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Mary Pate: The First Engineering Student and First Female Researcher at NDSU to Receive NSF Fellowship

Mary Pate is a graduate student in Environmental Engineering, and was recently awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Fellowship. Her selection was based on her outstanding abilities and accomplishments, as well as her potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the US science and engineering enterprise. The fellowship included a yearly stipend of $30,000 starting June 2013 in addition to tuition waiver offered by North Dakota State University (NDSU). The NSF fellows are also eligible to apply for additional funding offered through the GRFP including the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide, which offers NSF fellows the opportunity to enhance their professional development through 3-12 month international research collaborations.
Mary is first engineering student and the first female researcher at NDSU to receive this fellowship. Civil Engineering Department congratulates Mary for her accomplishments and wishes her luck in her future endeavors.
She will be finishing her Master’s thesis under this grant. In addition to her research, she will also be organizing STEM Outreach programs in schools in Minnesota and North Dakota.
Mary started at NDSU as an undergraduate in Civil Engineering in 2010. While taking an environmental engineering course in her junior year, she found herself very interested in the field and decided to pursue a related research opportunity. During this time, she worked with Dr. Achintya Bezbaruah’s Nanoenvirology Research Group (NRG) to improve the sustainability of nanoscale zero-valent iron (NZVI). NZVI particles are used to remove groundwater contaminants. Mary presented her undergraduate research at the World Environmental & Water Resources Congress in Albuquerque, New Mexico in May 2012.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Mary enrolled in the Environmental Engineering Master’s program at NDSU, where she continues to work with Dr. Bezbaruah. Her research is focused on coating NZVI with plant-based biopolymers to prevent their agglomeration and subsequent sedimentation. The well dispersed particles are easy and effective for groundwater remediation applications. The innovative techniques used for the surface modification of NZVI are also expected to find use in biomedical, food, and structural engineering applications.

In addition to environmental nanotechnology research, Mary is very active in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) outreach activities. In summer of 2012, Mary served as a research mentor to a young high student (Ms. Hodan Ahmed) as part of Dr. Bezbaruah’s NSF BRIGE project. They spent the summer researching microbial degradation of biopolymers. At the end of the summer semester, Mary helped the West Fargo High School student to analyze the experimental data and prepare a presentation to her high school peers. Additionally, Mary helps in coordinating science workshops on Nanotechnology and Polymer Science for the West Fargo STEM Middle School.