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Chemistry graduate student receives prestigious defense fellowship

20 October 2023
Wyatt Larrinaga

Chemistry graduate student Wyatt Larrinaga is one of six Penn State graduate students selected to receive a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research, under the direction of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.  

The NDSEG fellowship program, established in 1989, provides fellows with the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree in science and engineering disciplines of military importance, according to the fellowship’s website.

Larinaga is a pursuing a doctoral degree in chemistry under the advisement of Joseph Cotruvo, associate professor of chemistry in the Eberly College of Science.  

Larinaga’s research focuses on bioinorganic chemistry. Over the course of his fellowship, Larinaga will study how to use biological systems to extract rare earth elements (REEs) — metals that are critical to develop green energy technologies, electronics and many other products — from the environment and from wastes. 

According to Larinaga, research in the last decade revealed some bacteria require REEs for their metabolism, therefore their systems are optimized for acquiring and handling REEs. Drawing inspiration from these bacteria, Larinaga will explore new approaches to extract REEs, which have historically been difficult and used environmentally harmful solutions. 

“The ultimate goal of the project is to work toward reimagining current industrial rare earth element separation processes,” said Larinaga. “The aim is to make them more efficient, capable of using more complex source materials and more environmentally sustainable.”