Undergrad wins prestigious DOE fellowship
Zachary Ulissi
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8:50 a.m., March 30, 2009----Zachary Ulissi, a senior in the University of Delaware's Honors Program with a double major in chemical engineering and physics, already has a resume that runs to almost three pages. He has conducted undergraduate research at UD and the National Institutes of Health, served as a teaching assistant for math and chemistry classes, co-authored three journal papers, and submitted a patent application for a biomedical polarization imaging device.

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All of his hard work has paid off. Ulissi was recently notified that he is the recipient of a Department of Energy (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellowship that will total some $250,000 over the next four years as he works on his Ph.D.

The fellowship covers all tuition and fees as well as providing a stipend of $32,400 per year and funds for travel and computer equipment. Ulissi will also have the opportunity to gain valuable experience through a summer internship at a DOE lab.

Dion Vlachos, Elisabeth Inez Kelley Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of UD's Center for Catalytic Science and Technology, has served as Ulissi's research adviser for the past two years on a project to develop knowledge-based catalyst discovery methods for the production of chemicals and hydrogen for fuel cells.

“Zach is one of the most phenomenal students I have seen,” says Vlachos. “His approach can pave the way for rational materials design and replace the current trial-and-error method.”

Ulissi has narrowed his choice of grad schools to Cal Tech, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota. He says that all three schools are a good fit with his interest in chemical engineering simulations, and he plans to maintain ties to Delaware as he begins his graduate work.

“All of the schools I'm looking at have close collaborations with the professors here at UD,” he says, “so I'm sure I'll be working with them in the future. Delaware has one of the strongest programs in the nation for catalysis, so I'll be looking for every chance to collaborate.”

Ulissi plans to continue researching catalytic agents. “Improvements in our ability to optimize catalyst performance would instantly be applicable to a wide range of problems, including alternative fuel development,” he says. “For example, catalysts can be used in the decomposition of ammonia for producing hydrogen gas from dense liquids. Since portable hydrogen fuel cells require a safe source of hydrogen gas, ammonia could serve as an important fuel source for fuel cells in the future.”

“Unfortunately,” he continues, “without new catalysts to support its use, it will not be able to compete as an energy source. In the near future, I will be continuing my work to help make this a possibility.”

Ulissi is the second UD student to win a DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship in the past two years. In 2007, Geoffrey Oxberry, who earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in chemical engineering in four years at UD, received the award. He is now a doctoral candidate at MIT.

Article by Diane Kukich