No matter what shape the future of our space industry takes, it could feature new technologies developed by UCF graduate Rene Diaz.
Diaz, an honors student who earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering this month, will head to Georgia Tech in the fall to continue his research into developing a metallic glass that is stronger than steel, more elastic than rubber, almost completely scratch resistant and inexpensive. He will collaborate with researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
A National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship valued at $121,500 will cover Diaz’s tuition and also pay him a stipend.
Diaz is one of 10 UCF students and recent graduates who earned NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.
Two of the UCF winners will be pursuing their doctoral degrees at Stanford University. Among the schools the others are attending are Northwestern University, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Having ten students receive the prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship underscores UCF’s commitment to undergraduate education, as well as our goal of attaining prominence in key areas of research,” said Alvin Wang, dean of UCF’s Burnett Honors College, where six of the ten winners were enrolled.
“These fellowships also highlight UCF’s talented and motivated students and the dedicated faculty members who mentor them — both are powerful ingredients for success.”
Breena Stoner, a Stanford-bound student who graduated this spring, said UCF’s outstanding research opportunities for undergraduates helped her earn the fellowship. Stoner has worked with Assistant Professor Jingdong Ye of Chemistry on a study aimed at helping scientists find more effective antibiotics to fight diseases such as cholera and pneumonia.
“I’ve been researching since my sophomore year,” said Stoner, of Indiana. “I was able to have my own project in the lab and really was able to see it through from the beginning stages. I’ve also had several opportunities to be involved in mentoring activities that have allowed me to grow personally and to develop myself more as a scientist.”
Corey McCall, who also will attend Stanford, was part of a UCF research team that designed a prototype machine that prompts elderly patients take their medications at the appropriate time of day. It can develop a schedule to make sure an individual takes many medications at the appropriate times. The machine can automatically call a caregiver or doctor if a patient stops taking medication as scheduled.
The prototype machine earned McCall and fellow student Branden Maynes first place in a UCF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation contest. The pair worked with Assistant Professor Cliff Zou of Computer Science and Associate Professor Ning Zhang of Public Affairs.
McCall, of Fort Lauderdale, earned his bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering earlier this month. He also minored in Entrepreneurship.
All of the winners have one common trait – they took advantage of the many undergraduate research opportunities at UCF.
“My UCF education was absolutely essential,” said Diaz, who was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with his family when he was 4. “I don’t think I could have gotten this many opportunities anywhere else.”
Diaz participated in UCF’s McNair Scholars Program, a selective program that helps minority students prepare for doctoral studies. He credits the program with preparing him well for a research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology last summer, when he began working on the metallic glass project.
Diaz also was one of the leaders of a UCF student team aiming to design, build and launch a rocket.
Other fellowship winners from UCF are Jennifer Heppert, Ashley Jones, Sara Linker, Andres Osorio, Catherine Tupper, Robert VanGorder and Keon Vereen. In addition, Elise Hernandez and Kelly Sprehn were recognized with honorable mentions.