Graduate Advancement Training and Education

Graduate Advancement Training and Education (GATE)

The Science Alliance’s Graduate Advancement, Training and Education (GATE) program supports graduate students via assistantships and fellowships awarded by individual departments, to support meritorious, collaborative research between the university and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Additionally, we offer full graduate research assistantships to students based on the merit of their research. GATE awardees receive a 12-month appointment, including a stipend, tuition waiver and health insurance.

Current GATE Awardees

2023 Awardees

Shamiul Alam

Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Shamiul Alam’s primary area of research revolves around the development of device models and circuits aimed at enabling next-generation memory, logic, and logic-in-memory systems utilizing semiconducting, superconducting, and topological devices. The outcomes of his research carry significant implications for fields like artificial intelligence, high-performance computing, and quantum computing. Currently, Alam is focused on creating a universal memory system that can function both as a long-term storage and active memory. He is accomplishing this goal by utilizing a novel memory device known as UltraRAM. Alam intends to expand his research by designing a unique compute-in-memory system for this technology that will exploit the inherent properties of this device.

Fidaa Ali

Genome Science & Technology

Fidaa Ali’s research focuses on characterizing and solving the structure of different oligomeric forms of photosystem I (PSI) from thermophilic cyanobacteria in their native membrane environment. She is using non-detergent methods to extract and stabilize the protein complexes and employ a variety of biochemical and biophysical analyses as well as computational methods to characterize them and gain insight into the distribution of lipids around these complexes.

Charles Amoo

Energy Science & Engineering

Charles Amoo is working on DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program, aimed at reducing energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. Amoo is involved in improving existing energy audit software by developing features that are relevant for users, documenting the program for ease of use in the form of engineering manuals and getting started guides, and training energy auditors on the use of energy audit tools. Through his research, Amoo hopes to improve energy audit and energy audit software to one that is comprehensive, robust and user-friendly energy audit software, and make it well-suited to characterizing energy use in buildings, recommending cost-effective energy savings and retrofit measures, and train energy auditors to support the millions of non-weatherized, low-income households that need weatherization assistance.

John Hirtz

Nuclear Engineering

John Hirtz’s research investigates the structural changes of spinel oxides in extreme conditions. Hirtz’s focus is on creating sample environments at extreme pressure and high temperature with the ability to perform in situ characterization. These measurements are performed at multiple beam lines at Argonne National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Hirtz has previously worked on the irradiation response of implanted Helium bubbles in metal matrices and other general high pressure work.

Heng Li

Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Heng Li studies how local chromosome domain structures are reinforced in response to X-ray irradiation. Li is interested in studying the impact of cellular sensitivity to subsequent rounds of radiation determined by the initial response and comparing the influence of different types of radiation, such as alpha particles on 3D chromosome structure. This work will improve our ability to understand and develop effective radiation combination therapies and enhance cancer susceptibility to radiotherapy.

Mirka Mandich

Energy Science & Engineering

Mirka Mandich researches experimental characterization of plasma flow using laser spectroscopy. Advanced spectroscopic diagnostics can be cost-prohibitive for small-scale, prototype fusion experiments. Mandich would like to design a mobile diagnostic platform capable of Thomson scattering and optical emission spectroscopy to deploy to different facilities. Mandich has employed other spectroscopy techniques such as absorption spectroscopy for aerospace plasma applications and schlieren imaging with electrothermal arcs, and looks forward to developing new techniques that make use of advancements in plasma physics, optical engineering, and machine learning.

Anjali Rathore

Physics & Astronomy

Anjali Rathore’s research focus is to confirm the existence and comprehend fundamental physics of topological protected bound states such as 1D edge states and 2D surface states. For this work she is going to synthesize topological materials by molecular beam epitaxy technique along with characterization of different topological phases and systematic analysis of unique fundamental properties of topological bound states. She wants to investigate the fundamental physics underlying topological elemental thin films and to further develop intriguing devices with potential applications in the field of electronics and quantum computation. As topology manifests itself in the emergence of edge or surface states protected by underlying symmetries, successful studies can make a significant contribution in the understanding of topological physics.

Sophia Turner

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Sophia Turner’s research focuses on understanding the role of changing biotic interactions for plant resource allocation. Using both field and experimental research, combining traditional ecological techniques with molecular methods, Turner seeks to test how host-specific species interactions change across the range of her study species, Solidago altissima (Tall Goldenrod). Multispecies interactions provide the support structure for the maintenance of ecological communities. Sophia’s work incorporates plant-insect-microbe interactions to gain a full picture that allows us to identify and predict how plant populations respond to changing multispecies interactions

Sanjita Wasti

Mechanical Engineering

Sanjita Wasti works on the manufacturing and characterization of different types of composite materials. Her research focuses on the development and processing of natural and hybrid fiber-reinforced composites for automotive applications. Poor compatibility between the natural fiber and polymer matrix is one of the major bottlenecks that limited the wide range application of natural fiber composites. She is also working on different techniques to improve the interface between the natural fiber and polymer matrix.

Jackie Zheng

Energy Science & Engineering

As a member of the Soft Matter Group at ORNL, Jackie’s research focuses on the development of organocatalysts for polymer deconstruction and the upcycling of these deconstructed polymers into stronger and more valuable materials. He is also working on the commercialization of plastic upcycling technologies to advance closed-loop circularity of plastic waste to renewed materials and divert them from landfills.

2022 Awardees

Shikha Bangar

1st & 2nd Year Funding


Shikha Bangar’s work focuses on Novel Algorithms for NISQ Devices; Bangar is developing quantum algorithms that can be implemented on current quantum technologies. Currently, she is designing a continuous-variable (CV) quantum neural network protocol that can be realized experimentally. This protocol uses only Gaussian gates, and nonlinearity is introduced through measurements on ancillary qumodes. Next, she will investigate the power of CV quantum neural networks and compare them with their classical counterparts.

Ian Cox

1st & 2nd Year Funding


Ian Cox is collaborating with ORNL and other institutions to study the decays of exotic isotopes using the FRIB Decay Station Initiator (FDSi). FDSi allows for the combination of high-resolution gamma and neutron spectroscopy with total absorption gamma spectroscopy to measure excited states in nuclei. These results allow insight into interactions between protons and neutrons in the nucleus, thus helping to provide better models for astrophysical applications. Also, an upcoming experiment will attempt to measure the superallowed alpha decay of 104Te to provide needed insight into how protons and neutrons cluster together.

Presley Dowker

1st & 2nd Year Funding


Presley Dowker’s research focus is on identifying and characterizing novel pharmacological and diet-based approaches to treat and prevent obesity and its associated metabolic consequences. This is achieved through the use of both in vitro (cell culture) and in vivo (mice work) models which allows her to characterize the function and contribution of key metabolic proteins and enzymes related to the pathogenesis of obesity. Presley’s overarching goal is to identify novel strategies that will alleviate or treat metabolic diseases through the use of pharmacological, genetic, or nutritional approaches.

Kristen Kennison

1st & 2nd Year Funding


Kristen Kennison’s research focuses on exploring a poorly understood characteristic of the plasma membrane, transbilayer compositional asymmetry. Currently, she is primarily focusing on characterizing asymmetric bilayers that mimic eukaryotic plasma membranes to reveal information about interleaflet coupling. Kristen’s work involves producing symmetric and asymmetric giant unilamellar vesicles and large unilamellar vesicles utilizing methods such as calcium-induced hemifusion and methyl-beta-cyclodextrin exchange, respectively. She has utilized many different techniques to characterize these model membranes such as confocal fluorescence microscopy, Forster resonance energy transfer, cryogenic electron microscopy, and small-angle neutron scattering.

Paychuda Kritprajun

1st & 2nd Year Funding

Electrical Engineering

Paychuda Kritprajun’s research focuses on studying the impact of grid-connected photovoltaic with supercapacitor systems (PVSS) on power grids. To investigate its behavior under power system transient events, she developed a converter-based supercapacitor emulator with PV on a real-time reconfigurable hardware testbed (HTB) platform. Kritprajun’s research aims to develop the control of PVSS to ensure its availability to provide grid services under severe events while maintaining the safe operations of both PVSS and power grids and to help PV generation sources ride through major grid disturbances without disconnecting from the grid.

Diyi Liu

1st & 2nd Year Funding

Civil & Environmental Engineering

Diyi Liu’s research focuses on tackling engineering problems in the transportation field using emerging and the innovative methodologies and technologies including statistical machine learning, data science, numerical optimization, etc. Liu’s research is threefold: (1) to understand transportation and its pattern using statistical approach; (2) to enhance the “total benefits” of traffic through better control algorithms; (3) to make new theoretical and practical contributions about different methods through studying the hard transportation-related topics like intelligent carpool matching, truck volume identification, etc.

Sayali Mulay

1st & 2nd Year Funding


Sayali is working on Arctic subsurface samples collected from Svalbard, Norway to identify active microbial population during permafrost thaw. She is using a molecular based activity detection technique to identify and isolate active microbes from the thawed permafrost. Her research will help us understand the microbial communities that dominate the thawing Arctic subsurface and their processes.

Rounak Patra

1st & 2nd Year Funding

Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science

Rounak Patra’s research focuses on C isotopes to understand subsoil carbon dynamics. Our current understanding of soil organic carbon (C) dynamics is mainly derived from topsoil studies. Theoretically, subsoil possesses ideal traits for long-term C storage, yet the mechanistic understanding of fulfilling such potential is largely unknown. In Patra’s dissertation research, they leverage stable C isotopes to study active microbial functional traits associated with C cycling to understand subsoil carbon dynamics under highly managed ecosystems.

Charles Russell

1st & 2nd Year Funding

Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Charles Russell studies the pore formation mechanism of the virulent peptide, candidalysin, that is required for Candida albicans pathogenesis. Russell is interested in the physical influence that plasma membrane lipids have on protein structure and function. Understanding the mechanism of candidalysin self-assembly and pore formation will inform new avenues to treat C. albicans infection and can also be utilized in other biomedical applications.

Ryan Spencer

1st & 2nd Year Funding

Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering

Ryan Spencer works with nondestructive evaluation (NDE) tools that will be integrated into advanced manufacturing methods in order to provide high quality and defect free components. Spencer’s research focuses on large-scale additive manufacturing methods that are still prone to defect development during the fabrication process. By applying acoustic emission, a leading NDE technique, as structural health monitoring, Spencer will measure stress waves caused by initial failure points, such as cracking. This method will provide early detection of defects during the print process and allow the ability to take preventative action.

Jeremy Watts

Industrial and System Engineering

Jeremy Watts’ research combines data and decision sciences to optimize healthcare treatment plans for Parkinson’s disease patients. Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disorder with no known cure. Jeremy’s work utilizes wearable sensors and patients’ demographics/genetics to dynamically adjust patients’ medications/therapies to reduce their symptoms.

Hyun Seok Yoon

1st & 2nd Year Funding

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Hyun Yoon is interested in aquatic species conservation. Yoon is currently working on projecting how the range of freshwater fish and mussel species will shift in the future due to climate change and hydropower/thermoelectric plants operation. He is doing this using species distribution modeling to calculate the likelihood of occurrence of species using predictors such as temperature and flow of the streams simulated through the water balance model. Based on the projected change in species distribution, Yoon will conduct an economic risk calculation from potential fluctuation in the species monitoring and mitigation cost for the hydropower plant operations.