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Four Eberly College of Science graduate students receive Penn State awards

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15 May 2018

Four graduate students in the Eberly College of Science were honored for their accomplishments during the annual Graduate Student Awards Luncheon, held April 25 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

Alumni Association Dissertation Award

Grad Dissertation Award winnersJulie Fenton, doctoral student in chemistry, and Lucas Hackl, doctoral student in physics, were two of fourteen graduate students selected to receive the Alumni Association Dissertation Award and Distinguished Doctoral Scholar Medal in recognition of their outstanding professional accomplishments and achievements.

The Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award, considered to be among the most prestigious awards given to Penn State graduate students, provides funding to full-time research doctorate students who have passed their comprehensive examinations and have received approval of their dissertation topic.

With her research, Fenton is developing strategies to predictably access new types of complex nanoparticles that have unusual atomic arrangements or are made of multiple kinds of materials. These nanoparticles could find use in fields as diverse as medicine, energy, and electronics. Because these materials are tiny, her research has also emphasized the use of high-resolution transmission electron microscopy to fully characterize materials. Fenton is an author on eight published scientific papers. In 2017, she traveled to Germany to participate in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, where young scientists and Nobel Laureates shared their knowledge, ideas, and experience. Fenton's research adviser at Penn State is DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry Raymond E. Schaak.

Hackl uses principles of mathematics and physics to investigate questions about spacetime and quantum matter. These questions are largely influenced by the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, referred to as “spooky action at a distance” by Einstein, where two or more objects affect the quantum mechanics of one another even when separated by great distances. Hackl is an author on eight published scientific papers, and he has given over 30 talks about his work at scientific conferences and meetings. Hackl’s research adviser at Penn State is Eugenio Bianchi, assistant professor of physics.


Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Awards

Scott ConradScott Conrad, doctoral student in mathematics, was one of ten students selected to receive the 2018 Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award. Each award winner demonstrates a commitment to excellence, going above and beyond typical classroom instruction to shape the lives of their students. Their passion and dedication exemplify the impact Penn State’s graduate students have on society.

The award is jointly sponsored by the Graduate School, through the Harold F. Martin Graduate Assistant Outstanding Teaching Award endowment, and the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education. The award is named for Harold F. Martin, who earned his doctoral degree in education in 1954, and retired as a director from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Conrad has been praised by his students for presenting lecture material in ways that help them more efficiently retain the knowledge provided. According to one of his students, “Even if we are in a time crunch, he simplifies each step of the example problems and interacts with us ... to make sure that we are all getting the material.” Conrad also received the Mathematics Department Graduate Assistant Teaching Award in Spring 2017.

Conrad’s research advisers at Penn State are Zhiren Wang, assistant professor of mathematics, and Federico Rodriguez Hertz, professor of mathematics.


Intercollege Graduate Student Outreach Achievement Award

Chad NihranzChad Nihranz, doctoral student in ecology, was selected to receive the 2018 Intercollege Graduate Student Outreach Achievement Award. The award—established in 2004 with a generous donation from alumni Steven E. and Alice R. Linberg and a matching commitment from University Outreach—recognizes outstanding outreach achievements of degree candidates in any of the Intercollege Graduate Degree Programs that relate to bringing graduate student scholarship to the community, in order to benefit society in some manner. This award endeavors to encourage our future academicians to embrace outreach and promote a commitment to advancing the welfare of and quality of life for the public through their scholarly pursuits.

Nihranz has received praise for enriching the overall science outreach environment at Penn State and paving the way for many other graduate students to communicate their research through engagement with the public. He developed outreach activities for Exploration-U community science nights, which are organized in partnership with local school districts. He also played a lead role in designing and implementing the curriculum for a science outreach course for graduate students that provides professional guidance on outreach activity design, lesson planning and science communication.

Nihranz has participated in numerous outreach activities and events at the local, regional and national levels. These include the Entomology Department’s Great Insect Fair, the ecology program’s Science Café, and the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., where, along with five other graduate students from Penn State, he helped to implement an interactive, app-based activity that teaches the concept of evolution by showing that small changes in DNA can lead to large-scale changes over time.

Nihranz’s research advisor at Penn State is Andrew Stephenson, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Associate Dean for Research and Innovation.

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