Alvarez is sole UIUC finalist for Hertz Fellowship

2/17/2021 Julia Park

Undergrad Anna Alvarez, a researcher in Professor Wissa's BAM Lab, was named one of 48 finalists for the 2021 Hertz Fellowships in applied science, math, and engineering. She is the only finalist from UIUC.

Written by Julia Park

Anna AlvarezMechSE undergraduate Anna Alvarez was named one of 48 finalists for the 2021 Hertz Fellowships in applied science, math, and engineering. She is the only finalist from UIUC.

Selected from more than 900 applicants and representing 17 universities, the finalists will advance to a culminating round of interviews for the competitive fellowships, offered by the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. The 2021 class of Hertz Fellows will be announced in May.

Since 1963, the Hertz Foundation has granted fellowships to promising young minds in science and technology. Hertz Fellows receive five years of funding valued at up to $250K, with the freedom to pursue innovative projects wherever they may lead. In addition to financial support, the foundation provides ongoing mentoring, symposia, and retreats to build a network of peers, providing fellows with a forum to share ideas and explore opportunities throughout their careers.

Alvarez joined Professor Aimy Wissa’s Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology (BAM) Lab in 2019. Her research focuses on modifying the BAM lab’s ornithopter to perform gliding landings. The goal of her project is to better understand the aerodynamics of a bird's M-shaped wing during high angle-of-attack landings and to translate this concept into a mechanical, morphing wing.

“I’ve always loved working with animals, so when I became a mechanical engineer major here at Illinois… for me, the obvious choice was to work in bio-inspired design and biomimicry. We know birds are the natural inspiration for small, aerial vehicles, and by better understanding the aerodynamic forces present during a bird’s landing, we can help improve aerial vehicle abilities to land quickly and with precision,” said Alvarez.

“[If I win] the fellowship, I will be given the funding to work on any research project of my choosing as a PhD student. Ideally, I would love to study live animals and model their movements and behaviors. Since I also have a background in micro-robotics from my summer REU program, I wish to also consider the integration of microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) in my designs. I've always wanted to work with a multidisciplinary research group that studies both macro- and micro-scale organisms. However, while applying for graduate school, I’ve found that these research groups are far and few between. After I earn my PhD, I would like to become a professor and start my own lab where students from various backgrounds can collaborate on developing bio-inspired designs of their own,” she said.

Over several summers, Alvarez took part in REU (Research Experience for Undergraduate) programs, including at the Cornell University Nanofabrication Facility, where she helped develop the first liquid crystal microrobot. At UIUC, she is involved in ASME, is a member of the Clare Booth Luce Research Scholars program, and can be found at the biannual research fair presenting her work and advocating for students to join REUs.

Over the Hertz Foundation’s 58-year history of awarding fellowships, its 1,242 Hertz Fellows have established a remarkable track record of accomplishments. Their ranks include two Nobel laureates; eight recipients of the Breakthrough Prize; and winners of the Turing Award, the Fields Medal, the National Medal of Technology, and the National Medal of Science. In addition, 43 are members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and 29 are fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hertz Fellows hold over 3,000 patents, have founded more than 200 companies, and have created hundreds of thousands of science and technology jobs.

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This story was published February 17, 2021.