Meet the 2023 KNI SURF-the-WAVE Fellows

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The KNI welcomes its newest cohort of visiting summer undergraduate researchers to Caltech.

2023 KNI STW Fellows

June 22, 2023

The KNI welcomes its fifth cohort of undergraduate research fellows to campus for the summer. Our KNI SURF-the-WAVE prize fellows will spend ten weeks delving into nanoscience-related research. The program enables undergrads to work closely with graduate students and faculty mentors who support the fellows on their progress. This year the SURF-the-WAVE fellows will cover a broad range of topics within nano-science and -engineering, from carbon dioxide reduction, forming and studying highly crystalline thin films, quantifying the nanophotonic properties of graphene monolayers, holographic lithography for nanoarchitected materials, and the design and fabrication of Josephson junctions.

In partnership with the office of Student-Faculty Programs at Caltech and its WAVE summer research program, KNI SURF-the-WAVE (STW) prize fellowships are given to select young researchers and provide additional opportunities for learning about STEM careers, graduate school and networking. Learn more about the KNI SURF-the-WAVE program here.


nuha-akthar Nuha Akhtar

Hometown: Boise, Idaho

Home Institution and Status: Rising junior in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Physics at Boise State University

Favorite hobbies and interests: Some of my hobbies include playing the saxophone, going to concerts, collecting vinyls, reading, learning about all things space related, and playing tennis. Another interest of mine is cars and motorcycles. I love working on my NC Mazda Miata and taking it out for fun drives while listening to music. I just upgraded my sound system in March and my goal for this year is to buy a sports bike!

Summer research description: Josephson junctions (JJs) are quantum mechanical devices that allow a superconducting circuit to become a qubit. The fabrication process for a JJ, however, requires a time-consuming, complex patterning geometry of differing materials which introduces many variances to the system. In particular, is the formation of stray junctions throughout the circuit that have been shown to be one of the dominant causes of transmon qubit decoherence; which affects qubit coherence time. In the last few years, there have been new ideas on how to simplify the geometry needed to create JJs that produce the same results as the current process being used. With this project, we aim to create a successful Manhattan style pattern Josephson using simplified fabrication processes as well as understand the design of JJs and the origins of decoherence in them.

Co-mentor: Hao Tian and Chaitali Joshi

Post-college plans or goals: Currently, I am interested in the interdisciplinary aspect of combining physics research areas with the application of engineering. Post college, I plan to apply for graduate school where I will pursue my PhD in a program combining Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics. After grad school I would love to work for NASA at the Johnson Space Center.



amari-butlerAmari Butler

Hometown: I was born in Atlanta, GA, but I moved back and forth between Atlanta and Southern California throughout my childhood!

Home Institution and Status: Rising junior in Physics with a minor in Computer Science at Harvard University

Favorite hobbies and interests: When I have time to spare (and especially when I don't), I love going for walks and listening to music. In addition, I really enjoy playing card games with family, going to the beach, and trying new boba places with friends! I also go through an obsessive crocheting phase every couple of years.

Summer research description: Many rare-earth telluride materials, including LaTe2 and DyTe2, are of particular interest because some crystallize in an arrangement that features a "square net" of atoms. Such square net materials are frequently found to be topological semimetals, which exhibit many rich properties that motivate their synthesis and study. For my research project, "Optimization of Sapphire Substrates for the Synthesis of Square Net Telluride Thin Films" I will be synthesizing these materials using Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE), a technique used to grow highly crystalline thin films on a compatible substrate. Al2O3 (0001), known as sapphire, is a promising substrate candidate for the growth of high-quality square net materials because it has been observed to undergo a surface reconstruction modeling a square motif and a similar lattice constant to that of the rare-earth tellurides. This summer, I will be specially preparing sapphire substrates specifically for the growth of square net materials, notably LaTe2 and DyTe2.

Co-mentor: Adrian Llanos

Post-college plans or goals: After graduating college, I plan to pursue a PhD in Physics or Materials Science. I would like to continue research in condensed matter physics, but I'm still exploring all the specific areas and applications.




gloria-davidovaGloria Davidova

Hometown: I was raised in Indiana, but my family is from Varna in Bulgaria.

Home Institution and Status: Rising senior in Applied and Engineering Physics student at Cornell. I will be finishing my last semester in December.

Favorite hobbies and interests: I am a rhythmic gymnast and compete at the highest levels in the US and abroad. The sport is a beautiful, intense, and mentally rigorous orthogonal outlet for me. I love learning new skills and pushing my limits.

Summer research description: This summer I will be quantifying the ultrafast dynamics of monolayer graphene proximitized to plasmonic and dielectric resonators via ultrafast differential reflectivity. I will study the modified emission profiles which occur in the coupled system with a femtosecond pump-probe laser after doing simulation, optimization, and fabrication. There will be iteration over cavity designs to characterize and probe the spectroscopic properties.

Co-mentor: Arun Nagpal

Post-college plans or goals: I hope to continue pursuing my research interests in nanophotonics and optics in graduate school and continue doing gymnastics.


cristian-reynagaCristian Reynaga Gonzalez


Hometown: Hacienda Heights, California

Home Institution and Status: Rising senior in Physics at California State University Los Angeles

Favorite hobbies and interests: I cherish a variety of hobbies, such as long-distance running and playing the guitar, a skill I have cultivated for over a decade, immersing myself in horror movies and delighting in quality time with my wonderful family.

Summer research description: My summer research project, “Mapping Local Reaction Dynamics in CO₂ Reduction Gas Diffusion Electrodes via Confocal Microscopy”, is focused on optimizing carbon dioxide (CO₂) reduction through gas diffusion electrodes (GDEs), a key technology in mitigating climate change effects. By using confocal microscopy and a specific CO-sensitive dye, the project will investigate the local CO concentration around operating GDEs, offering spatially resolved local selectivity measurements that are not obtainable through conventional methods. The aim is to provide a deeper understanding of how the micrometer-scale morphology of a GDE influences its CO₂ reduction performance, ultimately enhancing the efficiency and selectivity of CO₂ reduction technologies.

Co-mentor: Annette E. Boehme

Post-college plans or goals: My objective is to persistently engage in research, thereby enhancing my credentials as a formidable Ph.D. candidate. I aspire to complete a graduate program in physics and, upon obtaining my doctorate, endeavor to extend my research pursuits within the academic or professional sphere.


jackie-zheng Zhangqi (Jackie) Zheng


Hometown: Beijing, China

Home Institution and Status: Rising senior in Engineering Physics at Cornell University

Favorite hobbies and interests: In my free time, I like cooking good meals for my friends and myself. I love reading novels – science fiction especially, but other genres as well. I also do graphite drawing and acrylic painting, and occasionally write short fiction pieces, to unwind and indulge myself in the creative world, when I have the time.

Summer research description: Nanoarchitected materials distinguish themselves from their constituent materials with properties, like ultra-low density, high energy absorption, stimulus responsivity, and enhanced damage tolerance, made possible only by their special structures. Typically, special fabrication techniques are required to produce these structures, presenting a fundamental trade-off between print resolution and volume throughput; among them, holographic lithography with metamasks is unique for its high resolution and scalability. Through trial and error, the Greer group has found this methodology incredibly sensitive to perturbations in processing parameters and several steps with coupled dosages that actively affect the quality of the produced architecture. In my project “Characterizing the Fabrication Parameters of Holographic Lithography for Scalable Production of Architected Materials”, I will be tuning these parameters and characterizing the relationship between them, in order to produce highest quality structures by adjusting the dosages accordingly, under various restrictions and metamask conditions.

Co-mentor: Kevin Nakahara

Post-college plans or goals: I am applying to PhD programs for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, focusing on areas in nanomaterials, nanoengineering, device fabrication, and condensed matter. I love research for the problem solving, the endeavors to learn and discover, and the sharing of the knowledge, so I hope to train myself to become a better researcher through the graduate program, with my long-term goal being to continue contributing to human knowledge as a researcher, whether in academia or industry.