April 23, 2021
The Kavli Nanoscience Institute established the KNI Catalyst Awards to recognize researchers in the nanoscience community who actively promote diversity, equity and/or inclusion at Caltech, JPL, or the broader scientific community.
This work is very often unpaid and driven heavily by students and postdoctoral scholars on campus, who must balance these efforts with their academic and scientific responsibilities. In celebration and support for some of the change makers at Caltech and JPL, the KNI is awarding the recipients with a $1,000 prize (each) to be used at their discretion.
In order to be considered for this award, formal nominations were submitted by peers, colleagues, or advisors, and a review committee evaluated the nominations to select this year's winners. The committee members were: Scott Cushing (assistant professor of chemistry & 2021 KNI-Wheatley Scholar), Tiffany Kimoto (executive director, KNI), Beverley McKeon (professor of aeronautics & EAS Division Deputy Chair), Alison Tominaga (program coordinator, Caltech's Center for Inclusion and Diversity), and Nai-Chang Yeh (professor of physics & former KNI co-director).
2021 KNI Catalyst Awardee Spotlights
Graduate Student in the Atwater Research Group
Department of Applied Physics
Division of Engineering and Applied Science
Community Engagement Positions:
- Co-founder, Caltech for Black Lives (C4BL)
- Chair, Community Unlearning Working Group
- Co-founder, Social Action Team (SAT) of the Atwater Research Group
- Tutor, RISE program
Recent Research Publications:
AlSb as a material for high index contrast nanophotonics, Optical Materials Express, 2021
Outdoor performance of a tandem InGaP/Si photovoltaic luminescent solar concentrator, Solar Energy Materials & Solar Cells, 2020
Haley Bauser is a fifth-year graduate student researcher in Dr. Atwater's group. Her research centers broadly on photovoltaic renewable technology. An active KNI Lab user, Haley fabricates high contrast grating reflectors and photonic crystal waveguides to manipulate light in luminescent solar concentrators for solar photovoltaic technology and carbon dioxide reduction. Since the Covid pandemic began, she published two first-author papers, including one that demonstrates how 92% of light can be trapped using photonic crystals.
Haley grew up in Virginia Beach, VA, and attended the College of William & Mary on a full academic scholarship where she originally began studying International Relations. During her time there, she was met with challenging circumstances that she ultimately turned into opportunities, including a research stint with Dr. Irina Novikova's group on quantum optics. Haley learned she enjoyed the research environment and decided to pivot into a Physics major, where she was able to participate in paid summer undergraduate internships and fellowships.
Haley first ventured to California during graduate school admissions visits. As a female scientist, Haley was acutely aware of the gender gap in STEM and certain labs. She chose to come to Caltech for her Ph.D. after she witnessed the good working environment and diversity that existed within the Atwater Group.
Engagement in outreach and social justice issues aren't new for Haley; she has been interested in these topics since high school. A consistent priority for Haley has been finding ways to connect to the community around her:
"Scientists and people in college are in a position of privilege – sometimes in academia you feel so temporary, but you can still do things to be integrated with the community around you, to be a member of it, rather than an outlier or separate [from] it."
The events of this past year catalyzed Haley to become even more active in community work. In June 2020, she provided support to BSEC members by preparing material for their campus-wide Town Hall meeting. In an effort to continue its momentum and ensure reforms from the petition were met, Haley, along with Cora Went, Sean Pike, Reina Buenconsejo, and Aida Behmard co-founded Caltech for Black Lives, an ally group that closely communicates with BSEC and helps to carry out its initiatives and priorities. Haley and the other C4BL co-founders were struck by the large amount of time and effort BSEC members invested into the Town Hall, on top of the pandemic and the social unrest happening at that time:
"We thought, ‘why don't we put together a group that will keep an eye on the BSEC petition and the Caltech administration and what they're doing and continue this level of activism and an organization where people can help out so not all of the labor keeps falling on BSEC?'"
Since September 2020, C4BL has hosted several meetings and events focusing on racial justice issues, most notably a three-part town hall series called The Reckoning Task Force (RTF) about the importance of building renaming put on by C4BL's Community Unlearning Working Group, which Haley chairs. Each meeting centered around a specific topic: "Racism for Scientists", "Eugenics at Caltech", and "How We Rename". Impressively, more than 100 attendees participated at each meeting where they held candid, meaningful conversations on the themes.
Haley is particularly happy to see that the issue of "renaming" is being addressed – in January 2021, Caltech's Board of Trustees authorized the removal of Robert Millikan and E.S. Gosney's names from campus buildings. In terms of next steps, C4BL plans to hold another Town Hall as a one-year check-in to review the progress made since BSEC's petition was released.
Haley continues to leverage her roles within Caltech to spread awareness on social and racial justice more broadly across the Caltech community. The RTF meetings and discussions, along with the "Shut Down STEM Day" event she co-hosted for the Atwater research group, are a few examples of Haley's efforts to educate and galvanize people on campus. Before this, Haley volunteered as a tutor with Caltech Y's RISE program for two years, working one-on-one with K-12 students in the local area.
When asked what she thinks the landscape at Caltech will look like in ten years, Haley remains optimistic. While she hopes campus will be more representative of larger population, she is most eager to see more people leaning in and creating an environment that supports all students. She hopes to see more faculty become actively involved in pushing for the items listed in the BSEC petition. Haley elaborates:
"I'd like to see everyone get involved in some type of outreach for the purpose of helping others. I'd like that to be the norm. There are great groups doing amazing work in Pasadena and the local area. The place you can make the most change is your immediate community."
As for her own personal long-term goals, Haley would like to stay in the LA area, where she can build and foster the immediate community around her. Career-wise, working at JPL is high on her list, or a place similar to it, where she can continue solving challenges and making advancements in renewable energy technology.
Graduate Student in the Gao Research Group
Department of Materials Science
Division of Engineering and Applied Science
Community Engagement Positions:
- Vice President, Black Scientists and Engineers of Caltech (BSEC)
- Member, President's Student Admission and Recruitment Committee
- Co-mentor, WAVE Fellowships Program
Recent Research Publications:
Medical micro/nanorobots in complex media, Chemical Society Reviews, 2020
Self-powered wearable biosensors, Accounts of Materials Research, 2021
Daniel Mukasa is a second-year graduate student researcher in Dr. Wei Gao's group. His research focuses on the understanding of fundamental materials science, using density functional theory and ab initio computational physics calculations, as a means of designing biosensors that analyze small molecules (biomarkers) in sweat. Optimizing the design, function, and reliability of these wearable bioelectronic devices will one day allow for early diagnoses – and, by extension, treatment – of diseases like cancer and diabetes, all from data collected by a person's sweat droplets.
A native Southern Californian, Daniel grew up in Riverside and was a pole vaulter in high school. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree in physics from Oberlin College in Ohio. During that time, he participated in summer REU programs, including a WAVE fellowship at Caltech with Professor Brent Fultz.
Beyond his scientific pursuits, Daniel has been actively engaged in community building and mentorship at Caltech since he first arrived in 2019. As Vice President of BSEC, Daniel has led several events and co-organized the pivotal BSEC Town Hall meeting for the campus community in June 2020.
During the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and in wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, BSEC members spent a month preparing the Town Hall where they presented a detailed petition to address issues of racial bias at Caltech and call on the administration to implement reforms in order to build a more diverse and inclusive Caltech. Daniel explains,
"We felt it was necessary to figure out how Caltech can improve and then recruit a more diverse student population, so we identified simple investments, like graduate summer research institutes and recruiting. The number of Black students is going to triple in this most recent graduate student admissions cycle. Small changes really do make a lasting impact."
The petition, "Anti-Racism: What Can We Do?", catalyzed many campus-wide conversations and led to the creation of several tangible changes. They include:
- Doubling the number of WAVE Fellowships, summer research fellowships for historically minoritized undergraduates
- Creating 10 Presidential Graduate Fellowships for qualified incoming graduate students
- The formation of a Graduate Summer Research Institute (GSRI) to allow incoming underrepresented graduate students to find community at Caltech
- A guarantee of funding to the Freshman Summer Research Institute (FSRI)
- A guarantee of funding for recruitment at minority serving conferences
- Additional funding for a program to support underrepresented postdoctoral scholars
Over the past six years, Daniel has steadily worked his way into leadership roles within his community organizations. He strongly advocates for providing his peers and those who come after him with the tools and resources they need for professional development and careers in STEM fields. This includes sharing information on how to get into grad school or REU programs, obtaining a job in industry, the importance of attending and speaking at conferences, publishing articles, and more. Given the very small population of Black graduate students at Caltech, building a supportive network is a priority for Daniel, and he has been happy to see the kind of impact BSEC and its allies can make when everyone works together.
On the topic of leadership, Daniel appreciates his advisor, Wei Gao, for being a very supportive PI. Wei allowed Daniel to take a step back from his research to focus on the Town Hall presentation and campus diversity efforts (and study for finals, which were happening concurrently). This space gave Daniel the ability to return to his research and paper writing refreshed, which ultimately was a win for both student and PI.
When asked what he is most proud of over this past year, Daniel responded:
"I'm most proud of the change in culture. Getting into an institution like Caltech, people have the opportunity to do some of the greatest research, work with some of the greatest scientists on the best equipment, and [it's easy to only] think of that. Now I'm starting to see, even among my peers, people starting to think of diversity-related work and to use the pedestal that we're on to help others get to a similar place. And that's what's going to change science. Our scientific work is going to push and change the world, but as we get more diversified minds in a space like this, the innovations that we're going to see are going to be phenomenal, both in terms of the actual science of it, but also in terms of the societal impact. That's what I'm most excited about – because I think if you can have a lasting cultural change, that is really what's going to change the world."
In terms of building and sustaining cultural change at Caltech, Daniel sees the WAVE Fellowships program as a good place to start, both in terms of offering students of color with the opportunity to explore research at Caltech, but also for PIs to mentor and continue to invest in the future of these young scientists, providing them with information on how they can get into top tier research institutes. Daniel noted:
"I'd like to thank Brent Fultz for this – he showed me what it was like to work towards a scientific publication by doing in-depth computational work, in depth experimental work, and seeing what really brings an entire project together. Then told me what grad committees are looking for, and what you should be doing when you go back to school."
The results of Daniel's diversity and inclusivity efforts on campus have generated a profound impact at Caltech, and he is excited to see what the campus environment will look like by the time he graduates. As for a longer outlook, Daniel plans to continue with his passion in biomedical research and wants to see a device he's helped create save lives. He hopes to become a professor at Caltech or another university in California, where he can pursue his scientific goals and continue to be involved in diversity work.