students to explore chemical engineering, and witnessing a student succeed is the best motivation for me,” he said. 

“As an educator, I have the opportunity to plant seeds of curiosity in my students – teaching them to look at their training as a paint brush; their curiosity as the colorful pallet of paint; and the major problems inherent to the natural world as their canvas." -Blaise Kimmel

While a student at Ohio State, Blaise took advantage of opportunities such as teaching assistantships, doing independent research, and working as a resident advisor, which all proved instrumental to his development not only as a professional, but as a leader in the community.

He also learned how important it was to be flexible. “Often, research does not go as planned. Projects change, instruments require maintenance, and mistakes are made. Learning to stay optimistic, organized, and motivated during these changes is vital to maintain both one’s motivation and curiosity,” he said.

Blaise also believes that staying connected to family and friends might be the most critical success factor. “Your life cannot only be research and/or school - you must find interests outside of your studies to develop as a person to achieve balance and fulfill your dimensions of wellness,” he said.

As a result of his own experience, Blaise encourages undergraduates to branch out, explore, and lead. “Apply for internships, even if it is not in your field of research. Step up to leadership roles. Support other undergraduates around you by offering to help students who are taking challenging core classes,” he suggests. “The biggest impacts are often made through a collective series of small events, and are often done by those who don't attach their names to their work. Be humble and be helpful,” he added.


Vasiliki KolliopoulosVasiliki KolliopoulosVasiliki Kolliopoulos

Vasiliki "Aliki" Kolliopoulos, a CBE senior who won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention, conducted research on DNA origami nanotechnology in the laboratory of Dr. Carlos Castro (mechanical engineering) for the past three years. 

Her work in this area recently earned her a first-place award in the Undergraduate Student Poster Competition in the Food, Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology division of the 2017 AIChE Annual Student Conference held in Minneapolis, MN. Her poster was entitled "Directing the Self-Assembly of Multiple DNA Origami Nanostructures in a Single Reaction."

In 2016, she was co-author of an article entitled "Directing folding pathways for multi-component DNA origami nanostructures with complex topology." She is currently preparing a first-author manuscript describing her research, entitled "Orthogonal Self-assembly of multiple DNA origami nanostructures within a single reaction.” 

Aliki's goal is to attend graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical and biomolecular engineering in the field of biotechnology while engaging in lifelong learning. This fall, Aliki will be attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she will focus on biomaterials. She has been awarded a two-year, fully-funded NIH fellowship called the Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program.

She chose chemical and biomolecular engineering as a discipline because it combined her interests in chemistry and biology and affords opportunities in a vast array of industries and applications.

As a student who has successfully navigated the chemical engineering curriculum, she feels empowered to tackle critical issues impacting people around the world. To facilitate her abilities in this area, she became involved in undergraduate research, student organizations, and outreach programs which enhanced her abilities in research, outreach, and leadership.  

"I am convinced that there is a need for more strong women to enter significant leadership positions within industry and academia, which could benefit from tapping into womens' creativity and intelligence." 

-Vasiliki Kolliopoulos

Aliki is confident that her experiences to date will enable her to make a personal impact on the scientific community and influence future generations of scientists. "I envision devoting my career to developing future engineers and scientists through my passion for STEM," she said.