September 17, 2020
UNC Chemistry doctoral students, Erin Day and Ann Marie May, were recently awarded the Department of Defense (DoD) National Defense Science and Engineering (NDSEG) Fellowships.
The highly competitive fellowship program was established in 1989 by the direction of Congress and sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (OSD) for Research and Engineering. It recognizes graduate students in the science and engineering disciplines of military importance.
NDSEG Fellowships last for a period of up to three years and covers full tuition and mandatory fees. Fellows also receive a monthly stipend of $3,200 and an annual insurance stipend.
As a child, Erin Day had a love for mathematics. In combination with a positive and supportive experience while completing her B.S. in Chemistry from the College of Charleston, Day knew she wanted to continue with a career in scientific research.
“I loved math as a child, and I appreciated the creative problem-solving skills that are necessary for science experiments,” said Day. “The chemistry department at the College of Charleston was so supportive and fostered a sense of scientific wonder in each of the students. That made me want to continue a career in scientific research.”
Day is now a third year doctoral student in the Knight Group. The Knight Group aims to innovate at the interface of polymer chemistry, chemical biology, and organic chemistry through the design of synthetic nanomaterials that target challenges in global health and sustainability.
“Erin is one of my first graduate students, and she’s been instrumental in kickstarting my research group from managing instrumentation, engaging in collaborations, and mentoring more junior students. She undoubtedly deserves the recognition from NDSEG of her hard work thus far, and we look forward to the opportunities it will provide in catalyzing her interdisciplinary research at the interface of polymer chemistry and chemical biology,” said Abigail Knight, assistant professor of chemistry and principal investigator of the Knight Group.
For Day, becoming a NDSEG fellow was truly a bright spot since the pandemic struck.
“It was very surreal to receive the email notification while home alone in April,” said Day. “I was thrilled to receive exciting and good news during this wild time we are living through.”
The award will allow Day to focus her time on her research in the Knight Group and continue mentoring junior students in the lab. Day’s career interests are in sustainable chemistry within the fast-moving consumer goods market and the development of low-resource diagnostics. Following the completion of her Ph.D. in Chemistry, Day plans to work for a company in the chemical industry that matches here career interests.
From an early age, Ann Marie May knew she wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to work on addressing global climate change.
“As a resident of coastal Virginia, I noticed from an early age the negative impacts of global climate change on my community. I watched as ocean acidification destroyed oyster populations and daily tidal flooding worsened, inspiring me to find routes to combat their impacts on my community. From these interests stemmed my passion for chemistry, as many environmental problems our world faces (like global climate change) are of a chemical nature. In pursuit of these goals, I have dedicated my undergraduate and graduate research to explore routes toward environmental sustainability and accessible clean, green energy sources,” said May.
May earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Virginia Tech and is now a second year doctoral student in the Dempsey Group. Research in the Dempsey Group aims to address challenges associated with developing efficient solar energy conversion processes.
“Ann Marie is poised to carry out transformative research that challenges the way we think about how to use sunlight to drive fuel production. Her recognition with this fellowship is richly deserved and will give her new opportunities and freedom in her graduate work,” said Jillian Dempsey, Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor and principal investigator of the Dempsey Group.
May’s research in the Dempsey Group focuses on exploring new pathways for solar fuel generation and artificial photosynthesis.
“The goal of my research is to integrate light absorption and chemical reactivity into a single compound to subsequently form metal hydrides – key intermediates in a variety of fuel-forming reactions,” said May. “By exploring the fundamental steps of these processes, I will uncover new information for generating metal hydrides and thereby aid in next-generation photocatalyst design.”
Ecstatic to be a NDSEG Fellow, support from the NDSEG will enable May to further develop her research skills, facilitate her involvement in educational outreach, and spearhead her pursuit of creative solutions to energy and climate centric issues – the very topic that sparked her interest in pursuing a career in chemistry.
May’s career aspiration is to become a principal investigator at a University; a career that marries her love for teaching and research.