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Harris Kohl '23 earns National Science Foundation grant for graduate work

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Posted on Monday, July 1, 2024

A 2023 Westminster College alumnus recently earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) grant to conduct research at Texas A&M University.

Harris Kohl, a native of York, Pa., earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Westminster College and recently completed his first year of graduate studies in chemistry at Texas A&M. Kohl works in the lab of chemist Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee, a leading scientist in battery and neuromorphic materials using metastable phases of vanadium oxide.

“I am working on Dr. Banerjee’s desalination project where I utilize hybrid capacitive deionization (HCDI) cells to efficiently extract lithium out of industrial produced water,” said Kohl. “This method will bolster the struggling global lithium supply while simultaneously incentivizing industrial operations to clean their wastewater.”

While at Westminster, Kohl conducted his undergraduate research with Dr. Peter Smith, professor of chemistry.

Hannah Hunter, a 2021 graduate who earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry, received an honorable mention for the 2024 NSF-GRFP.

Hunter is a second-year graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is currently working in the Saxena lab. Her application involved the development of electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) methodology to determine the structure and dynamics of a transferase in cells.

“The typical environment of proteins in vitro is very different from the molecularly crowded environment that proteins naturally exist in in-cell, which can lead to differences in protein folding and kinetics. This has created a need for in-cell EPR measurements to accurately understand the function of proteins,” said Hunter. “I am currently optimizing methodology to increase the sensitivity of in-cell EPR, as well as developing a way to endogenously spin label proteins. This will allow us to obtain very precise dynamics measurements and structural information while proteins are in their native environment and significantly streamline the currently available in-cell EPR protocol.”

While at Westminster, Hunter did her undergraduate honors research with Dr. Jessica Sarver, associate professor of chemistry.

The NSF-GRFP is country’s oldest fellowship program that supports graduate research in STEM, recognizing graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees. The grant program provides the awardee with a three-year stipend and an educational allowance to the sponsoring institution. The NSF-GRFP is a competitive process with a pool of approximately 12,500 applicants and roughly 2000-2100 fellowships awarded annually.