News

NSF Graduate Research Fellow is Cullen College Senior

By: 

Laurie Fickman
Rawan Almallahi is packing for graduate school with a NSF fellowship in her bag
Rawan Almallahi is packing for graduate school with a NSF fellowship in her bag

The chances of not winning a National Science Foundation (NSF) research fellowship are much greater than walking off with the coveted award. The odds go down substantially if you’re still an undergraduate who hasn’t yet been accepted to graduate school. But Rawan Almallahi, a Cullen College senior majoring in chemical engineering and student of the Honors College, is accustomed to winning, and so as she continues to hear back from graduate schools, she lets them know that she’ll be coming aboard with the NSF prize wrapped up.

The NSF fellowship is often credited with helping recipients become life-long influencers who contribute meaningfully to both scientific innovation and teaching. Many Nobel Prize winners are past fellows as are Google founder Sergey Brin and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

"Rawan is a talented undergraduate researcher in my laboratory and highly deserving of this prestigious award," said Megan Robertson, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. "The NSF graduate research fellowship will provide many opportunities to Rawan as she pursues her doctoral degree."

This year more than 13,000 applicants competed for 2,000 awards. Of the winners, 700 were seniors in college. The fellowship includes three years of funding at $34,000 per year, plus $12,000 in cost-of-education allowances paid to the school. Almallahi won her award for research in the field of deriving epoxy resins from a renewable source, the subject of her senior research paper.

“Epoxy resins have a wide variety of applications,” said Almallahi. “They go from being used as composites in wind turbine blades to adhesives and electrical and automotive components.” The problem with the traditional epoxy resins used in industry today, Almallahi says, is that they are developed from bisphenol-A, a non-degradable chemical which is harmful both to human health and the environment.

Almallahi is working to find a new source that is degradable and not harmful.

A full-time winner

Along with her research proposal about epoxy, Almallahi had to submit a personal statement for the NSF application. She chose to talk about her photography.

She was a freshman when she won first place in a photography competition called “Open the Door.” Her winning entry was a photo featuring keys peeking out beneath a doormat with an accompanying quote she wrote offering that your success, or open door, may be right beneath your feet. You just have to keep looking.

Almallahi never stops looking for her chances to succeed. Last summer she attended a prestigious summer biotechnology research program at Harvard. She was also a finalist for a Marshall scholarship. Now she’s set on convincing more students to conduct research.

“I want to inspire more people to do research, especially minority students and female students,” she said.

With all her successes, her inspiration will probably stick. Like epoxy.

Department/Academic Programs: 

Related News Stories

University of Houston Partners with AuraVax Therapeutics on COVID-19 Vaccine

Navin Varadarajan, M.D. Anderson Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has created a nasal vaccine for COVID-19 and a company to market it in partnership with the University of Houston.

The University of Houston has entered into an exclusive license option agreement with AuraVax Therapeutics Inc., a Houston, TX based biotech company developing novel vaccines to help patients defeat debilitating respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. Under terms of the agreement, AuraVax has the option to exclusively license a new intranasal COVID-19 vaccine technology developed by Dr. Navin Varadarajan, M.D. Anderson Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Faster swimming bacteria could help with spills

Narendra Dewangan, a graduate student of Dr. Jacinta Conrad, has completed work with the Conrad Research Group on how faster swimming bacteria could be used to help with removal of pollutants.

A new paper and research from the Conrad Research Group of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering looks at how bacteria could be used to help with removal of pollutants, like in oil spills and wastewater treatment.

Rapid tests for COVID-19 now, other diseases later the goal for Kourentzi

Dr. Katerina Kourentzi, Research Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, is developing a saliva-based lateral flow assay rapid test for COVID-19 detection. The test strips for the assay are designed using the Biodot XYZ3060 Dispensing Platform.

The development of point-of-care tests – and as of late, for COVID-19 – has been the primary focus of Dr. Katerina Kourentzi, Research Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering.