Hannah F. Drake ’18, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been selected to receive a United States Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program Award in support of research addressing scientific challenges central to the agency’s mission and workforce development.
Drake, who is in her fourth year of study as a member of Texas A&M chemist Dr. Hongcai Joe Zhou’s laboratory focused on metal-organic frameworks, is one of 62 awardees from 50 different U.S. universities that grant doctoral degrees in physical sciences for the program’s 2019 Solicitation 2 cycle. In addition, she is the second Texas A&M student to earn selection in the program’s six-year history, joining fellow Zhou Lab member and 2019 SCGSR awardee Gregory S. Day ’19.
The goal of the SCGSR Program is to prepare graduate students for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science’s mission by providing them with graduate-thesis-enhancing research opportunities at DOE national laboratories, where they will spend anywhere from 3-to-12 months conducting research in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist. The award includes travel support to and from the laboratory as well as a monthly stipend of up to $3,000 to help cover general living expenses while at the host DOE laboratory during the award period. Awardees are selected from a diverse pool of university-based graduate applicants based on merit peer review by outside scientific experts.
Drake is one of 10 2020 awardees who will be conducting collaborative research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She will be in residence there for 12 months, working with Clifford G. Shull Fellow Dr. Matthew Ryder in the Neutron Sciences Division.
The SCGSR research projects are expected to advance each awardee’s overall doctoral thesis while providing access to the expertise, resources and capabilities available at the DOE laboratory facilities. In addition to strong alignment with one of the DOE Office of Science’s priority mission areas, each research project must demonstrate a high need for workforce development, given that the SCGSR Program plays an important role in sustaining a pipeline for highly skilled scientific and technological workforce development.
“These graduate student awards prepare young scientists for STEM careers critically important to the DOE mission and the advancement of American science and technology,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “We are proud of the accomplishments these outstanding awardees have already have made and look forward to following their achievements in the years to come. They represent the future leadership and innovation that will allow American science and engineering to excel in the 21st century.”
Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are highly ordered atomic-level, sponge-like materials composed of precisely tuned building blocks that serve to perform different functions. Drake notes they can be utilized for many different applications, including gas storage, catalysis and light harvesting and even as biomedicines. Her work specifically focuses on the selective capture and storage of methane — the primary component of natural gas — and carbon dioxide.
For her SCGSR research project, “Investigation of Photoresponsive Metal-Organic Frameworks for Light-Induced Switchable Adsorption,” Drake will be exploring the fundamental understanding of the mechanisms behind gas release in photoswitchable MOFs toward the ultimate goal of improved gas storage for both carbon dioxide and methane.
“Due to how gas molecules interact with one another, it is possible to store either gas in a gas cylinder,” Drake said. “However, when MOF materials are utilized in conjunction with the same size gas cylinder, it is possible to store higher quantities of gas within the same volume due to the gas-binding capabilities of the MOF. Unfortunately, it is then very difficult to get the gas back out. My research deals with how to get the gas back out of the cylinders in the most controlled and cost-effective manner by studying the mechanics of gas release through a stimulus-induced response — in my case, using ultraviolet light to induce gas release.”
A native of Charleston, Illinois, Drake earned her bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry with summa cum laude honors in 2016 from Western Illinois University, where she was a Centennial Honors College Scholar, a founding senior research fellow for the President’s Institute Think Tank, president of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemistry Chapter, treasurer of the Blue Key International Honor Society, the WIU Department of Chemistry representative to the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Student Council, the student representative to the CAS Faculty Council, the 2015 WIU Lincoln Laureate and a 2015 honorable mention Goldwater Scholar.
Drake began pursuing her Ph.D. in chemistry at Texas A&M in fall 2016 as a member of the Zhou Laboratory, where she has published several first author papers and co-authored roughly a dozen more while also writing primary literature, review articles, book chapters and grant proposals. In addition to contributing to the success of her lab mates, she has collaborated with other research groups at Texas A&M, including the Pellois and Lindahl laboratories, as well as researchers at other institutions, such as Wake Forest University, and the University of Texas at Dallas. She also has mentored several undergraduate students within the Zhou Lab.
For the past year and a half, Drake has served as the Zhou group’s experiment lead for the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, organizing and conducting experiments on the group’s behalf at LBNL while managing their collective active beamtime allocation to ensure the most efficient use of time across all group members and projects. In January, Drake also established an Aggie Research Program Project in the DeBakey Institute titled Simulated Plant Growth for Mars Exploration via Carbon Dioxide Capture Using Metal-Organic Frameworks. As official lead, she is responsible for the project and the students who work under it, sharing mentorship duties for the six-person team with two of her lab mates: Gregory Day and Christina Lollar.
Beyond her research, Drake is an active member of the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, where she currently serves as the Inorganic Divisional Representative for the Chemistry Student Safety Committee. In addition to helping to organize the department’s first annual Student Safety Symposium in January 2020, she has been a member of the Zhou group internal safety team for the past four years. Drake also is involved in community outreach activities, including the annual Chemistry Open House and membership in the Chemistry Honor Society PLU.
As a graduate student at Texas A&M, Drake also has had the opportunity to teach many courses, ranging from First Year Program lecture and lab courses, honors chemistry seminar classes and majors labs. She also has served as the peer led team learning (PLTL) coordinator for freshman majors students and taught the Advanced Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory course under Dr. Tamara Powers, earning a departmental teaching award last spring She remains active in collaborating with Powers to improve teaching methods in the course.
“Teaching Advanced Inorganic Lab has been one of my true passions while at Texas A&M, and I am very thankful to have Dr. Tamara Powers as a mentor in this capacity,” Drake said. “I am passionate about student mentorship, and I also love studying inorganic chemistry. Teaching this subject has truly been the best of both worlds, allowing me to study under Dr. Powers while helping others discover their own passion for inorganic chemistry.”
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest DOE science and energy laboratory, conducting basic and applied research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security. Its diverse capabilities span a broad range of scientific and engineering disciplines, enabling the laboratory to explore fundamental science challenges and to carry out the research needed to accelerate the delivery of solutions to the marketplace.
To learn more about the Zhou research group, go to http://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/zhou/index.html.
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