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Three UK Graduate Students Awarded Department of Energy Grant

By Lindsey Piercy

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 13, 2022) — Three graduate students at the University of Kentucky have been selected for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program.

Austin Nelsen, Manh Tien Nguyen and Henry Pruett are among 80 graduate students nationwide to receive supplemental funds to conduct part of their thesis research at a host DOE laboratory in collaboration with a DOE scientist. 

“For decades, the DOE has cultivated the expertise to meet the nation’s greatest scientific challenges," said Geraldine Richmond, under secretary of science and innovation at the DOE. "Now more than ever, we need to invest in a diverse, talented pipeline of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who will be the future science and innovation leaders of this country. I’m thrilled these outstanding students will help us tackle critical research at our labs, and I know their futures are bright.”

The students are:

Austin Nelsen: Department of Physics & AstronomyCollege of Arts and Sciences:                                   

  • Research Lab: Oak Ridge National Laboratory.           
  • Research Area: Fundamental Symmetries.             
  • Collaborating DOE Scientist: Leah Broussard.

“Receiving this award has been very encouraging. I now feel more confident than ever in my ability to carry out my research project and eventually complete my Ph.D.,” Nelsen said. “My project will focus on streamlining data processing and enabling a thorough detector characterization for Nab — a fundamental neutron physics experiment being commissioned at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Spallation Neutron Source.”

Manh Tien Nguyen: Department of Chemical EngineeringCollege of Engineering

  • Research Lab: National Energy Technology Laboratory.            
  • Research Area: Basic Science for Clean Energy and Decarbonization .            
  • Collaborating DOE Scientist: Yuhua Duan.

“It is an honor to receive this prestigious award, which supports my research proposal to advance the foundational understanding of the chemical reaction and transport mechanism at air-solvent interfaces for development of novel direct air capture technology using deep eutectic solvents,” Nguyen said. “The research will be an exciting opportunity for me to enhance my scientific knowledge and research conducting skills in machine learning-molecular simulation integration, chemisorption mechanisms, and the relationship of solvation, transport, and reactivity of molecules and ions in heterogeneous environments. The award is an invaluable experience as I will not only do research but also make professional connections in my field, which will prepare me for future endeavors.”

Henry David Pruett: Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences: 

  • Research Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.        
  • Research Area: Basic Science for Clean Energy and Decarbonization.             
  • Collaborating DOE Scientist: Matthew Beard.

“This award is a very exciting opportunity. Working at the renewal energy lab offers access to not only cutting-edge instruments and techniques, but it also allows me to work with some of the leading figures in the domain of perovskite photovoltaics,” Pruet said. “My research will be on how changes to the molecular structure of certain compounds in the perovskite affects various optical, electronic, transport and stability properties of the resultant material. By increasing our understanding in this space, we will be better able to design materials that are more efficient, cheaper and more durable, as well as may be used in any number of applications such as LEDs, transistors and photovoltaics.”

Awardees were chosen from a pool of graduate applicants from institutions around the country. Selection was based on merit peer review by external scientific experts. A list of the 80 awardees, their institutions, host DOE laboratory/facility and priority research areas of the projects can be found here. More information on the program can be found online.  

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.