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A record-breaking 16 UCF students and alumni were named National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellows this year — with an additional seven singled out for honorable mentions. Three of the winners and four of the honorable mentions are from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Started in 1952, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate research program of its kind and recognizes graduating seniors and first-year graduate students studying in STEM disciplines. Awardees receive an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years as well as $12,000 that can be used toward tuition and fees. As part of the five-year fellowship, recipients also have opportunities for international research and professional development and the freedom to conduct their own research. Past fellows include Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

“I’m so proud of the Knights who received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and those who were named honorable mentions,” says UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright. “This is truly a momentous accomplishment in their research careers and is indicative of the tremendous potential they have in their respective fields. UCF continues to break its own records in the number of recipients of these prestigious awards and recognitions each year. We also acknowledge the commitment and hard work of our amazing faculty who mentor our undergraduate and graduate researchers and enable them to participate in path-breaking innovation while studying here at UCF.”

For the 2021 competition, NSF received more than 13,000 applications and offered only 2,074 awards.

Meet this year’s fellows from MAE:

Jake Carter

Jake Carter '19

Major: Mechanical Engineering
University involvement: Burnett Honors Scholar
Currently: Pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of California – Berkeley
Research: According to the American Transplant Foundation, an average of 20 people die every day due to a lack of available organs for transplant and liver and kidney disease alone kill more than 120,000 people every year. Carter’s research is working to create technology to prolong how long organs can survive while in transit using isochoric cryopreservation. “My overall goal is to extend the viability of transplantable organs so that they are no longer wasted,” he says.
Up Next: After earning his doctorate, Carter hopes to continue research in biomedical engineering and to become a professor to help others pursue their scientific interests and develop devices that have a positive impact on society.

Brendon Cavainolo

Brendon Cavainolo

Major: Aerospace Engineering
University Involvement: Burnett Honors Scholar, President’s Leadership Council, and member of the COMPASS and EXCEL programs as well as UCF’s chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space
Currently: Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a minor in computer science at UCF, completing an undergraduate research assistant apprenticeship, and working part-time as an undergraduate teaching assistant
His Research: Water can prove deadly for pilots. Tiny droplets may seem unproblematic on land, but up in the air, they can freeze gears and equipment, potentially impacting an aircraft’s performance and controllability. Cavainolo’s research is focused on using inexpensive simulation models to determine how to remove those droplets before they freeze, making it easier to design safe aircraft. His research also has applications in stopping the spread of airborne diseases, such as coronavirus. “One specific research goal I was particularly proud of achieving was applying adaptive meshing techniques to the water droplet simulations,” he says. “This drastically reduces the cost of full 3D simulations without sacrificing much accuracy. Full 3D simulations are key because droplet breakup dynamics are often asymmetric.”
Up Next: Has applied to graduate programs at UCF, University of Florida, Penn State University and North Carolina State University and is waiting to hear back.

Robert Greene

Robert Greene '20

Major: Aerospace Engineering
Currently: Pursuing a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at UCF and recently finished a collaboration with researchers at MIT for the U.S. Department of Energy, focused on investigating new alternative fuel replacements for traditional fossil fuels.
Research: Combustion engines continue to play a big role in transportation — from cars to planes to rockets. But they continue to be among the top producers of greenhouse gas emissions. Greene’s research is focused on developing new diagnostic techniques that provide better insight into the fundamental chemistry and physics of propulsion devices, such as rocket motors and car and jet engines. “Understanding these phenomena will enable better and more efficient design of systems that can increase fuel efficiency and combat greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.
Up Next: After earning his doctorate, Greene hopes to become a university professor.

Honorable mentions went to: mechanical engineering doctoral student Jessica Baker ’20, aerospace engineering doctoral student Jacklyn Higgs, aerospace engineering grad Zachary Stein ’20 and mechanical engineering undergraduate student Zachary Whitacre. Zoe Barbeau, ‘20, worked in Associate Professor Nina Orlovskaya’s lab, also received an award.