Western Kentucky University student Nicholas Wright has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
A chemistry major from Berea, Wright works in the lab with Dr. Hemali Rathnayake, assistant professor of chemistry. His research has focused on solar energy, specifically working to construct nanoscale carbon-based materials to produce cost-effective portable solar plastics.
“I got involved in research after speaking with my advisor, Dr. Lester Pesterfield. He suggested that I go talk to Dr. Rathnayake because she is working with nanotechnology, an interest of mine,” Wright said. “I have now been involved in research for about three years.”
The Graduate Research Fellowship is the oldest graduate fellowship program in the country that supports graduate students in the sciences, social sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics. Since its establishment more than 50 years ago, the fellowship program has supported more than 46,000 scholars, many of whom have gone on to become Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences.
Recipients of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship receive an annual stipend of $30,000 for up to three years and a cost-of-education allowance to offset tuition and fees.
News of Wright’s scholarship success came to him through email.
“I was in shock and didn't know what to do. I was frozen on my couch and couldn't move,” he said. “After hearing the news and having just returned from the American Chemical Society conference, I had to get ready to present a poster over my research at the 1st Annual Kentucky Nanotechnology Symposium.”
“I would like to thank Dr. Hemali Rathnayake, Dr. Audra Jennings, Dr. Pesterfield, Dr. Kevin Williams, Amy Poynter, and the Chemistry Department for helping me achieve all of my successes.”
Wright worked with Dr. Jennings of the Office of Scholar Development as he crafted a personal statement and past research essay for the fellowship application. He turned to his research mentor, Dr. Rathnayake, for guidance as he developed and refined the required research proposal.
“I found Nicholas to be a sincere and diligent person with growing enthusiasm and self-confidence,” Dr. Rathnayake said. “Nicholas has achieved an unprecedented level of success synthesizing nanoplastics for organic-based solar cells, which is of great economic and environmental value. His work has resulted in a number of conference publications and two peer-reviewed communication paper publications. His strong organic synthetic knowledge as well as research experience gained during his undergraduate studies have enriched him as an efficient researcher in the field of materials science.”
Wright’s news was not the only success for WKU and the Chemistry Department in the 2012 Graduate Research Fellowship Competition. Johnathan Brantley, a 2010 chemistry graduate from Salem, also received this prestigious award. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin. Like Wright, Brantley was active in research throughout his time at WKU.
In the fall, Wright will attend Vanderbilt University to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.