The National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) honored three Iowa State College of Engineering alumni this year. The respected program recognizes people who have shown the potential to be future leaders in their fields.
Alex Bruce, Mandi (Caudle) Buffon and Lisa Rueschhoff each earned their bachelor’s degrees in materials engineering from Iowa State. The fellowship provides each recipient with $32,000 for living expenses and $12,000 toward tuition for each of the three years.
It also provides an opportunity for the fellows to receive support for international research experience through the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program for one year. Bruce intends to take advantage of this, saying she will be a visiting scholar at an overseas university to explore another culture.
Bruce graduated magna cum laude from Iowa State in 2012 and is currently in her second year at Purdue University, working toward a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. Though she did not do research at Iowa State, she says the materials engineering lab courses prepared her for the work she is doing now.
“My main motivation is creating new materials to help increase the sustainability of electronic products,” says Bruce. “Electronics are becoming an ever bigger part of our lives, and we really need to reduce the energy and environmental impact they pose.”
So far, her work has consisted of making epoxy non-flammable through incorporating nanoclay into the plastic, which would make it non-flammable without the use of toxic fire-retardant chemicals that are currently used. “Using non-toxic materials is extremely attractive, but you can’t compromise fire safety to get there,” she says.
Buffon also earned her bachelor’s degree in 2012 after four years on the women’s swim team. She is now a second year graduate student in materials science at the University of California – Santa Barbara.
While at Iowa State, Buffon performed research in the physics department under Paul Canfield, who she says sparked her interest in research. “I would encourage undergrads to find a research job if that’s applicable to their major. ISU provides many amazing opportunities.”
She now uses a thin-film growing technique called ‘molecular beam epitaxy’ to grow oxide semiconductors and characterizes the electronic properties of those thin films. Buffon says the materials are relatively new semiconductors that have exciting potential.
Rueschhoff graduated from Iowa State in 2013 and is now working toward her Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Purdue University. Her research is focused on developing new manufacturing techniques to create complex-shaped high-temperature ceramic parts.
“I am specifically working with the room temperature injection molding of silicon nitride ceramics with aligned microstructural features to create superior toughness,” says Rueschhoff.
Her work could benefit many components, including those used in gas turbines, rocket nozzles and diesel engines, affording greater reliability by limiting crack growth and propagation.
After working toward the NSF fellowship for a while, Rueschhoff says she’s honored to have her hard work recognized. “I am excited to move forward with my Ph.D. studies with the freedom to explore different research areas that I may not have been able to without the fellowship.”