Seven MechSE students awarded NSF fellowships

11/4/2015 Fatima Farha, MechSE Communications

  NSF winners (left to right): Donggyu Benjamin Sohn, Herschel C. Pangborn, Joshua A. Schiller, Anthony Fan, Keegan Moore. Inset: Ashley Armstrong (top), Svjetlana Stekovic. Each year, the National Science Foundation awards a distinct number of individuals with graduate research fellowships.

Written by Fatima Farha, MechSE Communications

NSF winners (left to right): Donggyu Benjamin Sohn, Herschel C. Pangborn, Joshua A. Schiller, Anthony Fan, Keegan Moore. Inset: Ashley Armstrong (top), Svjetlana Stekovic.
NSF winners (left to right): Donggyu Benjamin Sohn, Herschel C. Pangborn, Joshua A. Schiller, Anthony Fan, Keegan Moore. Inset: Ashley Armstrong (top), Svjetlana Stekovic.
NSF winners (left to right): Donggyu Benjamin Sohn, Herschel C. Pangborn, Joshua A. Schiller, Anthony Fan, Keegan Moore. Inset: Ashley Armstrong (top), Svjetlana Stekovic.
Each year, the National Science Foundation awards a distinct number of individuals with graduate research fellowships. In 2015, seven MechSE students were awarded a fellowship for their promising research work. 
Ashley Armstrong
Armstrong is working with Professor Andrew Alleyne and Associate Professor Amy Wagoner Johnson, and is focusing on controls and biomechanics. Her primary work is designing and assembling an additive manufacturing machine that will print bone scaffolds. 
With Alleyne, Armstrong is working on the controls and machine side of the project, while Wagoner Johnson is assisting her with the application of the machine through her research on bone substitute materials. Armstrong said she hopes to have the machine running so she can start printing scaffolds and work to improve its design and efficiency. 
Currently a first-year master’s student, Armstrong graduated from Notre Dame in May. Alleyne reached out to her because of her interest in controls as well as the biological aspect of engineering. 
Even though Armstrong does not have as much as experience as the other NSF fellows, she still feels very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to further her research without having to worry about the costs associated with it. 
“The university has an incredible amount of resources and I know now more than ever that I made the right choice to attend Illinois,” Armstrong said. “I am confident the resources and help here, along with some hard work, will allow me to successfully complete my studies and research project.”
Anthony Fan
Fan is a third-year graduate student working with Professor Taher Saif on the effects of tension on the nervous system and the subsequent effects on cognitive functions, such as learning and memory. Fan said the research combines several mechanics and techniques, such as micro-device fabrication, electrophysiology, fluorescence microscopy, and digital signal processing to design experiments. 
The animal model currently being used for this research, said Fan, is the embryonic Drosophila, and through other collaborations, the researchers have been able to use mouse and crayfish models to address their research questions. The project Fan is currently working on took nearly two years for him to develop, and it is something he had been wanting to pursue since before graduate school. 
“In this relatively new field that I am in, there are so many questions that we can ask. But you can only do so much, so we have to focus on the fundamental ones—those that provide the most insight.”
As for the NSF fellowship, Fan said it was an honor to be a part of the program and that he would like to thank the MechSE department, along with the fellowship office, for helping him with his research. 
“The fellowship alleviates us from teaching responsibilities and funding requirements, so we can, to a greater extent, use our time to explore things that aspire us,” he said. “It also opens doors for international research and research internship opportunities.”
Keegan Moore
Moore is a graduate student working with Professor Alexander Vakakis, along with Professor Lawrence Bergman and Research Professor Michael McFarland, both in Aerospace Engineering. Moore, who has been at the university since fall 2014, studies nonlinear system identification, reduced order modeling, and nonlinear model updating of nonlinear dynamical systems. 
His research focuses primarily on bolted joints, a common structural joint that is used today in several high-fidelity computer models. Moore’s NSF proposal was based largely on the idea of a more reduced model, which will be able to reproduce nonlinear dynamics, and cost less than the high-fidelity models.
“As far as how I developed the research, it really came as a natural extension of my group’s past research and it’s something that I felt I could accomplish and that is in great need as well,” Moore said. 
Along with his research with bolted joints, Moore is also working on wave propagation across nonlinear interfaces that is based on nonlinear system identification techniques. While his research has focused on nonlinear system identification, he has not been focusing on the same areas within this umbrella topic during his entire research career. 
Moore said he has had a positive experience with the NSF fellowship because through writing his personal and professional statements, he was able to reflect on his accomplishments and figure out what he wanted to do with his future. He is also excited to be working with an “elite group of academics” and doing his research without having to worry about funding. 
“Winning the NSF Fellowship is a huge honor and an incredible success in my eyes,” he said. 
Herschel Pangborn
Pangborn is a part of the group led by Professor Andrew Alleyne. His research is based on dynamic modeling and control of energy systems, along with vapor compression systems and aircraft. Pangborn has been conducting research at the university for three years.
Some of the research questions he is addressing involve the idea of how complex systems can be developed so they are more efficient and reliable, while also performing with high quality. Pangborn worked with these same questions during his masters, but focusing on the control of air vapor compression systems for vehicles. 
“The goal is to develop control strategies that will facilitate significantly more efficient and reliable performance across a wide breadth of systems—ranging from cell phones to electric cars to next-generation aircraft,” Pangborn said. 
During his undergraduate studies at Penn State University, Pangborn said he worked on search and rescue robots, and the research questions he developed from that work carried over to the research here at Illinois with the Alleyne Research Group. 
Pangborn said the NSF fellowship and the funding he received because of it has helped him further his research, while also giving him a network with other NSF fellows and alumni. 
“Having external funding from the NSF has given me the opportunity to explore research areas that I believe are of technological and social significance to the world,” he said.
Joshua Schiller
Schiller is a third-year graduate student working with Assistant Professor Elif Ertekin on atomic-scale simulations of materials using Density Functional Theory and Quantum Monte Carlo, which, according to Schiller, means they use computers and supercomputers to conduct physics simulations. He recently completed research regarding solar material and finding another one through a less stable phase of manganese oxide.
While working with the university’s Applied Research Institute, Schiller said he was able to figure out what he wanted to do with his NSF proposal, which was based on attempting to find novel wide band gap semiconductors. 
Schiller said he wanted to find a new way of predicting materials through theory and computation rather than using the common “shake and bake” method, which Schiller described as putting compounds in an oven under specific conditions and then checking the effects. 
“The idea that one can predict a material in a computer without going through this tedious, costly, and often unsuccessful process is very alluring,” Schiller said. 
“I was very fortunate to get the fellowship,” Schiller said. “When I got it, it was a neat feeling knowing that other people objectively felt I was talented enough to receive such an award.”
Donggyu Benjamin Sohn
Sohn is a second-year graduate student working with Assistant Professor Gaurav Bahl. His research is focused mainly on reprogrammable MEMS using optical isolators and phase changing materials. 
Sohn said he is grateful for the opportunity that the NSF Fellowship provides for his research.
“When people do research, sometimes they just follow the field where sufficient funding exists. However, receiving this fellowship allows me to work in the field that I am really interested in.”
Svjetlana Stekovic 
Stekovic joined the TAM PhD program in August 2014 and has been working with Professor Emeritus Scott Stewart on multi-scale phenomenon during ignition, burn, and extinction of turbulent combustion in energetic materials. She has also been working with Professor Moshe Matalon.
Stekovic has been conducting research on several projects that combine different disciplines in engineering, involving numerical analysis, materials science, fluid mechanics, and combustion.
Stekovic’s proposal for the NSF focused on multi-scale simulations of electrochemistry and ionic transport in solid oxide fuel cells.
“I am very passionate about this project and I am planning to pursue this in the near future,” she said. “Therefore, being awarded the fellowship has provided an opportunity for me to pursue my research goals on interdisciplinary research in sustainable clean energy, such as improving the efficiency of solid oxide fuel cells.”
Along with an opportunity to work on research she is passionate about, the NSF Fellowship also helped her with proposal writing and communicating her goals; she said she is grateful for the award because it recognized her ambitions for her research. 

Share this story

This story was published November 4, 2015.