Meet the 2021 KNI SURF-the-WAVE Prize Fellows!

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The KNI welcomes its newest cohort of summer undergraduate research fellows.

2021 KNI SURF-the-WAVE Prize Fellowships

July 1, 2021

This summer the KNI welcomes seven outstanding undergraduates onto campus to conduct their own nanoscience-related research projects. Over the course of ten-weeks, our undergraduate researchers will work closely with graduate student and technical staff co-mentors and faculty mentors to carry out exciting projects, ranging from: the development of a more efficient electrochemical cell for use in carbon dioxide reduction; the design and construction of flexible biosensors for personalized healthcare; the fabrication of a micron-scale calorimeter to study quantum phase transitions, and more.

In partnership with the Student-Faculty Programs office and Caltech's SURF and WAVE summer research programs, KNI SURF-the-WAVE (STW) prize fellowships are offered to select young researchers and provide additional opportunities for networking and learning. Read more about the KNI SURF-the-WAVE program here.

bhushan patelBhushan Patel

Hometown: Aston, PA

Hobbies/interests: Bhushan enjoys bowling, playing pool, poker, and video games, and eating Taco Bell!

Post-undergraduate plans: Bhushan strives to innovate in the clean energy field, and he plans to either go to graduate school or work at a start-up to gain experience before founding his own.

Summer research project description: Bhushan will be working on the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide into more useful products like ethanol, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and more. The project will be organized into two parts. The first part will be synthesizing novel copper catalysts to carry out the reduction of carbon dioxide. The second will focus on quantifying and standardizing the use of substrates in the electrochemical process. The combination of these two will hopefully yield a more selective, standardized, and comprehensive electrochemical cell for efficient reduction of carbon dioxide.

Mentor: Prof. Harry Atwater

Co-mentor: Aidan Fenwick


cristian ruano-arensCristian Ruano-Arens

Hometown: Cristian was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala and grew up in Fort Smith, AR.

Hobbies/interests: Cristian enjoys playing guitar, watching/playing soccer, playing video games, 3D origami, and trying new kinds of candies and baked goods.

Post-undergraduate plans: Cristian plans to pursue a PhD in materials science with a focus on quantum materials. After graduate school, his plan is to continue on with a scientific career as an industry research scientist.

Summer research project description: The heterointerface of two oxide layers provides an excellent platform for exploration of charge carrier transport and novel properties, such as superconductivity and ferromagnetism. Cristian will fabricate one-dimensional quantum-wire devices using quantum point contacts (QPCs) on MgZnO/ZnO heterostructures to investigate ballistic electron transport at low temperatures. The QPCs will be fabricated using He and Ne Focused Ion Beam (FIB) lithography and scanning electron microscope for simultaneous etching and monitoring of material, while limiting the unintentional mechanical defects due to sputtering of the material in the milling process. Ballistic transport in QPCs yields the phenomenon of quantum conductance and allows for the exploration of the electron spin coherence, g-factor, and other properties. Previous work by Prof. Falson suggests that MgZnO/ZnO heterostructures provide an interesting alternative to III-V semiconductors as platforms for quantum information technologies, so it is important to further explore and understand the relevant physical properties of electron transport.

Mentor: Prof. Joseph (Joe) Falson


anna sheltonAnna Shelton

Hometown: Richmond, VA

Hobbies/interests: Anna enjoys playing video games, baking, studying Japanese, and participating in STEM outreach for girls. In her free time, Anna plans outreach programs in Richmond to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM.

Post-undergraduate plans: After college Anna plans to pursue a PhD in optics, most likely in the field of nonlinear optics or photonics.

Summer research project description: Anna will design and optimize a lithium niobate waveguide for on-chip applications. Lithium niobate has a large electro-optic coefficient, Kerr nonlinearity, and ability to support high-Q optical resonances, thereby showing great promise in second-order nonlinear optical generation. Paired with periodic nanophotonic structures and dispersion-engineered waveguides, a device can be realized that would support efficient second-order nonlinear optical generation over a broad bandwidth. Such a device would be an ideal candidate for use in optical frequency combs, which would increase the accuracy of modern time standards and the Global Positioning System among many other applications.

Mentor: Prof. Kerry Vahala

Co-mentor: Lue (Leo) Wu


tony songTony Song

Hometown: New York City, NY and Beijing, China – Tony spent roughly equal time living in both places!

Hobbies/interests: Tony enjoys playing/watching soccer and badminton; practicing Chinese calligraphy; going on long walks; and listening to podcasts.

Post-undergraduate plans: Tony plans to pursue research in quantum condensed matter and related fields at the graduate level.

Summer research project description: Tony's research project involves the fabrication of a micron-scale alternating current calorimeter, which can be used for specific heat measurements of materials subject to high-pressure low-temperature environments. These environments are created by a diamond anvil cell mounted in a dilution refrigerator, with in-situ pressure tunability. The purpose is to study quantum phase transitions, such as the superconductor-to-insulator transition, one signature of which is the abrupt jump in specific heat. The main objectives of this research are to gain experience of calorimetric measurements by measuring the superconducting transition temperature of lead at ambient pressures, use cleanroom facilities to design and fabricate the calorimeter chip, and finally to test such calorimeters first at ambient pressures and then in diamond anvil cells at high pressure and low temperature.

Mentors: Prof. Thomas Rosenbaum, Prof. Daniel Silevitch

Co-mentors: Alex Wertheim and Stephen Armstrong


malina strugaruMalina Strugaru

Hometown: Iasi, Romania

Hobbies/interests: Malina is interested in science communication, graphic design, Latin dance, and kickboxing.

Post-undergraduate plans: Malina will begin a PhD program in Computational Sciences at IST Austria.

Summer research project description: Malina will study and design reconfigurable photonics devices with multiple functionalities. These will include a lens with changeable focus and a frequency splitter adjustable through rotation. After designing and optimizing the devices by using an inverse electromagnetic design method, Malina will have their 3D-printed prototypes tested in a microwave chamber. Her work will focus on the reconfigurability of meta-devices through mechanical deformations in order to enable the creation of compact and versatile multi-functional instruments with high efficiency.

Mentor: Prof. Andrei Faraon

Co-mentor: Greg Roberts


chibuike uwakweChibuike (Chibby) Uwakwe

Hometown: Wilson, NC

Hobbies/interests: Chibuike enjoys playing Debussy and Ravel on the piano as well as singing in choir. He's recently taken up arts criticism for the The Harvard Crimson with a focus on music and fashion. Outside of art, Chibuike enjoys running and partaking in recreational outdoor activities.

Post-undergraduate plans: After college, Chibuike plans to pursue a research-based career, developing wearables in the field of biotechnology.

Summer research project description: Chibuike’s summer research project involves developing novel flexible biosensors that can sample sweat and analyze the biomarkers (e.g., glucose, uric acid, and drug molecules) for personalized medicine (e.g., noninvasive cardiometabolic and gout monitoring). He will fabricate the highly sensitive graphene-based biosensors and efficient sweat sampling microfluidics in the Kavli Nanoscience Institute. His access to the Kavli Nanoscience Institute will also be important for imaging and characterizing the biosensors' morphologies at the micro/nanoscale using scanning electron microscopy. Chibuike will develop these biosensors with the intention of eventually testing the microfluidic sensing platform in situ.

Mentor: Wei Gao

Co-mentor: Yiran (Isabella) Yang


elizabeth zhangElizabeth Zhang

Hometown: Corona, CA

Hobbies/interests: Elizabeth enjoys reading, painting, making digital arts, and archery.

Post-undergraduate plans: Elizabeth plans to pursue her graduate school education upon graduation and continue to conduct research in her fields of interest, which include photonic devices and energy storage technologies.

Summer research project description: Elizabeth’s project focuses on UV curable polybutadiene-based resin for 3D printable polymer electrolytes. The goal of this project is to construct a UV-curable polybutadiene resin that can be treated to yield gel electrolytes with measurable ionic conductivity. This can then be employed as electrolytes for 3D architected batteries to realize a design with high energy and power density.

Mentor: Prof. Julia R. Greer

Co-mentors: Yuchun Sun and Fernando Villafuerte