Student Honors

Masha Aleksich Wins Top Poster Prize at ACS NERM 2023

Mariya "Masha" Aleksich
Mariya “Masha” Aleksich

Mariya “Masha” Aleksich won first place in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Northeast Regional Meeting 2023 (NERM) Graduate Student Poster competition for her presentation, Topological Engineering by Size and Steric Direction of Metal-Organic Chalcogenate (MOCha) Hybrid Assemblies.

A graduate student in Dr. Nate Hohman’s group, Masha’s research concentrates on optimizing synthesis of MOCHas for comprehensive characterization.

Masha holds a B.S. in chemistry from Texas A&M University (2020) where she focused on synthesis of chiral amino acid-based surfactants. She is a third-year graduate student in the Hohman Group. She also serves as V.P. and Treasurer of the Joint Safety Team in the Department of Chemistry.

IMS congratulates Masha on this impressive recognition.


EIRC Lab Mates Like Family

Kerry Lynn Davis-AmendolaKerry Lynn Davis-Amendola beautifully shares her experience as a current Ph.D. student in the Electrical Insulation Research Center (EIRC) paying special attention to the importance of her lab mates and the camaraderie that awaited her when she joined the lab.  The inspiring article, The Best Part of a PhD that No One Is Talking About, appears in the “Young Professionals” section of the July/August 2023 edition of the journal IEEE.

Meet NDSEG Fellow Mason Freund

Mason Freund
Ph.D. student Mason Freund has aerospace science at the root of his research.

Since its inception in 1989, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship has been awarded to only 4400 students.  In that time, over 65,000 have applied.  The highly competitive fellowship, sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), was established by the U.S. Congress to increase the number of U.S. citizens receiving doctoral degrees in science and engineering disciplines of military importance.

Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. candidate Mason Freund has been named a recipient of this prestigious fellowship.  IMS News spoke with Mason about his early interests in science and the catalysts and decisions leading to his being named a NDSEG Fellow.

You earned your Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering with a concentration in aerospace engineering.  In your pursuit of your Ph.D. your focus remains on aerospace science.  When did you begin to be interested in aerospace science and what about aerospace science keeps you engaged? 

I think there’s always been some interest in aerospace science starting from playing with toys and enjoying sci fi movies as a kid. This steered me towards spaceships and planes and slowly evolved into interest in the sciences and engineering. Finally, being able to learn about aerospace engineering during my undergrad seemed to bring everything together. And now being a fellow under the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) I will be able to interact with the field on a deeper level. I am constantly learning new information and techniques that keeps the learning experience engaging but there are also always new discoveries and ideas that keep pushing the known boundaries to something that is better, faster, or stronger. I think those new discoveries and possibilities will keep me engaged for a long time.

How/when did you begin to tie materials science into your interest in aerospace science?

The mechanical engineering curriculum requires an introduction to materials science. I didn’t know what the field of materials science was or could lead to, but I quickly became interested in learning more about the field. I decided to go for a minor and take courses that could add another dimension to my curriculum and benefit my aerospace science interests.

Congratulations on being named a 2022 DoD NDSEG Fellow.  How did you come to apply for the NDSEG Fellowship and what was your reaction after learning you had been selected for the fellowship? 

My advisor (Volkan Ortalan) made me aware of some different fellowships early on in my graduate studies. After doing more research over the course of last fall, I applied to a few different fellowships. Then came a long 4-6 month wait to April when the results were expected to come out. I checked my email one night at the end of March and was surprised to see an email from NDSEG. I was then even more surprised and excited to realize it was an acceptance letter. It was the first one I got back, and I wasn’t even expecting a letter for at least another few days. I was very excited and slightly caught off guard, but it made my night and my week.

Tell us about your research and its short- and long-term implications for real-world applications. 

My group is primarily a microscopy group. We spend most time on transmission electron microscopes (TEM) in addition to other instruments and techniques. Our lab has a special ultrafast TEM which allows us to investigate reactions and dynamics at very short time scales. Specifically, my research will take advantage of these capabilities to investigate reaction dynamics of nano energetic materials to better understand behaviors from these materials as well as nanoparticle enhancement at the necessary timescales.

This work is useful for further insights into nano energetics and optimization for use in propellants and other related technologies as well as directly relating to programs within the AFOSR. The field of nano energetics plays a role in many propulsion applications as well as high power linear actuators. There are also possibilities for use in miniature applications such as micro or nano satellites. This research will provide a more fundamental understanding of the behaviors and can lead to better control, optimization, and performance of the technology.

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you chose to continue your graduate studies at UConn.  What was the catalyst for your decision?

As I mentioned, I started my minor and was taking MSE courses throughout my time in undergraduate studies. In one of the MSE courses the professor was Dr. Ortalan who is now my advisor. He asked me what I was planning on doing after graduation. I knew that I might want to go back to graduate school eventually, but I was also initially looking for jobs in industry. He mentioned about his open position for a graduate student and about the work that would be required but also the benefits and investment that it would be for my future. This really was the catalyst for my decision. I would have taken it either way but graduating in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic and hearing about difficulties in job hiring made the decision even easier.

Polymer Program Announces 2021-2022 Awards

The IMS Polymer Program Awards committee has selected two awardees for the 2021 – 2022 academic year.

Chung Hao Polymer Program Award
Chung Hao (center), winner of the Samuel J. Huang Graduate Student Research Award, with Polymer Program Director Kelly Burke (left) and advisor, Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh.

Chung-Hao Liu received the Samuel J. Huang Graduate Student Research Award.  This award recognizes a graduate student for outstanding research in the field of polymer science and engineering.  Chung-Hao completed is fourth year as a polymer PhD candidate under the guidance of Prof. Mu-Ping Nieh. He has been diligent in conducting advanced nanoscience research including materials characterization and designing polymer nanostructures. His efforts have resulted in two published journal articles, one currently in review, and contributions to many more. Chung-Hao has also made many collaborating efforts with other research groups and mentored undergraduate engineering students. Outside the lab, Chung-Hao has been an Society of Polymer Engineers, Storrs Chapter, committee member for 3 years, serving as both Vice President and President. His positive attitude and strong work ethics have made contributions to Prof. Nieh’s lab and the IMS research community.


Probodha Abeykoon Receives 2022 Polymer Program Award
Probodha Abeykoon (center), winner of the Stephanie H. Shaw Fellowship Scholar Award, with Polymer Program Director Kelly Burke and advisor, Dr. Douglas Adamson.

Probodha Abeykoon has been recognized as this year’s Stephanie H. Shaw Fellowship Scholar. This award is designated for a female student showing academic achievement and contributions outside of research.  Probodha has served as the leader of the Adamson Research Lab and has taken it upon herself to be the resident expert in several analytical techniques, such as four-point probe and thermal conductivity. She has two published papers and a third manuscript recently submitted. She has also presented her work at several ACS National Meetings. During the past 4 years Probodha has grown in into an excellent scientist and group leader.

The polymer program congratulates this year’s awardees with their tremendous efforts in both research and leadership in the IMS community.

Elyse Schriber Named NSF Graduate Research Fellow

ElyseElyse Schriber Schriber, a second-year materials science graduate student in the lab of assistant professor of chemistry J. Nathan “Nate” Hohman, was named among five UConn students to receive the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP).

Elyse began working with Hohman as an undergraduate research assistant in 2017, when he was a staff scientist at the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab before coming to UConn.

She started working on method development for serial femtosecond chemical crystallography (SFCX) at an X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) facility in 2018. This is an X-ray crystallography technique that determines single crystal structures of materials from microcrystalline powders. She continues that work at UConn currently. The duo recently published their first paper on the method in Nature.

She plans to continue to work on different facets of the SFCX project in her graduate program, including studying ultrafast nonequilibrium excited state structural dynamics in materials.

“I started my undergraduate degree as a nontraditional student at the local community college and as a result, did not have a straightforward pathway into graduate school or academia,” says Schriber. “Being awarded the GRFP, especially with my background, makes me hopeful that more students with similar experiences can be empowered to believe that they can be successful, regardless of how they got their start.”  Read the full UConn Today Story