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Alumni Fellows

Christopher Bowland was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2016. His fellowship research focused on building a multifunctional composites program to develop scalable routes to integrate nanomaterials into fiber-reinforced composites for embedded sensing applications. He has also been involved at ORNL with developing sustainable, 3D-printable polymers utilizing lignin and investigating the molecular structure of those polymers in different environments using neutron scattering at the Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor. Christopher’s mentor was Amit Naskar, who leads ORNL’s Carbon and Composites Group.

Christopher’s fellowship gave him the freedom and flexibility to develop multiple areas within the composites field in which he saw research opportunities for growth. His ongoing research interests include developing routes to integrate multifunctional composites into real-world structures. Christopher patented the technology developed during his fellowship, and he is partnering with a private company to commercialize multiple multifunctional composites. Christopher received his PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida.

Christa Brelsford was awarded a Liane B. Russell fellowship in 2017. Her fellowship research focused on developing empirical and theoretical tools to increase our understanding of human–physical coupled systems, how they interact with and are influenced by the broader physical environment, and how collective social processes co-evolve with urban form. Her research was featured in a 2018 Science magazine video, and in 2020 she participated in ORNL’s Your Science in a Nutshell, an annual lightning-talks competition. In 2019 Christa won first prize in the Datathon on Computational Extremism at the International Conference on Computational Social Systems in Amsterdam. Working with a selection of YouTube channel comments, Christa and her team explored the temporal dynamics of online speech and how the discussion evolved with real-world events. Christa’s mentor was Budhu Bhaduri, Geospatial Science and Human Security Division Director.

Christa’s fellowship allowed her substantial flexibility to travel, meet people across many disciplines, and start to build interdisciplinary collaborations. She also focused during her fellowship on articulating a vision for a future research program that uses a broad range of quantitative methods and novel data sources to build a quantitative understanding of interactions between our social systems and the built environment. Christa joined the National Security Sciences Directorate as a research scientist after her fellowship. Christa earned her PhD at Arizona State University. Her dissertation research, which focused on urban water consumption, marked the first-ever comprehensive analysis of the water-conserving effects of one of the most widely used water conservation programs in the western United States.

Leah Broussard was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner Fellowship in 2016. Her research focused on developing new silicon detector technology for ultra-low noise and high resolution in detecting charged particles from free neutron beta decay. Also as a Fellow, Leah initiated a new program to search for mirror neutron oscillations using existing neutron scattering instruments at ORNL and pursued other areas of future growth for the Neutrons Group by characterizing detector effects and applying them to precision measurements in the beta decay of 45Ca and investigating the impact of the upcoming Second Target Station on fundamental physics. Leah’s mentor was David Radford, Fundamental Nuclear and Particle Physics section head in the Physics Division and a Corporate Fellow at ORNL.

Leah’s fellowship work has helped position ORNL as a world leader in fundamental neutron physics research. She was awarded a DOE Early Career Award in 2019. Her ongoing research interests include pursuing a better understanding of some of the most challenging experimental effects that can impact high-precision measurements in fundamental neutron physics and exploring a new line of research into the use of neutron scattering instruments for neutron oscillation searches. Leah received a PhD in physics from Duke University and was a Seaborg Postdoctoral Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory prior to joining ORNL.

Stylianos Chatzidakis was awarded an Alvin M. Weinberg fellowship in 2016. His research focused on developing new options for inspecting used nuclear fuel storage containers with cosmic-ray muon tomography. Stylianos produced the first research showing that muon momentum measurements could yield inspection images that are of higher quality and obtained in less time than was previously possible, resulting in reduced inspection costs and resources. He performed the first 3D neutron residual stress mapping of a spent fuel canister at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor neutron diffraction facility and is developing the MERF (Mobile Examination and Remediation Fixture) prototype, which will perform remote and automated remediation of spent nuclear fuel containers. His mentor was Josh Jarrell.

Stylianos’ fellowship provided him with a unique opportunity to work on a high-risk/high-reward research project that has kept him motivated to move his research area forward. He also cites as key benefits the guidance of senior ORNL staff and the credibility the fellowship has lent to his work and ability to identify new projects and funding. Since becoming a fellow, Stylianos was nominated as a Technical Point of Contact for DOE’s Nuclear Engineering University Program and as a member of the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group’s Topical Peer Review Committee. His ongoing research interests include spent fuel inspection and remediation, muon tomography, aerosol transport, nuclear fuel simulations using GEANT4 and COBRA-SFS, and using advanced statistical pattern recognition and machine learning methodologies. Stylianos earned his PhD in nuclear engineering from Purdue University.

Omar Demerdash was awarded a Liane B. Russell fellowship in 2018. His fellowship research focused on generating improved machine learning–, physics-based computational methods that predict interactions of drugs and other small organic molecules with proteins and how drug binding modulates protein function. The primary science driver of the fellowship was cancer drug prediction, with the ultimate goal of predicting drugs with greater specificity and a lower side-effect profile. This work has applications to other human disease, including COVID-19, and the prediction of metabolite interactions implicated in plant–microbe interfaces, two areas in which Omar works. Omar’s mentor was Julie Mitchell, Biosciences Division director.

Omar’s fellowship has helped him become an independent researcher and understand how to integrate his skill sets and research interests into major ongoing ORNL research projects, including the neutron imaging and plant–microbe science focus areas. Additional ongoing research for ORNL exemplifies his approach of combining machine learning and physics and includes systematically improving potential energy models employed in molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules using neutron scattering and other experimental data; developing models to predict the effect of mutations on structure and function; and predicting enzyme catalytic function. He received his PhD in biophysics and an MD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and subsequently received postdoctoral training in computational physical chemistry at the University of California–Berkeley.

Chengyun Hua was awarded a Liane B. Russell fellowship in 2016. Her fellowship research focused on development of a predictive capability at ORNL for nanoscale thermal transport based on new ultrafast laser techniques and efficient Boltzmann transport simulations. Her research team successfully set up new ultrafast laser techniques in the Laser Spectroscopy Laboratory and provided a theoretical framework to understand nonlocal thermal transport in the nondiffusive regime. Chengyun’s mentors were Xin Sun, Interim Associate Laboratory Director, Biological and Environmental Systems Science Directorate; Lucas Lindsay, a condensed matter theorist in the Materials Science and Technology Division; and Jamie Morris, who led the Material Theory Group during her fellowship.

Chengyun’s fellowship allowed her to conduct independent research, broaden her scientific interests, and develop her professional network. Her current research as a staff scientist with the Energy and Transportation Science Division involves applying ultrafast laser techniques to a new target: emerging quasiparticles in quantum materials. Chengyun received her PhD in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

Jacky Rios-Torres was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2016. Her fellowship research focused on the development of control schemes for optimal coordination and operation of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs). She also analyzed the impact of CAVs on fuel consumption, safety, and mobility and the challenges inherent in the transition to full automation, including interactions between CAVs and human-driven vehicles. Her research has shown that fuel economy can be improved by 13–40% with CAV adoption. Jacky’s mentors have included Xin Sun, Interim Associate Laboratory Director, Biological and Environmental Systems Science Directorate; Robert Wagner, National Transportation Research Center director; and Paul Leiby, who leads the Energy Economic Analysis Team in the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate.

Being a Wigner Fellow has allowed Jacky to grow her professional network, develop cross-disciplinary research collaborations, and continue on the path of becoming a thought leader in her research area. She is now exploring ways to leverage ORNL capabilities in machine learning and high-performance computing to optimize CAV interactions with other traffic to achieve more efficient and safe mobility systems. Jacky earned her PhD in automotive engineering at Clemson University.

Singanallur Venkatakrishnan was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2016. His fellowship research focused on developing algorithms for neutron computed tomography (CT) systems that draw on ideas from such diverse fields as statistical signal processing, image processing, inverse problems, and machine learning. Venkat used model-based image reconstruction approaches that combine statistical models for data and low-dimensional signal models for the underlying quantity to be measured to enable high quality neutron CT scans. His mentors included Hector Santos-Villalobos, Cyber Identity and Biometrics group leader in the Cyber Resilience and Intelligence Division; Philip Bingham, Energy Sensing, Analytics section head in the Electrification and Energy Infrastructure  Division, and Ken Tobin, who was the Reactor and Nuclear Systems Division director during Venkat's fellowship.

Venkat’s fellowship gave him a great deal of freedom to pursue novel algorithms for a variety of imaging applications. It also allowed him to connect with scientists in different divisions at ORNL, leading to fruitful collaborations. While a Fellow, Venkat became an IEEE Senior Member and an elected member of the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s Technical Committee on Computational Imaging, his core area of research. His ongoing research interests include computational imaging and inverse problems. Venkat is particularly interested in using machine learning methods to improve the capability and quality of 3D-imaging instruments being employed across domains at ORNL, including electron microscopes, x-ray micro-CT scanners, ultrasound systems, and neutron CT scanners. He received a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Purdue University.

Joseph Lukens was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2015. During his fellowship, he conducted experimental photonics research in quantum information science. In 2016, Joe and colleague Pavel Lougovski discovered a new approach to quantum computing using frequency encoding, which was published in Optica in 2017. His mentors were Warren Grice, then group leader of ORNL’s Quantum Information Science Group, and Nicholas Peters, who now leads the QIS group.

Joe’s fellowship provided him with resources and freedom to pursue the most impactful research possible, which gave his career a jump start that he believes would be hard to find anywhere else. His ongoing research interests include quantum information processing with photons, Bayesian machine learning, quantum networking, and optical communications. Joe won the Significant Event Award in 2017 for ORNL’s first quantum technology license, Technology Commercialization Awards in 2017 and 2019, and a DOE Office of Science Early Career Award in 2019. His research was featured in the Optics and Photonics News “Year in Optics” in 2019. Joe earned his PhD in electrical engineering from Purdue University.

Kelly Chipps was awarded a Liane B. Russell fellowship in 2015. Her fellowship research focused on the nuclear reactions that power stars and stellar explosions. Kelly’s fellowship work stemmed from an effort with collaborators to build the world’s most dense gas jet target for stellar reaction studies. Her fellowship project goals included improving the operation of this target system and demonstrating that it could be successfully used for indirect reaction studies. Kelly also reanalyzed existing system data for new information and developed a neutron detector for complementary indirect reaction studies. Kelly’s mentors included Michael Smith, Nuclear Structure and Nuclear Astrophysical  group leader in the Physics Division and Cheryl Bast, who was a team lead in the Biosciences Division during Kelly's Fellowship. and Ken Tobin, who was Measurement Science and Systems Engineering Division director during Josh's fellowship.

Kelly’s fellowship gave her the opportunity to pursue unique lines of research, look back at existing data for new insights, and understand how the Laboratory operates. Her ongoing research interests include exploring the nuclear physics behind neutron star mergers such as the one observed by LIGO a few years ago, including  the astrophysical r-process, which is thought to produce roughly half of the elements heavier than iron. Kelly earned her PhD in applied physics from the Colorado School of Mines.

Josh Michener was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2015. His fellowship research focused on combining microfluidics and microbiology to influence how bacteria evolve. Josh’s mentors were Brian Davison, chief scientist in the Biosciences Division, and Kenneth Tobin, who was Measurement Science and Systems Division Director during Josh's fellowship.

Josh’s fellowship gave him the freedom to pursue independent lines of research and to respond as new research opportunities arose. Interacting with other fellows allowed him to build connections across disciplines and to learn about the wide array of research being conducted at ORNL. Josh, now a research staff member in the Biosciences Division, received a DOE Early Career award in 2019. He earned his PhD in bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology and held a postdoctoral appointment at Harvard University prior to his Wigner fellowship. Josh’s ongoing research interests include studying how enzymes and pathways function in different bacteria, with specific application to engineering bacteria for lignin valorization and enzyme discovery in nonmodel bacteria.

Katie Schuman was awarded a Liane B. Russell fellowship in 2015. In research focused on algorithms, programming, and usability of neuromorphic computing, Katie developed the Evolutionary Optimization for Neuromorphic Systems software framework and a training algorithm for building programs for neuromorphic computers. She also wrote a survey paper during her fellowship on the neuromorphic computing field. Katie’s mentor was Robert Patton, Learning Systems group leader in the Computer Science and Mathematics Division.

Her fellowship enabled Katie to help build the neuromorphic computing research area at ORNL. She also had the opportunity during her fellowship to focus on research that interested her and to build a base of work to support funding bids as she continues neuromorphic computing research at ORNL. Katie, who joined the Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate as a research scientist after her fellowship, received a DOE Early Career award in 2019. She earned a PhD in computer science from the University of Tennessee.

Benjamin Doughty was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2013. His fellowship focused on the development and use of nonlinear spectroscopy and microscopy methods.  He developed new optical method and analysis routines for understanding chemistry at interfaces and in complex materials. Ben’s fellowship mentors included Bob Shaw, who led the Laser Spectroscopy and Chemical Microtechnology Group during Ben’s fellowship, and Phil Britt, who is Interim Associate Laboratory Director for the Physical Sciences Directorate.

Ben believes his fellowship gave him a good start to an independent scientific career. His ongoing research interests include understanding the molecular origins of chemical selectivity at interfaces, especially for chemical separations, using nonlinear optical methods to probe interfacial organization, orientation, and dynamics, and developing new tools to probe chemical localization and dynamics in complex living biosystems. Ben, now an R&D scientist in the Chemical Sciences Division, received a DOE Early Career Award in 2018. He received his PhD in physical chemistry from the University of California–Berkeley and held a postdoctoral position at Columbia University prior to joining ORNL.

Travis Williams was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2013. His research focused on performing neutron scattering research on magnetic materials. He investigated the permanent ferromagnet MnBi, which is of interest as a less costly replacement for rare-earth permanent magnets for room-temperature applications. Travis was able to show how atomic-scale interactions contribute to the magnet’s strength. Mark Lumsden, Spectroscopy section head in the Neutron Scattering Division, was Travis’s mentor.

Travis counts among his fellowship’s many benefits the opportunity to work on cross-disciplinary projects and the ability to pursue collaborations and explore novel research techniques. His current research as a staff scientist with the Neutron Sciences Directorate focuses on using neutron scattering and other experimental techniques to understand magnetism in 4f and 5f systems. Travis received a PhD in physics from McMaster University.

David Cullen was awarded an Alvin M. Weinberg Fellowship in 2010. His fellowship research focused on using recent advances in aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (AC-STEM) and complementary analytical techniques to robustly characterize new catalysts for fuel cells. The capabilities and expertise developed under this fellowship led to many key contributions in correlating the atomic structure and chemistry of fuel cell materials with fuel cell durability and performance. David’s mentor was Karren More, Center for Nanophase Materials Science (CNMS) director.

The high visibility of David’s fellowship helped him establish collaborations with top fuel cell researchers in industry, academia, and other national laboratories. In turn, these collaborations provided additional mentors, accelerated scientific discovery, and opened new doors and opportunities. David was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2019 and the Appalachian Regional Microscopy Society Young Investigator Award in 2013. His ongoing research interests involve correlating the atomic structure and chemistry of fuel cell materials with fuel cell durability and performance using advanced analytical AC-STEM. He has also developed a wide range of collaborations through the CNMS user program. David received his PhD in materials science and engineering from Arizona State University.

Omer Onar was awarded an Alvin M. Weinberg Fellowship in 2010. His fellowship research focused on developing a power electronic interface for solar photovoltaic systems. During his fellowship, he contributed to an ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy) proposal, an experience that helped him learn to write effective proposals, resulting in his leading and winning many others. Omer’s mentor was Burak Ozpineci, Vehicle and Mobility Systems section head in the Building and Transportation Science Division.

Omer’s fellowship helped him quickly integrate into ORNL’s research culture and the national laboratory system. He also had great flexibility to get involved with projects in additional research areas. Serving as principal investigator on his fellowship project taught Omer to effectively manage research projects; plan a budget, milestones, and deliverables; and set metrics. Building on his project management experience, Omer now serves as PI on multiple projects per year, including DOE-funded research projects with industry partners and collaborators.   

Omer’s ongoing research interests include transportation electrification applications of power electronics, with a primary focus on wireless power transfer systems for electric vehicle charging applications. He has received an R&D 100 award; ORNL Significant Event, Exceptional Effort, and Technology Commercialization awards; and best presentation and top journal reviewer awards. Omer earned a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology.

Kurt Terrani was awarded an Alvin M. Weinberg fellowship in 2010. His fellowship research addressed fundamental aspects of microencapsulated nuclear fuel fabrication and behavior. His mentor was Steven Zinkle, who is a Governor’s Chair in ORNL’s Fusion Energy Division.

The fellowship allowed Kurt to leverage capabilities across the laboratory including the one-of-a-kind nuclear reactor and hot-cell infrastructure to establish himself as the leading international expert in nuclear fuels with a focus on accident behavior and tolerance. Kurt now serves as ORNL’s Transformational Challenge Reactor technical director. He received a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough award in 2017 and a Materials Performance Corrosion Innovation of the Year award in 2019, along with his scientist and industry partners, for the first successful insertion of nonzirconium nuclear fuel cladding into a commercial nuclear power plant in four decades. Kurt has mentored multiple graduate students at ORNL. He earned his PhD in nuclear engineering at University of California–Berkeley.

Chad Parish was awarded an Alvin M. Weinberg fellowship in 2009. His fellowship research focused on development of analytical electron microscopy for photovoltaics. Chad’s fellowship mentor was Karren More, Center for Nanophase Materials Science (CNMS) director.

Chad’s fellowship helped establish him as one of ORNL’s experts on using analytical electron microscopy to solve materials problems. His fellowship experience has allowed him to work on wide-ranging projects across different program offices and different energy-relevant fields over that last 10 years. His ongoing research interests include examining problems related to fission and fusion systems. Chad received a DOE Early Career Award in 2015, as well as the David J. Rose Award for Excellence in Fusion Engineering in 2018. He was elected to serve as secretary of the Microanalysis Society in 2018 and was reelected in 2020. He earned his PhD in materials science and engineering from North Carolina State University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Sandia National Laboratories before joining ORNL.

Zac Ward was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2009. His fellowship research focused on developing novel experimental approaches to interrogate the physics of strongly correlated electron systems. That work led to the observation of isolated metastable electronic-phase domains, which gave access to previously hidden information on the physics driving correlated phase dynamics.

Zac’s fellowship helped establish him as an ORNL expert in thin film correlated materials design and synthesis. He was awarded a DOE Early Career Award in 2017 for his efforts related to designing metastability in strongly correlated systems. Zac has performed organizing and elected roles in several professional societies and currently serves on the Journal of Applied Physics Editorial Advisory Board. He enjoys volunteering in science outreach programs such as ORNL’s traveling Science Fair and the Appalachian Regional Commission/ORNL Summer Science Institute.

Zac’s ongoing research interests include developing new methods of controlling individual order parameters to probe the physics driving quantum and energy-related functionalities in new materials. He pioneered the development of low-energy noble ion implantation as a means of strain-doping complex materials to tune orbital degeneracies and lattice symmetry. He is currently working to understand how disorder between local quantum states can lead to macroscopic magnetic, charge, and orbital ordering in crystalline materials. Zac earned his PhD in physics from the University of Tennessee.

Petro Maksymovych was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2007. His fellowship research focused on information materials at the intersection of phenomena of spontaneous polarization and electronic conductivity, contrasting the belief of their fundamental incompatibility. Topological defects were experimentally proven to allow coupling of polarization switching and conductivity, with prospects for highly energy efficient and continuously tunable neuromorphic computing elements for memory and computation. Petro’s fellowship work also led to new imaging tools for microscopy and dynamic spectroscopy of dipolar materials. Two key papers representing this work have been cited over 1,000 times to date. Petro’s fellowship mentors were Sergei Kalinin, Data Nanoanalytics group lead in CNMS (and also a former Wigner Fellow),  and Arthur Baddorf, a research scientist with CNMS.

Petro believes that his fellowship allowed him to become both a technical expert and an independent thinker. He ventured into new research areas, connecting to fields previously unknown to him, and generalized his thought process away from specific cases. He says, even a decade later, many of his fellowship experiences continue to drive new ideas and scientific exploration. Petro’s ongoing research interests include developing methods to create and investigate hidden states of matter—long-lived structures and electronic properties that emerge from high-energy excitation or that exist entirely away from equilibrium—with particular focus on quantum and topological materials.

Petro, now a research scientist with CNMS, earned an ORNL Early Career Award for Individual Scientific Accomplishment and ORNL Director’s Award for Outstanding Accomplishment in Science and Technology, both in 2011. He was a Web of Science Group’s Highly Cited Researcher in 2019 and earned the Peter Mark Award from the American Vacuum Society in 2015 and the Martin and Beate Block Prize from the Aspen Center for Physics in 2010. Petro earned his PhD in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh is 2007.

Michael McGuire was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner Fellowship in 2007. Research during his fellowship began in the field of thermoelectric materials but shifted to iron-based superconductors and related compounds. As part of the ORNL team working in this area, including fellow Wigner Fellow Athena Sefat, his work mainly involved the synthesis and characterization of these materials and focused particularly on their magnetic properties. This work established ORNL as a leader in this emerging and rapidly evolving field. Michael’s mentor was David Mandrus, who led the Correlated Electron Materials Group during his fellowship.

Michael was awarded a Gordon Battelle Prize in 2011 based on his fellowship research and was named a Highly Cited Researcher in 2014. His research has evolved over the years to include a variety of topics in magnetism. For his work in fundamental and applied aspects of magnetic materials, Michael has received an R&D 100 award and an Excellence in Technology Transfer Award from the Federal Laboratory Consortium, and he was recognized as a Highly Cited Researcher again in 2018 and 2019. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2017.

Michael’s current research efforts, situated at the interface of solid-state chemistry and physics, focus on developing layered magnetic materials that can be exfoliated into ultrathin and monolayer specimens for studying 2D magnetism and incorporated into van der Waals heterostructures, as well as magnetic topological materials and permanent magnets. He received his PhD in in physics from Cornell University in 2006.

Athena Sefat was awarded a Eugene P. Wigner fellowship in 2007. Her fellowship research focused on developing iron-based arsenide superconductors. An article published during her fellowship, on which Athena served as the first author announcing the discovery of a new superconducting material, has been cited nearly 900 times to date. Her fellowship mentor was David Mandrus, who led the Correlated Electron Materials Group during Athena's fellowship.

Athena’s fellowship led to a DOE Early Career Award in 2010. She also was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 2016 and of the Institute of Physics in 2019. Athena serves as a member of the APS’s Committee on International Freedom of Scientists and the Materials Research Society’s New Meetings Subcommittee. She is also on the Editorial Board for the journal Magnetochemistry.

As an ORNL senior scientist, she serves as a scientific-technical advisor to the Experimental Condensed Matter Physics Program within DOE Basic Energy Sciences. She also chaired ORNL’s Distinguished Staff Fellowship Committee (2016–2019), assisting with the selection of future Distinguished Staff Fellows at the lab Her ongoing research interests include understanding the competition between chemical, electronic, and spin characteristics in quantum materials and how they result in the development of low-dimensional magnets, unconventional superconductors, and spin-liquid materials. She earned her PhD in solid-state chemistry from McMaster University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Ames Laboratory prior to joining ORNL.