Four Virginia Tech undergraduate students have been awarded 2023 Goldwater Scholarship Awards and are among 413 college students from across the United States receiving the prestigious award. 

The honorees come from an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, according to the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. An estimated 1,270 natural science, engineering, and mathematics students were nominated by 427 academic institutions to compete for the 2023 Goldwater scholarships.  

This year’s Virginia Tech honorees are Garrett Asper, an aerospace engineering major; Eamon Bartlett, a chemical engineering major with minors in chemistry and mathematics; Alexander Davis, a double major in chemical engineering and chemistry; and Yannick Pleimling, a double major in physics and mathematics with a minor in astronomy. The Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering are both part of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, while the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics are all part of the Virginia Tech College of Science.

Asper and Bartlett are members of the Virginia Tech Honors College, with Bartlett winning a 2019 Honors Discovery Grant and using it to study abroad in Germany. 

A young man with red hair and a sharp blue dress shirt sits on the stairs of Burruss Hall.
Garrett Asper. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Asper plans to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Virginia Tech so he can conduct research in flight dynamics and controls at NASA. His research specialties involve unmanned air vehicles and control theory for electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles.

He became motivated to specialize in unmanned air vehicle research during his time at Virginia Tech’s Uncrewed Systems Laboratory, led by Kevin Kochersberger, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. There, Asper was introduced to the functionality of unmanned aerial vehicles in surveying land, delivering medical supplies to remote regions, and gathering intelligence. Asper has supported these efforts by helping to develop an ultralight imaging drone and strategies for converting aircraft into ones capable of vertical take-off and landing.

Following his work in the Uncrewed Systems Laboratory, he gained firsthand experience at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, researching flight controls testing on unmanned air vehicles. In January, Asper was hired as a NASA Pathways intern in the Flight Dynamics Branch and will rotate between his studies at Virginia Tech and research at NASA throughout his remaining undergraduate and graduate coursework.

Currently, Asper conducts flight controls research in the Nonlinear Systems Lab led by Craig Woolsey, professor in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

"Outstanding research faculty at Virginia Tech like Dr. Woolsey and Dr. Kochersberger have enabled me to discover my passion for flight controls through hands-on research experiences while preparing me for my career as a NASA Research Engineer,” said Asper, who is also a Stamps Scholar, a national scholarship program administered at Virginia Tech via the Honors College.

A young man wears a blue pullover seater over a pink dress shirt  as he stands in front of a large office building adorned with a massive sculpture of a chemical compound.
Eamon Bartlett at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Eamon Bartlett.

Bartlett is considering the pursuit of a Ph.D. in materials science and wants to conduct research on efficient and manufacturable technologies for solar energy and energy storage.

Bartlett’s Research Experience for Undergraduates at Boise State University introduced him to hybrid perovskite solar cells, a promising solar energy technology that stands to become increasingly important as the world moves toward more renewable sources of energy. During this summer experience, he reviewed scientific literature and helped develop procedures for applying perovskite films onto glass substrates to produce solar cells.

He incorporated his experiences from this project into a new independent project in the lab of Amanda Morris, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, where he collaborated with other research labs to enhance their research goals. “Dr. Amanda Morris took a chance on me during freshman year even though I had no formal lab training, and it's been the most rewarding part of my college career so far,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett enjoys seeing the real-world impact of his work when his research is implemented into a physical product for customers. He is currently on a yearlong co-op at Eastman Chemical Co. gaining industry experience, which he hopes will give him a unique perspective in graduate school.

He would like to continue his research on hybrid perovskite solar cells but is also interested in branching out to other projects and interning at a government-run lab such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Eventually, he hopes to work at the intersection of lab-scale technologies and full-scale applications and see his research help renewable energy efforts globally.

A young man wearing a maroon polo shirt poses at the top of the stairs of a large, sunny atrium.
Alexander Davis. Photo by Steven Mackay for Virginia Tech.

Davis hopes to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry to conduct research in his preferred field, chemical catalysis. He has been studying catalysis since high school, which led him to choose his academic major and plan his career based on that formative period. "Catalysis has time and time again proved itself to be a field of boundless potential. The potential to incorporate sustainable chemistry while benefiting the larger population is a rare potential encapsulated in my research," Davis said.

Davis' passion for chemistry and engineering was first supported by his high school teachers as well as Frank Gupton and Michael Burkholder, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon entering Virginia Tech, Davis developed a support system of chemical engineering and chemistry faculty who guided him and helped shape his degree path.

“I will continue to form such mentorship relationships with others throughout my career and hope to pay it forward when I find myself in future leadership positions by providing others with the guidance, encouragement, and opportunities that I have been given,” he said.

Davis has been involved with various research projects since 2018, ranging from chemical catalysis to material development for underwater robotics and beyond. Currently, Davis also serves as the technical lead for ChemE Cube, a design team focused on challenging global issues such as water purification and carbon capture using only a cubic foot of space. This design team most recently placed third in the nation for its innovative design and performance.

Winner of the 2021 Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research Scholarship, Davis hopes to eventually develop an undergraduate course focused on the principles of catalysis that would expose students to a greener approach to industrial synthetic routes.

A young man in a maroon t-shirt stands in a brightly lit hallway.
Yannick Pleimling. Photo by Steven Mackay for Virginia Tech.

Pleimling intends to pursue a Ph.D. in physics after he graduates from Virginia Tech in 2024. He hopes to then attain a university position that will allow him to teach and conduct research in experimental condensed matter physics, his current area of study.

Pleimling is a member of the Khodaparast group, a research group led by Giti Khodaparast, professor of physics. There, Pleimling has been part of a diverse group of researchers working in collaboration, something he values highly. “I believe that science benefits from including as many perspectives as possible. My time in the Khodaparast group has reinforced this belief by showing me how a multicultural group of researchers can leverage their backgrounds when tackling hard problems in physics,” Pleimling said.

Pleimling's diverse interests are reflected in the breadth of his undergraduate research experiences, which have given him a foundation for understanding research best practices and allowed him to contribute meaningfully to a research group.

In 2022, he won an undergraduate research fellowship from the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

On applying for scholarships such as the Goldwater award, Christina McIntyre, director of professional development for national and international scholarships within the Honors College, said, “Students often have a difficult time self-identifying their eligibility and competitiveness for these types of awards. Faculty encouragement and mentorship of qualified students is an essential component of this process.”

She added that during the application process, candidates must evaluate their motivations, reflect on their experiences, and develop ideas for future paths toward their desired careers. She encourages students interested in applying to reach out to a research mentor or her office. The application opens each year in September, and the Virginia Tech deadline is Dec. 1. “Students who have transferred to Virginia Tech from another institution are also encouraged to apply, as there is a special category within Goldwater,” McIntyre added.

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