CUNY Students Win NSF Grants
Five City University of New York graduates have received prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, supporting groundbreaking research subjects ranging from “nanobot” drug-delivery systems to spacecraft propulsion.
The five students, who are entering or already enrolled in graduate programs, were awarded substantial grants covering three years of research. The honors continue CUNY’s strong yearly recognition by the NSF program, which is geared toward assuring the vitality and diversity of America’s scientific and engineering workforce.
Commending the 2011 winners, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said, “With our Decade of Science initiative now in its sixth year, the University has established science and research as a cornerstone of our academic programs and reputation. With so many high-achieving students choosing CUNY and progressing to graduate study in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — it’s to be expected that the National Science Foundation is taking notice of our graduates, year after year.”
This year’s NSF awardees are researching questions ranging from the practical to the theoretical, and include one winner in the social sciences.
Lina Mercedes Gonzalez (Hunter College 2009), who is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, was granted $90,000 over three years to develop a tiny “swimmer” vehicle to deliver drugs to the specific site where they are needed.
Gonzalez plans to earn her doctorate within three years and to become a professor with her own lab. “The math, physics and chemistry I took at Hunter have helped a lot,” said Gonzalez, who singled out Hunter physics professor Steven G. Greenbaum for his guidance.
The NSF awarded a three-year, $121,500 grant to Giovanni Milione (City College, M.A., 2011) for doctoral study in physics at the CUNY Graduate Center and CCNY.
Milione’s research involves applying optical vortices to spectroscopy. Normally, light flows like waves on the ocean, and spectroscopic devices use regular light to examine the interaction of matter and radiation (think of a humble glass prism turning a shaft of sunlight into a rainbow). But extraordinary things occur when light assumes a complex form called an optical vortex, which is a corkscrew instead of a wave.
“By using light with the twist, with both color and angular momentum, we’ll be able to access atomic structure with a degree of freedom that’s unavailable with regular, plain light,” he said.
The NSF granted $121,500 over three years to Anthony Pang (City College, 2011), who will study spacecraft propulsion at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pang will work toward a doctorate with MIT professor Manuel Martinez-Sanchez on plasma dynamic simulations for space thrusters. Already offered a fully paid research assistantship for the project, Pang will develop simulations for both plasma thrusters and ionospheric interactions with spacecraft.
As a City College undergraduate, Pang ventured toward space with Professor Charles Watkins, for two years working on CUNY’s multicampus “cubesat” program. In this NASA initiative, students design small but very real satellites that the space agency launches during its big-science missions; he worked on the structures, mechanisms and thermal control subsystem team. Earlier, he explored robotics with professor Jizhong Xiao, and then joined a student initiative to modify a Lister diesel engine to run on biofuel made from the oil-rich seeds of the jatropha plant.
Arthur Jacob Parzygnat (Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, 2010), received a $90,000 grant over three years to support his research in topological quantum field theory at the CUNY Graduate Center. Describing himself as a mathematical physicist, Parzygnat said his interest is in understanding quantum field theory (a description of our universe which occurs at the intersection of quantum mechanics and relativity) from a mathematically rigorous point of view.
Parzygnat, who will take his doctorate in physics, said he discovered his interest in mathematics as a Macaulay freshman, when a fellow student advised him to take an honors abstract algebra course. “It was too advanced for me,” he said, “but I learned I wanted to go into math. I wanted a real challenge and I knew I’d be in good company.”
Evangeleen Faith Pattison (City College, 2010), now in a sociology Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Austin, also received a $30,000 NSF grant for each of three years, plus her university will receive $10,500 a year to support her work. She will explore how race and ethnicity factor into widely varying higher-education completion rates among science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.
In general, students who declare STEM majors are less likely to finish than those in other fields, but non-Asian racial and ethnic minorities – Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans – have the highest attrition rates, she said. “I will investigate what happens to underrepresented minorities who declare a STEM major in college but do not complete a STEM degree. Specifically, I will focus on the social processes operating within the undergraduate universities these students attend,” Pattison said.
“Developing a more complete understanding of social processes can provide policymakers and postsecondary institutions with the ability to address gaps in STEM degree completion,” she said. #