31 Columbia Engineers Named NSF Graduate Research Fellows

Jun 01 2021 | By Jesse Adams

Thirty-one students and alumni of Columbia Engineering won graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation this year, in addition to nine honorable mentions. The fellowships are some of the nation’s most prestigious honors for young engineers and scientists, and this year’s cohort is among the school’s largest ever.

The researchers, who the NSF expects to emerge as “knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering,” receive three-year annual stipends of $34,000 as well as $12,000 educational allowances to pursue graduate-level degrees and research. Among just a few thousand awardees selected from more than 10,000 applicants, their research interests range from better batteries to more universal and equitable health testing.

The majority of the honorees expect to begin their fellowships this fall.

Graduate Research Fellows: Current Students

Divya Bhansali
Collaborating with Professor Kam Leong and NYU’s College of Dentistry, second-year biomedical engineering PhD candidate Divya Bhansali is studying therapeutic drug delivery systems for oral cancer and pain.

Philippe Chlenski
Computational scientist Philippe Chlenski is a first-year PhD student working with Professor Itsik Pe’er on how to augment the range of data in a microbiome with mathematical models to yield deeper insights.

Andrew Ells
Collaborating with Professor Lauren Marbella, second-year chemical engineering PhD student Andrew Ells uses nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to explore how different electrodes’ chemical composition and structure influence their performance in batteries. Eventually, he hopes to contribute to cheap, grid-scale energy storage.

Corey Hansen
Marine veteran and chemical engineer Corey Hansen is a second-year PhD candidate in Columbia’s Genetics and Development program. A member of Professor Mijo Simunovic’s lab, he aims to influence the microenvironment of cells to understand their distinct molecular mechanisms via micropatterns and microfluidics.

Harshit Harpaldas
Biomedical engineer Harshit Harpaldas, a second-year PhD student in Professor Sam Sia’s lab, is developing next-generation networked point-of-care diagnostics to expand access to health testing.

Julia Hestenes
Second-year PhD candidate Julia Hestenes of materials science and engineering deploys nuclear magnetic resonance to map out chemical and structural degradation mechanisms in emerging Lithium-ion cathode materials. She hopes her work will help advance sustainable energy storage solutions.

Jessica Liu
Second-year PhD candidate in biomedical engineering Jessica Liu conducts research with Professor Helen Lu on novel biomaterials for cartilage interface engineering. She's also extensively involved with STEM mentoring, particularly for young women.

Elizabeth Malan
Biomedical engineer Elizabeth Malan is a second-year PhD student in Professor Elizabeth Hillman’s lab, where she studies neural and vascular activities in the brain with simultaneous optical imaging.

Gavin Mischler
A first-year PhD student in electrical engineering, Gavin Mischler works with Professor Nima Mesgarani in the Neural Acoustic Processing Lab. He is interested in how the brain encodes and follows speech and other sounds in complex acoustic environments.

Shashaank Narayanan MS’21
A master’s student in computer science, Shashaank Narayanan develops computational models for studying the neurotransmission of dopamine in the midbrain.

Meghna Pancholi
A first year PhD student in computer science advised by Professor Simha Sethumadhavan, Meghna Pancholi is interested in computer architecture, hardware security, and cloud computing.

Clayton Sanford
Computer scientist Clayton Sanford is a second-year PhD student advised by Professors Rocco Servedio and Daniel Hsu. Investigating why deep learning works so well in practice, his research focuses on representational powers of neural networks and properties of high-dimensional machine learning models.

Kinnari Shah
A second-year PhD student in Earth and Environmental Engineering, Kinnari Shah works with Professor Ngai Yin Yip primarily on innovative applications of an array of solvents for desalinating hazardous high-salinity brines. Her research into the fundamental mechanisms underlying desalination aims to enable more sustainable practices.

Marshall Tekell
Marshall Tekell is a second-year chemical engineering PhD student in Professor Sanat Kumar’s lab investigating macroscopic properties of soft matter. His research focuses in particular on the ionic and thermal conductivity of polymer nanocomposites.

Fay Wang
Second-year PhD student Fay Wang is currently working on a wearable breast imaging system for real-time image reconstruction and monitoring cancers.

Mateo Williams
Working with Professors Dan Steingart and Alan West, second-year chemical engineering PhD student Mateo Williams investigates various interface phenomena and solution chemistry with high concentrations of electrolytes.

Joseph Zuckerman
A second-year PhD candidate in computer science, Joseph Zuckerman works with Professor Luca Carloni in the System-Level Design group. His research interests include architectures, runtime management, and agile design methodologies for many-accelerator systems-on-chip.

Graduate Research Fellows: Class of 2021

Willa Brenneis ’21
A senior studying chemical engineering, Willa Brenneis ’21 is interested in energy and sustainable technologies. She’s pursuing energy storage in hope of accelerating the transition to renewable energy.

Sabrina Gjerswold-Selleck ’21
A senior majoring in biomedical engineering, Sabrina Gjerswold-Selleck conducts neuroimaging research and explores novel applications of deep learning. She’s also been a member of the Columbia Space Initiative, leading a team on a microgravity payload experiment.

Virginia Jiang ’21
Chemical engineer Virginia Jiang conducts research with Professor Scott Banta on harnessing proteins and metabolic engineering for developing novel sources of clean energy. She’s also served as a teaching assistant in the foundational Art of Engineering course fostering research in protein engineering.

Janette Levin ’21
In addition to majoring in applied mathematics, senior Janette Levin is also involved with the university's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences studying ice features in Antarctica. She will pursue her PhD at Brown University using remote sensing and modeling to model planetary surfaces and subsurfaces.

Udai Nagpal ’21
Senior Udai Nagpal is majoring in computer science on the intelligent systems track and minoring in electrical engineering. He is interested in developing new machine learning methods with a focus on computational biology applications.

Sapna Ramesh ’21
Sapna Ramesh is a senior studying chemical engineering and minoring in French. She plans to pursue a PhD focusing on energy storage research.

Neeraj Sakhrani ’21CC
For the past two years, applied math major Neeraj Sakhrani has conducted research with Professor Clark Hung on tissue engineering to help solve problems affecting the musculoskeletal system. He will pursue his MS/PhD at Columbia Engineering this fall.

Graduate Research Fellows: Alumni

Paulina Babiak ’19
After graduating from Columbia Engineering in 2019, chemical engineer Paulina Babiak has pursued a PhD at Purdue University focused on protein engineering and in vitro tissue modeling.

Jed-Joan Edziah ’19
Chemical engineer Jed-Joan Edziah received her BS from Columbia in 2019. She is now a PhD candidate and Fontaine Society Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in soft matter research.

Alexander Bienstock ’19, Shinya Kondo ‘20, Robert Sasse ’20, and Stephan Stansfield ’15, and Tianchang Zhang ’19 have also been awarded fellowships.

Honorable Mentions

Ian Billinge MS’21
Ian Billinge is an environmental engineer on the MS/PhD track. He works with Professor Ngai Yin Yip on energy-efficient high-salinity desalination.

Youngbin Kim
Biomedical engineer and second-year PhD candidate Youngbin Kim is a member of Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering.

Kimberly Kroupa MS’21
Mechanical engineer Kim Kroupa works with Professor Gerard Ateshian in the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Laboratory. The first-year PhD candidate uses computational modeling and experimentation to study the mechanical properties of cartilage tissue with an eye to preventing and reversing osteoarthritis.

Melanie Subbiah
Computer scientist Melanie Subbiah is a first-year PhD candidate working in natural language processing. Advised by Professor Kathleen McKeown, she currently focuses on understanding persuasion in online text.

Ketsia Zinga ’21
Biomedical engineer Ketsia Zinga is currently an undergraduate researcher in Professor Oleg Gang’s lab developing integrated nanoscale systems.

Emily Jin ’19 MS’21, Jeremy Johnston, Shaokai Lin ’20, and Justin Wong ’19 also received honorable mention.