Five seniors from the Department of Chemical Engineering Jostin Armada, Dylan Carman, Grace Li, Grace Shoemaker, and Brendan Wernisch, were recently awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP).
The fellowship program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become life-long leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching.
Armada graduated with his B.S. degree in chemical engineering in December 2022.
Armada’s research project focused on understanding the role of storage temperature conditions on silk fibroin particles to investigate the potential elimination of expensive cold-chain transport and storage systems that are currently required to utilize the particles as clinically accepted artificial oxygen carriers, while simultaneously maintaining particle sterility. Armada conducted his research in Dr. Whitney Stoppel’s lab and was mentored by Marisa Pacheco, a Ph.D. student.
Armada served as a Gator Marching Band Trumpet Section Leader, an undergraduate Peer Mentor first year Peer Advisor, Peer Advisors’ Communications Officer, and AIChE Mentor. He received the department’s Senior Leadership and Service to the Profession Award in Fall 2022.
“The NSF GRFP award means that I can participate in outreach and mentorship within my community, where I can help younger students understand the benefits of pursuing research at an early stage of their lives and how taking opportunities to engage in well-rounded research can open a large range of doors specifically designed for the advancement of their careers,” he said.
Armada will begin a chemical engineering Ph.D. program at Cornell University in the Fall. His research focus will remain in the realm of biomaterials optimization, drug delivery applications, and tissue engineering.
“I also intend to devote a portion of my research to the field of engineering education,” Armada said.
Carman is a senior graduating in May 2023 and has been involved in several research projects in Dr. Piyush Jain’s lab involving genetic engineering, protein engineering, and infectious disease diagnostics. He was mentored by Long Nguyen, a Ph.D. student.
This year, Carman served as president of the UF AIChE student chapter, and played a key role in organizing and hosting the 2023 AIChE Southern Regional Student Conference held at UF in March 2023.
“The financial support that the fellowship provides allows me more freedom when choosing a lab at Johns Hopkins,” Carman said. “Of course, the prestige of the award is also a tremendous benefit, as it fills me with pride to be able to say that I have achieved this honor. I am so thankful for the mentorship provided to me by Dr. Piyush Jain, who has given me the research knowledge necessary to be considered for the award.”
Carman will attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall. He is interested in joining Dr. Mike Betenbaugh’s lab, where he would have the opportunity to work on projects optimizing sustainable biofuels and bioproducts through genetic engineering of microbes. He is also interested in antibody production research using CHO cells as potential therapeutics for cancer and genetic disease treatment.
Li, who is graduating May 2023, worked in Dr. Carlos Rinaldi-Ramos’ research laboratory with Ph.D. mentor Ambar C. Velazquez-Albino to optimize the synthesis of magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles for Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI).
Li has held several leadership positions in AIChE including secretary, outreach director, treasurer, and participated on the Chem-E-Car design team and competition at the 2022 national conference.
“The NSF GRFP means an opportunity as well as motivation and encouragement for me to continue developing my skills as researcher. Due to the pandemic and the fact that I didn’t know what career path I wanted when entering UF, I was not able to truly discover research until the second half of my junior year. I fell in love with research and am extremely grateful to Dr. Rinaldi-Ramos for giving me this chance to work in his lab,” Li said. “I believe the GRFP is an opportunity that I achieved with the help of those around me, and I will use its support to further develop my research skills. I’m happy that people believe in my potential to become a good researcher, and it has really encouraged me to keep going.”
Li plans to attend the University of Michigan. She is exploring different research topics but is interested in drug delivery or biomaterials.
Shoemaker is a senior graduating in May 2023.
Working in Dr. Piyush Jain’s lab, Shoemaker’s research centered around the discovery and characterization of novel CRISPR-Cas systems. Her focus has been constructing CRISPR-Cas systems as a diagnostic tool for HIV, COVID-19, malaria, and more. Recently, she has worked on creating Cas variants with charge engineering by increasing the pH and temperature range capabilities of that particular Cas enzyme, as well as increase its efficiency. She was mentored by Ph.D. student Santosh Rananaware.
Shoemaker has been involved in UF Student Government since the beginning of her sophomore year. She served as vice president, treasurer, and candidate coordinator of the UF Party, Change Party, and served a term as the Engineering Senator. Through this, she authored and sponsored legislation pertaining to accessible contraceptives, international student achievements, bus app accessibility, LGBTQ+ history, and 24/7 libraries. She worked with the administration in the libraries for over a year to help get 24-hour service at Marston Science Library. Shoemaker said, “being a senator showed me a new way to apply engineering problem solving.”
Shoemaker said she feels incredibly lucky to have received the award.
“To me, it means freedom to research in a field where my values and interests align. I now have a greater opportunity to support those in need, which is a wonderful and privileged responsibility. I know this award can connect me to all types of people, whether in the humanitarian, social, or engineering fields and I would like to bridge the gaps between some of these,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker plans to attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall, where she intends to study machine learning research and antibody engineering.
Wernisch is a senior graduating in May 2023. In Dr. Janani Sampath’s lab, Wernisch built and compiled open-source tools for computational materials research. He used HiPerGator’s computing resources to study polymer membranes for separations applications, deforming them at different conditions and observing how the morphology of the membranes’ void spaces evolves throughout the deformation period. He was mentored by Ph.D. student Mohammad Al Otmi.
Wernisch worked with the Center for Undergraduate Research Board of Students (CURBS) for four years. During his freshman year, he worked as an Ambassador to the Center for Undergraduate Research, then he served as CURBS’ director of multimedia for two years during the pandemic, and this year he served as CURBS’ executive director. He also served as CUR’s representative and chair of the Student Life Committee on the Student Advisory Council for Undergraduate Affairs (SACUA). Wernisch was awarded the 2022 Attributes of a Gator Engineer Award in Leadership.
“Being awarded a graduate research fellowship from the NSF is mind-boggling exciting. As a first-generation, queer, undergraduate and engineer, I am so proud not only becoming a part of the GRFP’s long legacy of inspiring STEM leaders but being a part of increasing representation both in this field and in the future classes of GRFP awardees,” Wernisch said. “The NSF GRFP will support my studies in graduate school, my ability to continue engaging with outreach, and in helping me get one step closer to making progress in my own way for the rest of the world.”
Wernisch plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Northwestern University, where he wants to continue working on polymeric materials-focused research.
In addition to the five students, three UF ChE summer REU program alumni were also awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.
Diana Aponte Claudio was an undergraduate in the Sampath Research Group during summer 2021. She was mentored by Ph.D. student Mohammad Al Otmi.
Katie Leonard was an undergraduate in the Stoppel Lab during summer 2022. She was mentored by Ph.D. student Elizabeth Aikman.
Samuel Mercer was an undergraduate in the Hibbitts Research Group during summer 2022. He was mentored by Ph.D. student Hansel Montalvo.
Congratulations to all! UF ChE is proud of your hard work and many accomplishments.