Robertson wins competitive DoD fellowship
Matt Robertson, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, recently won a SMART fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense. The Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation is awarded to undergraduates or graduate students and is aimed at getting more researchers to work in DoD laboratories after completing their degrees.
Robertson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Oklahoma State University in 2015 and a master’s in mechanical engineering from Illinois last month, is a graduate researcher in Assistant Professor Sam Tawfick’s lab, the Kinetic Materials Research Group.
As part of the fellowship—which covers his tuition plus a stipend—he will work next summer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division, in Indiana.
Many of Robertson’s projects in Tawfick’s lab have focused on carbon nanomaterials, and his current research focuses on synthesis of graphene on transition metals, mostly palladium.
“Our goal is to produce high-quality, controllable growth of graphene on non-traditional surfaces for use in composites and coating applications. I am also interested in the characterization of graphene and graphene composites to help bridge the gap between the lab and applications. Careful study of mechanical properties, as well as corrosion resistance and other properties, will help to build understanding of and confidence in new materials as we seek to apply them to real-world technologies,” he said.
Robertson said the fellowship helps him advancing his research goals in several ways. It will offer flexibility and greater freedom in seeking collaborations, helping prepare him to become an independent research leader. The fellowship is also a pay-back program, which means he will go work at NSWC-Crane after completing his PhD.
“Finding a job is always a concern for upcoming graduates, and having a guaranteed job upon graduation lowers stress levels, which helps me to focus more on research. The researchers at NSWC-Crane have access to excellent facilities and possess a wealth of information and wisdom from years of research that is now available to me. While there is certainly no lack of wisdom and information available to me here on campus, it is always helpful to have insights from career researchers off campus, who may be closer to the details and problems that plague the gap between fundamental studies and application. This feedback between research and applications is, in my opinion, an important link in the chain that keeps the advance of technology growing,” said Robertson.