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GAANN Fellowship in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Program Summary 

Top students in STEM fields pursuing doctoral degrees may be eligible for Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowships in Electrochemical Engineering and related applications. These Fellowships are awarded based on academic performance and financial need. GAANN Fellows are recommended for the program by the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and require approval by the Graduate School and the Fellowship Program Selections Committee. If selected, GAANN Fellows are eligible for stipends up to $34,000 per year.

Eligibility Requirements 

  1. Enrolled full-time in or admitted to the doctoral program in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering 

  2. U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or a permanent resident of a Free State 

  3. Committed to a career as a university faculty member or high-impact researcher 

  4. Outstanding undergraduate and (if applicable) graduate academic record (cumulative grade point average) 

  5. Demonstrated financial need, determined according to federal guidelines 

How to Apply 

Step 1.  Apply to the Ph.D. program in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Step 2.  Email Dr. John Staser at staser@ohio.edu expressing your intent to apply for the GAANN Fellowship. 


GAANN Faculty and Department Affiliations 

  • Monica Burdick, Associate Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • Damilola Daramola, Assistant Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • Doug Goetz, Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • Marc Singer, Associate Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • John Staser (Director), Associate Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • Jason Trembly, Russ Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 

Research Areas 

Electrochemical Engineering 

Electrocatalysis (Staser, Trembly, Daramola)

Development of electrocatalysts is at the forefront of efforts to enhance the kinetics and economics of electrochemical processes.  Novel electrocatalysts that are cost-effective, able to be synthesized in large quantities with minimal environmental impact, using precursors and raw materials readily sourced within the United States, and demonstrating excellent stability and operating lifetime are needed for emerging areas of national need including renewable energy production, electrochemical synthesis, environmental remediation, and pharmaceuticals. 

Research in this area is conducted at the nanoscale.  Synthesis procedures are designed to result in specific electrocatalyst features, including surface morphology, porosity, particle size distribution and chemistry.  Often, advanced modeling capabilities are used to better understand and predict electrocatalyst behavior at the molecular level.

At Ohio University, you can develop novel electrocatalysts for applications ranging from fuel cells and electrolyzers to electrochemical synthesis of fuels to electrochemical conversion of biomass to value-added chemicals.  We work on ways to enhance electrocatalyst features, including surface morphology and selectivity toward specific products in electrochemical synthesis.  Use tools like computational fluid dynamics to predict the thermodynamics and kinetics of electrochemical processes and tailor electrocatalyst properties to achieve desired results. 

There are several projects under the Electrocatalysis umbrella.  A few of these include: 

  • Mixed-Oxide Electrocatalysis for Selective Electrochemical Oxidation of Natural Gas to Valuable Intermediate Chemicals 
  • Electrocatalysis for Electrochemical Synthesis 

Electrochemical Energy Devices (Staser, Trembly, Daramola)

Electrochemical devices have long been used for energy conversion and storage.  Lead-acid batteries are used in virtually every vehicle on Earth, and fuel cells have enjoyed a successful history in space exploration. More recently, Li-ion batteries, once more limited as the go-to power source for portable electronics, have exploded onto the electric vehicle scene, with efforts underway to improve charging rates and economics. Most of the major automotive brands produce at least one EV model, with trends suggesting significant growth and user adoption in the coming years. While electrochemical energy devices have a long and storied history, the future is just as exciting, with possibilities in implantable medical devices, flexible batteries and capacitors, photocapacitors, grid-scale storage and advanced battery chemistries beyond lithium.  

Research in this area is broad, from materials development to device- and systems-level engineering to techno-economic analyses and end-use safety. New electrode chemistries and structures receive significant research attention. New electrolytes are being developed that push the electrochemical window and allow for greater energy density. In some applications (such as aeronautic or space systems), size and weight are key, and research is being done to make the devices smaller without a significant reduction in energy or power densities. 

At Ohio University, you can help develop advanced electrochemical energy devices designed to meet the needs of a rapidly changing energy portfolio. We work on new materials and new electrode chemistries, as well as advanced device architecture and systems-level integration. There are several active projects in this area that GAANN Fellows can work on. 


Electrochemical Conversion of Biomass (Staser, Daramola) 

Biomass has gained attention as a raw material for a host of products, including biofuels, plastics and other materials.  In particular, lignocellulosic biomass like corn stover and other agricultural residue is of interest because it is abundant in the United States and can be used to make biofuel.  The lignin portion of lignocellulosic biomass, however, cannot be converted into fuel.  In biorefineries where lignocellulosic biomass is converted to biofuel, the lignin portion is typically burned to recover energy.  Lignin, however, is itself a very interesting material; it is a polyaromatic compound.  Depolymerization of lignin to smaller aromatic compounds is of interest because these smaller aromatic compounds could displace petroleum as raw materials for things like resins, resin binders, etc.  Depolymerization is difficult to achieve in practice.  

Electrochemical conversion of lignin holds promise because by controlling the electrode potential, it may be possible to control the reaction mechanism and achieve high yield and selectivity for low molecular weight aromatic compounds.  Researchers at Ohio University are exploring electrochemical conversion of biomass in both fundamental and applied research.  Fundamental research in this area seeks to describe the basics of the electrochemical processes, while applied research focuses on developing reactor designs to achieve high rates of lignin conversion to useful chemicals.  As part of this project computational studies on electrocatalysts for biomass conversion are undertaken.  Computational techniques in this area include density functional theory, statistical mechanics, saddle-point finding methods and root finding methods to predict the thermodynamics and kinetics of the conversion of model compounds that serve as surrogates for larger and more complex biomass molecules.  Additionally, product analysis is important in this area. 

Students working on electrochemical conversion of biomass have opportunities in fundamental and applied research, as well as mathematical modeling.  They will learn analytical techniques to identify conversion products.  In addition, students will have the opportunity to conduct techno-economic analyses to quantify the economic impact that this process will have on the biorefinery concept and on the biofuels industry as a whole. 


Electrochemical Evaluation of Biomaterials (Goetz, Burdick, Staser) 

Aptamers are nucleic acid or peptide-based molecules that exhibit highly selective binding for a target ligand.  The target ligand can be a cell, a protein, or a small molecule.  Functionally, aptamers are somewhat similar to monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in their specificity for a given target.  A rapidly evolving application of aptamers is their use in aptasensors, in particular electrochemical based biosensors, cell-expressed biomarkers, or cell-secreted biomarkers. 

Students will have the opportunity to work on the development of novel electrochemical-based aptasesnors for two applications.  Specifically, Goetz and colleagues have multiple composition of matter patents for small organic compounds that have therapeutic potential. The group seeks to develop an aptasensor for the detection of their lead compounds in biological matrices.  Burdick and colleagues are identifying biomarkers of breast cancer cell phenotypes for diagnostic purposes in liquid and tissue biopsies, with particular interest in molecules that have functional roles in oncogenesis, disease progression, and metastasis.  Aptasensors that detect biomarkers for diagnostic and theranostic healthcare applications will be developed.  These projects are highly interdisciplinary involving the Staser lab, which has expertise in electrochemistry, and the Burdick and Goetz labs, which have expertise in cellular and molecular-based biomedical engineering. Staser, Burdick and Goetz will lead this project and students will work closely with this team to identify appropriate aptamers, develop the electrochemical-based aptasensor, and utilize the developed sensor to address key hypotheses related to the development of novel diagnostics and therapeutics.   

Students interested in combining chemical and biomolecular engineering with convergence science, translational medical research, and technology development are ideally suited for projects in this area.  GAANN Fellows will develop research skills spanning electrochemistry, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, and biomedical sciences in engineering applications. 


Corrosion Resistance of SLM Manufactured Metals (Singer) 

3D-printing of metals, performed through an additive manufacturing (AM) process known as selective laser melting (SLM), is an increasingly attractive method for manufacturing complex components. However, little is known about degradation processes associated with such materials. Initial work has demonstrated that this relatively new manufacturing approach introduces significant fundamental differences in material structure irrespective of material type; these structures, artifacts of the material build-up process, appear to dominate the materials' corrosion behavior. The GAANN Fellows would be tasked with investigating the corrosion resistance of stainless steels (316L and 17-4PH) and Inconel (alloy INC718) manufactured using SLM. Experiments would be conducted utilizing appropriate ASTM standards to elucidate whether alloys produced using SLM, given their unique microstructure, offer different corrosion resistance and are more vulnerable to localized attack and intergranular, galvanic corrosion than equivalent sheet specimens. The GAANN Fellow would have the opportunity to develop expertise in electrochemical techniques (including potentiodynamic sweeps, linear polarization resistance, and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) and specimen surfaces will be characterized by profilometry to check for localized attack and by scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and Raman microscopy to identify any surface features. In addition, the GAANN Fellows will also utilize electron back scatter diffraction to characterize the microstructure of SLM manufactured materials and relate the findings with their corrosion susceptibility. 

Students will benefit from dedicated mentoring from faculty members from the Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Technology and the Center for Advanced Materials Processing at Ohio University.  In addition, opportunities to participate in comprehensive teaching assistantship activities will be offered through several materials-oriented classes offered by the department.