Six Penn State graduate students receive prestigious defense fellowship

October 19, 2023

By Lauren Colvin

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six Penn State graduate students received a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research, under the direction of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.  

The NDSEG fellowship program, established in 1989, provides fellows with the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree in science and engineering disciplines of military importance, according to the fellowship’s website.

Laura Brownstead 

Laura Brownstead is pursuing a doctoral degree in acoustics under the advisement of Assistant Research Professor Daniel Brown at the Penn State Applied Research Laboratory.  

Brownstead’s research focuses on acoustic signals to characterize the ocean floor, which can be studied by measuring how it scatters sound waves as they reach it. Statistical methods are then used to interpret data collected by specialized acoustic instruments, called sub-bottom profilers, to map the ocean floor.  

Brownstead will investigate these statistical methods, assessing their accuracy and addressing gaps in research. Over the course of three years, she will build a model that can predict properties of the ocean floor and eventually extract information in real-time from data sets. The model will then be tested in the field for use as a navigational tool.  

“Being awarded a fellowship like NDSEG means an incredible amount because it affirms the hard work I’ve done so far, while also promising a future in which I become a significant part of the academic community in my field,” said Brownstead. “The agency of a fellowship arms me with confidence as a researcher and woman in STEM.”

Jonah Glunt 

Jonah Glunt is a mechanical engineering doctoral student studying systems and controls. Specifically, Glunt is researching path planning and optimal control for autonomous vehicles. 

There are many uses for autonomous vehicles outside of the commercial uses people think of, according to Glunt. Instead of putting human lives in risky situations, autonomous robotic systems can perform dangerous tasks such as natural disaster relief, hazardous material clean-up, nuclear site inspection, search and rescue, reconnaissance and more.  

“My proposed research envisions a future of human-machine teaming in which a human operator gives high-level direction to a fleet of autonomous vehicles,” explained Glunt. “The partnership would then work together to complete tasks.” 

Glunt is advised by Herschel Pangborn, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and of aerospace engineering. This advising relationship began when Glunt was an undergraduate studying mechanical engineering at Penn State. After graduating with honors in the spring of 2022, Glunt returned to pursue his master’s and now seeks a doctoral degree — all in mechanical engineering.

Wyatt Larrinaga 

Wyatt Larrinaga is a pursuing a doctoral degree in chemistry under the advisement of Joseph Cotruvo, associate professor of chemistry in the Eberly College of Science.  

Larrinaga’s research focuses on bioinorganic chemistry. Over the course of his fellowship, Larrinaga will study how to use biological systems to extract rare earth elements (REEs) — metals that are critical to develop green energy technologies, electronics and many other products — from the environment and from wastes. 

According to Larrinaga, research in the last decade revealed some bacteria require REEs for their metabolism, therefore their systems are optimized for acquiring and handling REEs. Drawing inspiration from these bacteria, Larrinaga will explore new approaches to extract REEs, which have historically been difficult and used environmentally harmful solutions. 

“The ultimate goal of the project is to work toward reimagining current industrial rare earth element separation processes,” said Larrinaga. “The aim is to make them more efficient, capable of using more complex source materials and more environmentally sustainable.”

Evelyn Thomas 

Evelyn Thomas is pursuing a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering at Penn State under the co-advisement of Associate Professor Nicholas Meisel in the Made by Design Lab and Assistant Professor Jared Butler in the Mechanism Collective, Engineering Design & Optimization Group.  

Thomas’ research focuses on the design of compliant mechanisms, which are mechanical devices whose movement is caused by the bending of flexible parts. According to Thomas, these have been useful for saving space and energy absorption for several industries including aerospace, consumer products and biomedical engineering. 

Thomas will specifically study how additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, can be used to design origami-inspired, multi-material compliant mechanisms down to the voxel-level, the smallest material unit where the material properties are assumed to be consistent. This approach will lead to a level of detail that creates unique design opportunities, explained Thomas.  

“Using additive manufacturing allows for greater control of geometry and materials associated with compliant mechanism design when compared to traditional manufacturing,” said Thomas, who has familial ties to the military branch supporting her work. “As the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans, this fellowship is incredibly special to me because my work is funneled through the Army Research Office.”

Beril Tonyali 

Beril Tonyali is pursuing a doctoral degree in material science and engineering under the advisement of Allison Beese, professor of materials science and engineering and of mechanical engineering.  

Tonyali’s research focuses on functionally graded materials, which are materials that change composition, and thus material properties, gradually across a single structure.  

According to Tonyali, additive manufacturing is useful for fabricating functionally graded materials (FGMs) because it enables pure metals and/or alloys to be mixed during deposition, creating new intermediate compositions that can result in unique material properties. 

“The ability to change compositions in this way allows us to create parts with locally tailored properties within a single fabricated component,” said Tonyali, who will use functional grading to join dissimilar metals. “With this fellowship, I am provided the flexibility and resources to study new material systems that help explore the unknowns of new technological developments, allowing me to contribute to the growth of additive manufacturing technology across multiple industries.”

Tyus Yeingst 

Tyus Yeingst is pursuing a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering under the advisement of Professor Daniel Hayes, department head of biomedical engineering.   

Yeingst’s research focuses on biomaterials — specifically hard polymers, hydrogels and nanoparticles — for tissue regeneration and cancer treatment. These materials are controlled using high-intensity focused ultrasound and near-infrared light to properly deliver and release the therapeutics. 

“This fellowship provides me with a great opportunity to continue the research I am passionate about," said Yeingst. “I am truly grateful for the opportunity the NDSEG fellowship has given me and will give me over the next three years.” 

Collaborators on Yeingst’s research include Julianna Simon, associate professor of acoustics and biomedical engineering, and Aman Dhawan, a clinician in the Penn State Health system.  


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