Marisol Contreras, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering at the University of Iowa and a graduate research assistant in the Syed Mubeen Research Group at the University of Iowa Technology Institute, is the winner of a Fulbright Study/Research grant in Chemical Engineering to Germany for 2021-22
Hometown: San Diego, California
Award: 2021-22 Fulbright Study/Research Fellowship in Chemical Engineering to Germany
Degree: BS Chemical Engineering (2017)/ PhD Chemical Engineering Candidate
Could you give me a brief synopsis of what you’ll be doing with your Fulbright?
I will be working with a research group in Germany, the Forschungszentrum Jülich (Jülich Research Center), a large interdisciplinary center in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, investigating the environmental impacts associated with renewable hydrogen production.
What drew you to this field of study?
The aspect of environmental sustainability that draws me to this field is understanding the true environmental cost associated with a product or technology such as solar technology intended for deployment in society. However, my interest in sustainability began in undergraduate research where I was exposed to scientific studies related to minimizing the environmental impact of waste products from a palm oil manufacturing plant. In my current work as a graduate student, I implement an economic analysis to determine the production cost of renewable hydrogen produced using desalination waste brine and solar energy. I am excited to use the knowledge that I have gained from this research to further the understanding of the environmental implications associated with hydrogen produced through a renewable pathway.
"Moving towards sustainability is a global challenge that requires the collaboration of researchers from around the world. I hope to make long-lasting affiliations with researchers in Germany with the aim of working together as a scientific community towards a sustainable future."
How do you envision this will influence your life/future career?
This opportunity will have a great impact on my professional career. Moving towards sustainability is a global challenge that requires the collaboration of researchers from around the world. I hope to make long-lasting affiliations with researchers in Germany with the aim of working together as a scientific community towards a sustainable future.
I am also looking forward to engagement with my host community outside of research with the intent of gaining a deeper understanding of German culture and language. I hope this experience will also result in a strong connection with the local community, where I plan to mentor first-generation students through a local nonprofit and introduce young people to STEM careers.
What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright?
I would tell students to start reaching out to potential collaborators and begin the application early. It is hard work but with dedication and time allocated to Fulbright, it is doable. Overall, I see the application process itself as a positive experience. While at times it can feel overwhelming, what you gain in the process is worth it. You learn how to search for potential collaborators from different countries and how to contact them. Students applying for a research grant also learn how to effectively communicate their research to a broader audience. Throughout the application process, you work with a team at the University of Iowa that helps you along the way.
Are there individuals you’d like to thank for their investment in this process?
This award would not be possible without the support of so many amazing people. I would like to thank Dr. Karen Wachsmuth for her encouragement and guidance throughout the application process. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Christopher Squier, Dr. Kathleen Newman, Dr. Jeanine Abrons, Dr. Elizabeth Savelkoul, and Marie Hoppe for their invaluable feedback and recommendations. I'd like to express an immense thank-you to my recommenders for their time and support, to Dr. Jennifer Fiegel, and my doctoral advisors Dr. Charles Stanier and Dr. Syed Mubeen, with my sincere gratitude to this great community. I could not have done it without them.
Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance. Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).