Academic honorable mentions include three recent graduates

May 18, 2020 - by Sarah Igram

Three recent Iowa State alumni received honorable mentions for this year's Karas Award for Outstanding Dissertation and Zaffarano Prize for Graduate Student Research.

Karas Award

The Karas Award for Outstanding Dissertation award recognizes students with superior research in four rotating disciplinary areas: Humanities and the Fine Arts, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Social Sciences. This year, one alumna received an honorable mention for the award.

Fatima Enam earned a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State in 2019. She now holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Her dissertation, "Novel approaches for prebiotic detection and control of microbial communities," focused on prebiotic human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Enam developed a process for detecting and distinguishing HMOs that is more efficient than existing techniques. This will allow HMOs to be present in infant formula in cases where infants are not breastfed.

“I greatly appreciate this recognition of my PhD dissertation by the Graduate College. I am grateful to all my research mentors, family and friends at Iowa State University that have supported me along the way," Enam said.

Enam has previously been the recipient of the Graduate College's Research Excellence Award, as well as the Graduate College's Teaching Excellence Award. Thomas Mansell, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Enam's major professor, nominated her for the Karas Award.

"[Enam] works well independently, often solving problems before I even knew that they existed," Mansell wrote in his nomination letter. "She can do this because she thinks very far ahead, carefully planning controls and accounting for other contingencies at a very advanced level. Many of her own ideas solved critical bottlenecks in her research progress."


Zaffarano Prize

The Graduate College awards the Zaffarano 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 making their selections. Two recent graduates received honorable mentions for this year's prize.

Zhongming Fan earned a Ph.D. from Iowa State in Materials Science and Engineering in 2019 and is now a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State University. Throughout his graduate school career, Fan produced 24 research articles, including 10 as the first author. He also previously received the Graduate College's Research Excellence Award.

He conducted research on electrocaloric ceramics, ferroelectrics, and piezoelectric ceramics. Xiaoling Tan, Fan's major professor at Iowa State, nominated him for the Zaffarano Prize.

"Zhongming’s groundbreaking work has earned a reputation for himself and my research group at ISU. Many researchers around the world expressed strong interest in collaborations with us and have sent samples to us," Tan wrote in her nomination letter. "These collaborations are fruitful and have led to numerous joint publications."

King Chun (Alex) Lai graduated this past semester with a Ph.D. in Condensed Matter Physics. His research interests include nanomaterial, surface science, computational physics, non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, multiscale modeling, and metamaterials. He has published 11 research articles on these topics, including seven first-author publications. Lai has also received a Research Excellence Award from the Graduate College.

Jim Evans, Lai's major professor, nominated him for the Zaffarano Prize, writing in his nomination letter that Lai is "an extraordinarily talented and creative (and decent) individual. These attributes are reflected in his extremely productive Ph.D. research career, and in his ability to successfully tackle a large number of research topics invoking a broad range of theoretical tools."

Lai will be working as a postdoctoral scholar at the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin, Germany.

"It is my pleasure to receive an honorable mention for the Zaffarano Prize. Receiving an award, which covers perspectives beyond science, is really an honor to me. To me, the award is a green light telling me that my research does matter not just to me, but to a broader audience," Lai said. "The award also reminds me as a young researcher that I should keep reaching out to share my work with both inside and outside of the research community. In the future, I will certainly keep up this spirit and contribute to the community through my research. This is a great boost to my career, and I am really grateful to receive this award."

Tags: awards, engineering, materials science and engineering, chemical engineering, condensed matter physics, alumni