Fellowship Recipient’s Work, Play Are Both Hard-Hitting
Physics Graduate Student, Rugby Player Is Among Five NSF Honorees with Ties to UT Dallas

Melanie Bowler holds a lightemitting electrochemical cells device

Melanie Bowler BS’16

University of Texas at Dallas physics master’s student Melanie Bowler BS’16 is accustomed to being part of a team where everyone pushes in the same direction to cross the line.

Her drive is both metaphorical and literal. The electronic materials researcher from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, recently chosen for a prestigious federal fellowship, was also a three-year member of the UT Dallas women’s rugby team.

Bowler is one of five students who are attending or have graduated from UT Dallas chosen this year for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program provides three years of financial support for a student’s graduate studies, each year consisting of a stipend of $34,000 plus a cost-of-education allowance.

Bowler’s research concerns light-emitting electrochemical cells (LECs), which may serve as an alternative to light-emitting diodes (LEDs). With the NSF support, she’s refining the efficiency and stability of LECs with ionic transition-metal complexes.

“These are highly efficient, low-cost, lightweight devices that have applications in passive signage or even as flexible, wearable lighting,” Bowler said.

Bowler works in the laboratory of Dr. Jason Slinker, associate professor of physics, who praised her for her initiative and quick learning.

“When she arrived in my lab, Melanie quickly came up to speed on fabricating light-emitting devices and promptly took up an independent project,” Slinker said. “Her pursuit of temperature dependence of these light-emitting devices has led to a fundamental, molecular-level understanding that challenges assumptions held for decades.”

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the nation’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. This year, 2,000 awards were offered from more than 12,000 applicants. The award includes a three-year, $34,000 annual stipend plus a $12,000 educational allowance that goes toward tuition and fees.

Bowler recently committed to continuing her studies in the doctoral program at UT Dallas, extending her time in Slinker’s lab.

“I like to understand how things work and I find it fascinating that I can use that understanding to apply new methods to optimize the device,” she said. “Dr. Slinker is a great mentor who consistently challenges his students and helps them to meet their goals.”

While completing her undergraduate degree, Bowler found time to take up rugby, which she was first attracted to while in high school in New York, but never got to play until becoming a Comet.

“Rugby demands an additional level of trust in your teammates and a different level of physicality,” she said. “I really enjoy the challenge, the competition — and I’ve made some of the most amazing friends. These girls have literally taken hits for me.”

For Slinker, Bowler’s NSF award demonstrates the strength of UT Dallas’ undergraduate and graduate students, while also opening doors for continued research.

“We hope to utilize this funding to enable Melanie to work in other laboratories, even pursuing international partnerships,” he said.

Whatever opportunities arise, Slinker expects Bowler to embrace them wholeheartedly.

“Melanie is always one to follow through on her work, and she is never afraid to try a new task,” Slinker said. “Would you expect a rugby player to be scared?”

Four other current and former UT Dallas students also received 2018 NSF graduate research fellowships:

Jesse Grant is in the biomedical engineering program, working on advanced polymer research with Dr. Walter Voit BS’05, MS’06, a materials science and engineering professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. Grant’s work involves flexible, polymeric temperature sensors. As a junior, he was co-author of an article in the journal Advanced Functional Materials on a novel 3-D printing method to reduce the anisotropy of thermoset polymers. After graduating this spring, he plans to pursue graduate studies in the materials engineering program at Purdue University in the fall, focusing on soft materials.

Karthik Hullahalli BS’17 graduated in December and remains at the University as a lab tech working with Dr. Kelli Palmer, an associate professor of biological sciences. His work involves genetic editing, specifically studying and manipulating the CRISPR-Cas genome editing system in an antibiotic-resistant opportunistic pathogen. A winner of the Raymond W. Sarber Award from the American Society for Microbiology and the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, Hullahalli will attend Harvard University in the fall, joining the biological and biomedical sciences PhD program.

Mai Thuan Huynh BS’16 is a McDermott Graduate Fellow and was in the 2014 class of Terry Scholars. The chemistry PhD student works in the Bionanosciences Group with Dr. Rockford Draper, professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Paul Pantano, associate professor of chemistry. Her research concerns understanding the mechanisms of how carbon nanotubes interact with mammalian cells, studies that could lead to the rational design of safer nanomaterials.

Stephanie Matijevic BS’16 earned her neuroscience degree while working in the lab of Dr. Kristen Kennedy, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the Center for Vital Longevity. She is pursuing her psychology PhD in cognition and neural systems at the University of Arizona. Her research concerns the changes that occur to the brain’s structure and function with aging, and the impact these changes have on cognitive functioning.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].