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Current GATE Awards

Shikha Bangar


Shikha Bangar’s work focuses on Novel Algorithms for NISQ Devices; Bangar is developing quantum algorithms that can be implemented on current quantum technologies. Currently, she is designing a continuous-variable (CV) quantum neural network protocol that can be realized experimentally. This protocol uses only Gaussian gates, and nonlinearity is introduced through measurements on ancillary qumodes. Next, she will investigate the power of CV quantum neural networks and compare them with their classical counterparts.

Ian Cox


Ian Cox is collaborating with ORNL and other institutions to study the decays of exotic isotopes using the FRIB Decay Station Initiator (FDSi). FDSi allows for the combination of high-resolution gamma and neutron spectroscopy with total absorption gamma spectroscopy to measure excited states in nuclei. These results allow insight into interactions between protons and neutrons in the nucleus, thus helping to provide better models for astrophysical applications. Also, an upcoming experiment will attempt to measure the superallowed alpha decay of 104Te to provide needed insight into how protons and neutrons cluster together.

Presley Dowker


Presley Dowker’s research focus is on identifying and characterizing novel pharmacological and diet-based approaches to treat and prevent obesity and its associated metabolic consequences. This is achieved through the use of both in vitro (cell culture) and in vivo (mice work) models which allows her to characterize the function and contribution of key metabolic proteins and enzymes related to the pathogenesis of obesity. Presley’s overarching goal is to identify novel strategies that will alleviate or treat metabolic diseases through the use of pharmacological, genetic, or nutritional approaches.

Diyi Liu

Civil & Environmental Engineering

Diyi Liu’s research focuses on tackling engineering problems in the transportation field using emerging and the innovative methodologies and technologies including statistical machine learning, data science, numerical optimization, etc. Liu’s research is threefold: (1) to understand transportation and its pattern using statistical approach; (2) to enhance the “total benefits” of traffic through better control algorithms; (3) to make new theoretical and practical contributions about different methods through studying the hard transportation-related topics like intelligent carpool matching, truck volume identification, etc.

Sayali Mulay


Sayali is working on Arctic subsurface samples collected from Svalbard, Norway to identify active microbial population during permafrost thaw. She is using a molecular based activity detection technique to identify and isolate active microbes from the thawed permafrost. Her research will help us understand the microbial communities that dominate the thawing Arctic subsurface and their processes.

Kristen Kennison


Kristen Kennison’s research focuses on exploring a poorly understood characteristic of the plasma membrane, transbilayer compositional asymmetry. Currently, she is primarily focusing on characterizing asymmetric bilayers that mimic eukaryotic plasma membranes to reveal information about interleaflet coupling. Kristen’s work involves producing symmetric and asymmetric giant unilamellar vesicles and large unilamellar vesicles utilizing methods such as calcium-induced hemifusion and methyl-beta-cyclodextrin exchange, respectively. She has utilized many different techniques to characterize these model membranes such as confocal fluorescence microscopy, Forster resonance energy transfer, cryogenic electron microscopy, and small-angle neutron scattering.

Paychuda Kritprajun

Electrical Engineering

Paychuda’s research focuses on studying the impact of grid-connected photovoltaic with supercapacitor systems (PVSS) on power grids. To investigate its behavior under power system transient events, she developed a converter-based supercapacitor emulator with PV on a real-time reconfigurable hardware testbed (HTB) platform. Kritprajun’s research aims to develop the control of PVSS to ensure its availability to provide grid services under severe events while maintaining the safe operations of both PVSS and power grids and to help PV generation sources ride through major grid disturbances without disconnecting from the grid.

Rounak Patra

Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science

Rounak Patra’s research focuses on C isotopes to understand subsoil carbon dynamics. Our current understanding of soil organic carbon (C) dynamics is mainly derived from topsoil studies. Theoretically, subsoil possesses ideal traits for long-term C storage, yet the mechanistic understanding of fulfilling such potential is largely unknown. In Patra’s dissertation research, they leverage stable C isotopes to study active microbial functional traits associated with C cycling to understand subsoil carbon dynamics under highly managed ecosystems.

Charles Russell

Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Charles Russell studies the pore formation mechanism of the virulent peptide, candidalysin, that is required for Candida albicans pathogenesis. Russell is interested in the physical influence that plasma membrane lipids have on protein structure and function. Understanding the mechanism of candidalysin self-assembly and pore formation will inform new avenues to treat C. albicans infection and can also be utilized in other biomedical applications.

Ryan Spencer

Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering

Ryan Spencer works with nondestructive evaluation (NDE) tools that will be integrated into advanced manufacturing methods in order to provide high quality and defect free components. Spencer’s research focuses on large-scale additive manufacturing methods that are still prone to defect development during the fabrication process. By applying acoustic emission, a leading NDE technique, as structural health monitoring, Spencer will measure stress waves caused by initial failure points, such as cracking. This method will provide early detection of defects during the print process and allow the ability to take preventative action.

Jeremy Watts

Industrial and System Engineering

Jeremy Watts’ research combines data and decision sciences to optimize healthcare treatment plans for Parkinson’s disease patients. Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disorder with no known cure. Jeremy’s work utilizes wearable sensors and patients’ demographics/genetics to dynamically adjust patients’ medications/therapies to reduce their symptoms.

Hyun Seok Yoon

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Hyun Yoon is interested in aquatic species conservation. Yoon is currently working on projecting how the range of freshwater fish and mussel species will shift in the future due to climate change and hydropower/thermoelectric plants operation. He is doing this using species distribution modeling to calculate the likelihood of occurrence of species using predictors such as temperature and flow of the streams simulated through the water balance model. Based on the projected change in species distribution, Yoon will conduct an economic risk calculation from potential fluctuation in the species monitoring and mitigation cost for the hydropower plant operations.

Kristen Butler

Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences

Kristen’s area of study is soil biogeochemistry; the study of the biological, geological, chemical, and physical characteristics that govern soil composition. Specifically, her research looks at the impact of manganese cycling on the carbon cycle and its greater impacts on global climate change.

Enzo Dinglasan

Genome Science & Technology

Dinglasan is expanding the sets of tools that can be used to engineer cell-free systems for maximizing protein and metabolite synthesis. The growth of the bioeconomy depends on the integration of biological approaches as green alternatives for commercial production. Bioproduction emerged to address sustainability concerns associated with chemical manufacturing methods that rely on petroleum. The advantage of speed that is offered by cell-free manufacturing will not only hasten our transition into a global bioeconomy, an increasingly urgent need as climate change worsens, it also provides opportunities to sustainably meet surging demands during global emergencies.

Devon Drey

Nuclear Engineering

Defect formation, defect mobility, and associated disorder profoundly affect the physical properties of many materials and influences material performance in both ambient and extreme environments. Devon Drey’s project uses the advanced materials characterization techniques to further our understanding of defect behavior and disordering over a range of length scales in several oxide materials.

Viswanathan Gurumoorthy

Department of Genome Science & Technology

Viswanathan’s research investigates intrinsically disordered proteins, or IDPs. IDPs have been shown to play a causative role in diseases such as cancer. He hopes to continue to address the knowledge gap in the study of proteins and their potential impact in a variety of systems.

Samara Levine

Department of Nuclear Engineering

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Samara left an industry career as a nuclear engineer to pursue research. Her work, which seeks to investigate radiation damage in reactor structures, has led to collaborations with ORNL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers. Her continuing research may ensure safer conditions for the generation of clean energy by fission and fusion systems.

Sarah Love

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Using the natural laboratory comparison of sky islands and adjacent mountain chains, Sarah Love examines how climate change since the end of the Pleistocene has influenced adaptive demographic processes, plant-soil feedbacks, and plant phenotypes across the entire natural range of the dominant riparian tree, Populus angustifolia, narrowleaf cottonwood.

Zeyu Liu

Industrial & Systems Engineering

Zeyu Liu’s research focuses on mathematical optimization and operations research, especially under parametric uncertainties. His application area includes critical infrastructure, healthcare, transportation, and energy systems. Liu received his doctorate of Philosophy, Industrial Engineering from UT in 2022.

Hang Ma

Industrial & Systems Engineering 

Hang Ma’s research focuses on statistical machine learning, mathematical optimization and scientific computing for modeling, control and optimization of complex dynamic systems ubiquitous in science and engineering. Ma’s current work is to develop interpretable machine learning methods to uncover the unknown physical laws in the complex systems, like machining dynamics for smart manufacturing and water electrolysis for green hydrogen production.

Maddison Melchionna

Biochemistry, Cellular, & Molecular

Maddison Melchionna’s research focuses on understanding the biochemical mechanisms by which bacteria sense
changes in their environments and respond to stress. Specifically, she has characterized the function of a widely conserved bacterial membrane protein, which allows cells to balance and maintain homeostasis of membrane energetics, including the transmembrane potentialand proton motive force.

Xin Wen

Department of Physics & Astronomy

The study of turbulence has implications in an array of real-world scenarios, from transportation to medicine. Xin’s research seeks to effectively quantify and test turbulent flow through the use of liquid helium. He plans to engage in multiple collaboration on this work, including with ORNL, the Joint Institute for Computational Studies, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

Hao Zhang

Physics & Astronomy

Hao Zhang researches theoretical condensed matter physics with an emphasis on quantum magnetism. In particular, Zhang’s interest is in the novel states of matter and the dynamical response in frustrated quantum materials. Zhang has developed some generalized notations in the field of quantum magnetism in their Ph.D. dissertation. These generalized notations provide powerful theoretical tools for modeling diffuse and inelastic neutron scattering experiments performed at the Neutron Scattering Division of ORNL.

Matthew Baucum

Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Matthew’s research combines healthcare operations and data analytics, and will investigate techniques for more efficient weaning of medical patients from ventilators. Matthew’s earlier academic work in quantitative psychology laid a foundation for a nuanced approach to the fusion of theory-driven classical operations research and modern advances in data science that will serve to guide his continuing research to improve chronic and critical healthcare.

Liz Denison

Department of Microbiology

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Liz’s work focuses on the microbial communities of peat bogs, specifically Sphagnum, and how microorganisms may influence larger ecosystem processes. Peatlands have been identified as one of the most valuable, and most vulnerable, ecosystems on the planet. She hopes her work will contribute to predictive models of how Sphagnum will be impacted by warming temperatures.

Rajesh Ghimire

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Rajesh’s research focuses on instrumentation development, data acquisition, and analysis of large data sets to better understand nuclear reactions. An understanding of nuclear reactions can lead to developing an understanding of nucleosynthetic processes in deep cosmos. Rajesh hopes to use this work to expand his expertise in experimental nuclear physics.

Adrien Green

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Adrien’s work centers on the development of secure quantum communications, or the introduction of the laws of quantum mechanics into encryption to develop more secure means of communication. He hopes his work will contribute to the innovation necessary to make such technology widely accessible to the greater public.

Mohammad Aminul Haque

Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Aminul has always been fascinated by technology and electrical engineering. Focusing on the area of nanotechnology, his work seeks to bridge the disciplines of physics and electrical engineering. He hopes his research on 3D printed polymer structures will lead to a career in industry-oriented research and nanoelectronics fabrication.

Michelle Lehmann

Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Michelle is a nontraditional student exploring ion-transport membranes for non-aqueous battery systems. After spending ten years working as a veterinary technician, she enrolled at the University of Tennessee to pursue an education in chemical engineering and is currently pursuing a degree in energy science and engineering. She hopes her research will yield significant impacts for battery technologies.

Francis Okejiri

Department of Chemistry

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Francis’s research focuses on pollution from vehicle emissions, specifically carbon monoxide which is highly toxic to humans. Carbon monoxide has been linked to a number of respiratory illnesses and can be fatal to humans in relatively small doses. He hopes to develop crystalline materials that can transform carbon monoxide into the less toxic carbon dioxide.

Nick Oldham

Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Nick’s work focuses on the effect of urban landscapes on wetlands and their associated pollinators. Specifically, his research investigates fly populations critical to the plant communities found in eastern Tennessee wetlands. As a self-described bug lover, Nick hopes his work will support UT-ORNL collaborations as well as educate broader audiences on the importance of pollinators.

Sreya Paladugu

Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Sreya is investigating metal oxide catalysts under acid gas exposure through neutron and x-ray scattering. She hopes her work will contribute to materials discovery and design for energy applications, and create an opportunity for collaborations with industry partners.

Nitesh Shah

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

The critical nature of road access was made clear to Nitesh in the wake of a devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. His work in transportation planning has led him to focus on sustainability, user behavior, and safety of shared micromobility; a potential solution to urban transportation issues like congestion and pollution.

Tyler Steiner

Department of Nuclear Engineering

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

A lifetime of natural curiosity brought Tyler to the field of nuclear engineering for space applications. Nuclear thermal propulsion has been chosen by NASA to send humans to Mars, but a testbed for simulating the specific conditions this mission will experience does not yet exist. Tyler’s research will contribute to the development of such a test bed in an ongoing UT-ORNL collaboration.

Huihui Sun

Department of Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Huihui’s research focuses on soil environmental microbiology, specifically the role of viruses in soil. Viruses are known to play important roles in a given ecosystem, from carbon cycling to breaking down contaminants. Her work seeks to determine the effect of water in soil on the distribution of viral populations within that soil.

Matthew Whisenant

Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Biomedical Engineering

As renewable energy technology continues to develop, existing infrastructures may provide stumbling blocks making it difficult to implement these technologies. Matthew’s research centers on hydropower, utilizing machine learning to develop more efficient turbines. He hopes his work will contribute to future increases in renewable energy use.

Yi Yang

Department of Materials Science & Engineering

Awarded 2020 and 2021 Funding

Stainless steel is a widely used material in pipes for oil refineries, power plants, and nuclear energy systems. Failed welds in these pipes can have dramatic consequences. Yi’s research investigates these welds and potential causes of their failures. She hopes to then generate a predictive model for industrial use in safety monitoring.