National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Winner: Meet Diana

Say hello to Diana, another winner from SBU for this years National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship! Diana’s work focuses on developing the next generation of lithium-ion batteries, but she is interested in all alternative energies and technologies.

Diana smiling for a photo.

EDUCATION: B.S. in Chemistry from Elmira College; currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stony Brook University with the Takeuchi Research Group

RESEARCH INTERESTS: Broadly speaking, I am interested in alternative energy and the technologies that support these systems. My current research is focused on studying battery systems.
FUTURE GOALS: My goal is to secure a job in industry or the government working towards using alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels in all sectors of society.

When did you know you were interested in pursuing a degree in science? 

I took a Comparative Anatomy class during my senior year of high school that made me think of pursuing science in college. Even so, I went into college undecided, packing my first semester with introductory anthropology/sociology and biology courses. After a semester of both, I had decided I was more interested in biology. I think I realized that my love for the natural world could translate into a career rather than just be a character trait. I also felt the urgency to try and protect a world that was feeling the impacts of climate change. I started off thinking I would be a biologist or ecologist, but that changed after I took an introductory chemistry course my sophomore year. I was fundamentally fascinated by the subject, and I also felt I could do more with chemistry in terms of finding solutions to our environmental problems. Biology seemed to be more observation and documentation rather than creating and doing. At that point, I was very determined to get a degree in chemistry and pursue the field as far as I could go.

Diana, in a white coat with clipboard, smiling as an elementary student explains their science poster.
Diana acting as a judge while listening to a young boy describe his robotics project at the 2019 Setauket Elementary School Science Fair.

What/who got you interested in your field? Is there a story involved?

For chemistry in general, it was just my initial fascination with the subject. You can blame my General Chemistry professor, Dr. Jared Baker, for teaching it in such a compelling way. 

For battery research specifically, it was a bit more convoluted. I had determined that changing society’s energy sources would be the most challenging and most impactful when addressing how to protect the environment and combat climate change. I thought I would go into research focused on developing better solar panels, based on a laboratory project I did as part of my General Chemistry course. When Dr. Baker encouraged me to apply for summer research opportunities, I searched for programs with energy or environmental related research. The second summer program I was accepted into and participated in was hosted by SBU’s Chemistry Department. I was placed with the Takeuchi group based on my interest in alternative energy, but I was confused as to how a battery research group fit into that picture. The advisors of the group explained how the intermittent energy gained from sources like solar can be stored and released at will using batteries. I was so convinced and interested by the research I did that summer that I ended up applying to SBU and joining the Takeuchi group for graduate school!

You recently won the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) Award. How did that feel? What was the first thought that went through your head?

It felt great! It was extremely validating to receive such a high honor, since the thoughts of “Am I doing well? Should I be doing more? Do I know anything?” are often and insidious. This recognition has kept those thoughts at bay for a while and boosted my confidence to keep pushing forward.

My first thought was “Holy shit!”

A group of six women and three men, standing on a flight of steps and smiling for the camera. They are all in festive holiday gear and the bottom of the image reads, Happy Holidays from AERTC in 2018
Last year’s Holiday card with Diana’s cohort at the Advanced Energy Center.
Starting in the front, from left to right: Dr. Lei Wang, Dr. Amy Marschilok, Diana Lutz, Mikaela Dunkin, Dr. Andrea Bruck, Alison McCarthy, Patrick West, Christopher Tang, and Dr. Qiyuan Wu.

Do you have any tips or advice for others applying to the GRFP?

Get started early. There is a program offered by SBU to help you prepare – sign up and go to every single session! Their coaching was crucial. Revise, revise, revise and have as many people read it as possible, both in your field and outside of your field (even your family)!  Regardless of whether you are a native English speaker or not, go to the SBU writing center and get their help in editing your drafts (especially your personal statement). They helped me with the entire flow and meaning of my statement.

Are there any side projects you’ve started recently that you are glad you did?

I have many that I’ve previously started and haven’t finished yet that I should certainly get back to! Mainly, a cross stitch for my close friend and a slew of crochet work – ear warmer, stuffed animals for my nieces, and scarf for my boyfriend.

What do you think needs to happen for there to be more women in science?

Above all, the harmful gender norms that exist for men and women need to be dismantled. The way people view gender needs to change. Luckily, I believe it is already beginning to happen. Beyond that, our education system needs extensive reform. I think we have a ways to go in making our schools more sensitive to developing fully fledged people rather than statistics. Investment in teachers is vital. Mandating bias training for school staff and faculty would be an important piece to the puzzle. If a teacher is unaware of their inherent bias, then they will continue to perpetuate that bias and impact their students in unfavorable ways. If we invest in teachers and allow them room to try new methodologies, we have a real chance at improving our education system and encouraging boys and girls to pursue their passions.

Author: sbugwise

We are the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering group at Stony Brook University and we are dedicated to supporting women in STEM fields.

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