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MSE undergraduate earns NSF Fellowship

COLUMBUS, OHIO -- Maria Stang’s graduate school options are wide open, thanks to the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Stang, a student in materials science and engineering at The Ohio State University, was selected from among 13,000 applicants for the prestigious award.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The 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 United States 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 that contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, Google founder, Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author, Steven Levitt.

“My senior research project is focused on biomaterials,” Stang said. My group, under the direction of Dr. John Lannutti and Kayla Presley, is researching oxygen-sensing nanofibers, which could potentially be used in applications such as brain tumor detection. My partner and I specifically work on characterizing the photostability of these nanofibers, while my other group members are studying the addition of upconverting particles to create NIR-activated fibers. Over the course of this semester, I have attempted to elucidate the effect of aging on scaffold sensitivity, and thus far, we have determined that the concentration of the luminescent oxygen-sensitive species  affects this photobleaching behavior.”

“Maria has done a tremendous job of quantifying the net oxidative degradation of palladium (II) meso-tetrakis (pentafluorophenyl) porphyrin in electrospun nanofiber carrier,” said Lannutti, professor of materials science and engineering. “These results will directly impact the next generation of high speed oxygen sensors in biomedical applications.”

During her time at Ohio State, Stang, a native of Mason, Ohio, has received the Department Chair’s Award, which goes to the outstanding senior scholar in materials science and engineering, and the department’s Outstanding Junior Award. During a research internship at Battelle, she earned an Outstanding Performance Award for her participation in the development of a new corrosion detector. Her work at Battelle helped to cement her interest in the field of biomaterials.

“I love the interface of biology, chemistry, and engineering,” Stang said. “The great thing about this interface is that there are many opportunities to start really sweet research that can potentially have an immediate impact on society, like 3D printing an artificial heart.”

She’s been active outside of her major as well, serving as president of Scarlet and Grace Notes, an a cappella group, and is active in the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and Mortar Board Senior Class Honorary.

“Maria is an exemplary student,” said Tyler Grassman, assistant professor. “She works hard and is always engaged in what she’s doing, even when facing a steep challenge.”

Heather Powell, associate professor, notes that Stang has been “tenacious in her efforts to seek out new experiences to increase her understanding of materials science and immerse herself in hands-on learning,” noting a NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates Stang undertook at Virginia Tech.

Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities that become available when they are selected. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees (paid to the institution), opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation's technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large."

Stang will use the fellowship to continue her studies in the fields of polymers and biomaterials. She’s narrowed her grad-school options down to three, all in the top 10 of U.S. News and World Reports’ outstanding programs in materials science and engineering.

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