3 Rice students named Goldwater Scholars

Three Rice University undergraduate students have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Savannah Cofer, Jakob Grzesik and Alex Hwang were nominated by Rice and selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,280 natural sciences, mathematics and engineering students nationwide. The scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room andboard up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Nik Liebster, Jr., a Hanszen College junior majoring in physics and religious studies, received honorable mention.

“The Goldwater recognizes outstanding promise to pursue a research career in STEM. Only a few universities across the country had all students nominated for the award receive recognition,” said Caroline Quenemoen, associate dean of undergraduates and director of inquiry-based learning at Rice, who oversees the Center for Civic Leadership. “The research opportunities and close working relationships with faculty position Rice undergraduates to be competitive for this award.”

Jakob Grzesik, Savanna Cofer and Alex Hwang (left to right) are shown here in Japan during their time as Nakatani RIES Fellows in the summer of 2017.

Jakob Grzesik, Savannah Cofer and Alex Hwang (left to right) are shown here in Japan during their time as Nakatani RIES Fellows in the summer of 2017.

Cofer, a Jones College sophomore from Columbus, Ohio, is majoring in mechanical engineering. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the same field and develop application-oriented solutions based on innovative materials. In addition to her course work, she’s currently working on the 3-D printing of graphene in the James M. Tour Group through Rice’s Century Scholars program.

“Last summer, I was a part of the 2017 Nakatani RIES Fellowship in Japan,” Cofer said when asked to describe her most valuable Rice experience to date. “I conducted research in patterning vertically aligned carbon nanotubes at the Maruyama-Chiashi Laboratory at the University of Tokyo.” In a coincidence that would later mirror their triple Goldwater win, Cofer was joined in Japan by Grzesik and Hwang, who were among 12 total American Nakatani Fellows selected last year.

Grzesik, a Hanszen College sophomore from Virginia Beach, Va., is majoring in mathematics and electrical engineering with a specialization in photonics, electronics and nanodevices. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering or applied physics soon after graduation. “I may or may not take some time studying abroad in between graduation and graduate school, but I’m not too sure on that,” Grzesik said. “What I know for sure is that I would like to learn more about solid state physics to further research new technologies, and quantum information in particular.”

Last summer’s Nakatani RIES Fellowship was “integral in sparking my interest in a research career” said Grzesik, who is currently working in the nanophotonics lab of Palash Bharadwaj, the Texas Instruments Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Next year, Grzesik will be researching spin-momentum locked photons in 2-D chiral nanostructures as part of the Rice Undergraduate Scholars Program alongside Bharadwaj. “Additionally, for the upcoming summer, I will be in New York City for the Columbia Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Research Experiences for Undergraduates program,” Grzesik said.

Hwang, a Jones College junior from Palo Alto, Calif., is majoring in physics and electrical engineering. He plans to pursues a Ph.D. in applied physics, with hopes of designing novel nanophotonic devices to tackle challenges in energy, sensing and computation. During the three months of his Nakatani RIES Fellowship, Hwang was able to conduct cutting-edge nanomaterials research. “I learned so much about global research and collaboration,” he said. “This experience was also incredibly important in building my confidence as a research leader.”

Currently, he’s working in the lab of Gururaj Naik, a assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. This week, Hwang will present the results of his research into building a non-Hermitian nanophotonic device at the Materials Research Society Spring Meeting in Phoenix. “I owe a great deal to my research adviser, Gururaj Naik, in Rice ECE and our lab group,” said Hwang, who’s worked with “Guru” for the last two years.

“Having such a large role in the lab has been an incredibly motivating and empowering experience as a young researcher,” Hwang said. “With the help of Guru, Ph.D. student Chloe Doiron and the other members of the Naik lab, I have matured into a more confident and competent young scientist.”

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986. The scholarship program honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. To date, the foundation has bestowed 8,132 scholarships worth approximately 65 million dollars.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.