Six in Physical Sciences win prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

They're researching everything from how to develop better, greener electric car batteries to eye disease treatments.
Tuesday, May 02, 2023
Brooke Payne Carpenter & Lucas Van Wyk Joel
UCI Physical Sciences Communications

The new fellows, clockwise from top left: Diana Lopez, Jiahao Jiang, Lena Gerritz, Samantha Frucht, Griffin Milligan and Anabel Chen.

Picture Credit:
UCI / Yesenia Garcia

Griffin Milligan, Department of Chemistry

Griffin Milligan is a Ph.D. student in the lab of Maxx Arguilla, where he plans to concentrate on materials chemistry. Milligan found his passion for making chemical structures in undergraduate organic chemistry courses, and is now using that passion to construct extremely thin wires within the walls of nano-sized tubes. Such research aims to enhance the efficiency of electronic circuits in modern computers. To garner interest in semiconductor science, Milligan participates in programs like College Access, Readiness, and Success (CARS) and Laboratory Experiments in Physical Sciences (LEAPS) where he demos experiments to underserved high school and middle school students. After graduate school, Milligan said he will “go where the wind takes me,” as long as it still lets him make “interesting stuff.”

Diana Lopez, Department of Chemistry

Ph.D. student Diana Lopez researches next-gen nanotechnology materials in Maxx Arguilla’s lab. As existing technologies get smaller and smaller, there is a need to design new nanomaterials for targeted nanoscale applications. Driven by her desire to understand the relationship between structure and function in the new materials, she aims to optimize the approaches to produce high-quality nanowires. Outside of research, Lopez promotes awareness of solid-state chemistry and graduate school through programs like the California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP). “I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to discover their passion for science and to pursue a fulfilling career in the field if they so choose,” Lopez said. After she graduates, Lopez plans to work as a materials researcher in the tech industry.

Lena Gerritz, Department of Chemistry

Lena Gerritz is a Ph.D. student in Sergey Nizkorodov’s lab where she researches atmospheric chemistry. As a child, Gerritz, dreamed of being a chemist, and now she studies how particles from wildfires age over time and affect our air quality. “Being a graduate student is my dream job for this stage in my life,” said Gerritz. “I get to explore my research interests, learn new things and make mistakes, all while being in a supportive environment.” Gerritz is an advocate for facilitating inclusive learning environments for students who, like herself, have a learning disability. She is also actively involved in middle school and high school outreach for AirUCI – an organized research unit at UCI devoted to understanding climate change and improving air quality. “Getting future students excited about air quality is crucial to me to ensure efforts in improving our air quality are just as important for generations to come,” Gerritz said.

Anabel Chen, Department of Chemistry

Anabel Chen is an undergraduate researcher in Professor Eric Potma’s lab, where she develops advanced optical microscopy techniques and applies them to study biological systems. Her current work focuses on using chemical imaging to understand eye disease therapies. Outside of research, Anabel is passionate about sharing her love for science with underserved groups both locally and in Asia, where she designs educational material and leads science outreach. After earning her B.S. in chemistry this spring, Anabel will continue her research in Potma’s lab as she pursues her Ph.D. at UCI. She hopes to eventually become a chemistry professor to drive science forward and to inspire future young scientists.

Samantha Frucht, Department of Earth System Science

Samantha Frucht is a Ph.D. student in the UC Irvine Department of Earth System Science where she works in Professor Jane Baldwin’s group. Frucht researches how tropical cyclones and hurricanes can knock out power to huge swaths of a population, and how this can create a public health emergency not just in the form of the physical destruction that befalls a region, but, in the absence of electricity, when air conditioners and fans go offline – something that can prove fatal if so-called tropical cyclone heat events strike after a storm. “I use numerical climate models that can simulate both of these events to try and understand how tropical cyclone-heat events are being affected by climate change,” said Frucht. “We expect them to become more frequent with global warming, but we need to be able to better quantify why that is. My research will help inform extreme weather warning systems and adaptation strategies so that we prepare effectively for these events and minimize their negative impacts on public health.”

Jiahao Jiang, Department of Physics & Astronomy

Jiahao Jiang is a Ph.D. student in the UC Irvine Department of Chemistry in the lab of Professor Huolin Xin. Xin’s lab is renowned for its work developing the future of things like electric car batteries, and Jiang’s work is following suit. “In my research proposal, I explained how my work on developing new cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries with low cobalt content has the potential to impact the electrification of transportation,” said Jiang. Current lithium-ion batteries contain cobalt, much of which comes from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. “My research aims to contribute to the broader goal of creating more sustainable and efficient energy storage systems,” Jiang said.



The Department of Earth System Science acknowledges our presence on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Acjachemen and Tongva peoples, who still hold strong cultural, spiritual and physical ties to this region.