Mechanical Engineering graduate Bowei Zhang awarded with Zaffarano Prize

May 15, 2020 - by Sarah Igram

Dr. Bowei Zhang, a Ph.D. graduate from Iowa State’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is the recipient of the 2020 Zaffarano Prize. The Graduate College awards this prize annually to graduate students who show superior performance in publishing research in academic journals. They consider both the quality and quantity of publications when selecting a winner.

Photo of Bowei Zhang

Zhang earned his doctorate from Iowa State in the summer of 2019. During his time on campus, he co-authored 14 publications and was the first author for eight publications. He previously received a Research Excellence Award from the Graduate College, as well as a Graduate and Professional Student Senate Research Award.

“My work at Iowa State was on the manufacturing of nanomaterials, and primarily on the development of advanced materials,” Zhang said. “Materials act as catalysts to elements including hydrogen, and our goal was to use catalysts to improve efficiency of the conversion from water to hydrogen.”

Zhang worked alongside Dr. Shan Hu, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and she nominated him for the Zaffarano Prize.

“Bowei’s major contribution [in his field] is lowering the voltage needed to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using earth-abundant electrocatalysts,” Hu wrote in her nomination letter. “Traditionally, expensive catalysts such as RuO2 are used to improve the oxygen revolution reaction (OER) kinetics, but they also make water electrolysis less economical. Bowei was among the first to find the combination of three earth-abundant elements, iron, nickel, and phosphorous, together with a carefully designed hierarchical nanostructure will produce an efficient catalyst that can beat the performance of RuO2 at only a fraction of its cost.”

As he advanced in his doctoral studies, Zhang was able to produce high-quality work and see it published in high-quality academic journals. He recommends that graduate students stay up-to-date on the latest research in their fields.

“If you keep thinking, keep reading the most updated research articles, and keep communicating with the experts in your field, it will be easier for you to have your work published,” he said.

After earning his Ph.D. in 2019, Zhang accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University. He has been able to conduct research consistent with his work at Iowa State, while also continuing to further his academic knowledge. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has recently been working from home, so he was especially excited to learn that he had received the Zaffarano Prize.

“We’re in quarantine, and I was recognized with an outstanding prize,” he said. “I think it will inspire me in the future, no matter whether in academia or industry.”

After Zhang completes his postdoctoral fellowship, he can see himself working in either academia or industry, and he hopes to keep his options open.

“Both are possible for me, depending on what positions I find,” he said.

Tags: awards, mechanical engineering