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Civil engineering student receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Mary Pate, an NDSU graduate student studying civil engineering, recently was awarded the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Pate is the first engineering student and the first female researcher at NDSU to receive the graduate fellowship.

The selections are based on abilities and accomplishments, as well as potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.

The fellowship includes a yearly stipend of $30,000, starting in June. The fellows also are eligible to apply for additional funding offered through the Graduate Research Fellowships Program.

Pate will complete her master’s thesis under this grant. In addition to her research, she also will be organizing STEM Outreach programs in schools in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Pate started at NDSU as an undergraduate in 2010. While taking an environmental engineering course in her junior year, she decided to pursue a research opportunity with assistant professor Achintya Bezbaruah’s Nanoenvirology Research Group. The team worked to improve the sustainability of nanoscale zero-valent iron particles that are used to remove groundwater contaminants. Pate worked on possible rejuvenation of the particles for repeated use, and she presented her undergraduate research at the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress in Albuquerque, N.M., in May 2012.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Mary enrolled in NDSU’s environmental engineering master’s program, where she continues to work with Bezbaruah. Her research is focused on coating the nanoscale zero-valent iron particles with plant-based biopolymers to prevent their agglomeration and subsequent sedimentation. The innovative techniques are expected to find use in biomedical, food and structural engineering applications.

In addition to environmental nanotechnology research, Pate is active in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) outreach activities. Last summer, she was a research mentor to a high student as part of Bezbaruah’s NSF BRIGE project. They spent the summer researching microbial degradation of biopolymers. At the end of summer semester, she helped the West Fargo High School student to analyze the experimental data and prepare a presentation to her high school peers. She is presently mentoring another high school student and undergraduate student in environmental nanotechnology research.

Additionally, Pate helps coordinate science workshops on nanotechnology and polymer science for the West Fargo STEM Middle School and is actively involved in organizing “Nano…Nano…” workshops for her research group among elementary and middle school students in North Dakota.

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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