2012 Student Awards

Undergraduate Student Winner

Haris Durrani was awarded an American Physics Society (APS) Scholarship for Minority Undergraduate Physics Majors.

Haris Durrani is an Applied Physics major and one of 12 Egleston Scholars in the Class of 2015. His advisor, Professor Michael Mauel, has been a huge help to him for the past few years. Since last March, Durranihas continued work in Professor Peter Allen’s Robotics Lab on a brain-controlled mobile manipulator project for people with full-body disabilities, part of a recently awarded five-year National Science Foundation grant project in assistive robotics. The team was recently named a Finalist for the 2012-2013 Cornell Cup USA presented by Intel. Durrani and his teammates will represent Columbia University at the national competition in Walt Disney World this spring. 

Durrani sees robotics as an extension of his passion for applied physics—after all, medieval Arabs saw mechanical engineering as applied math! Since childhood, he competed in Dean Kamen’s FIRST robotics programs. In high school, he founded and captained his local First Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics team, which won Second, Third, and, in his senior year, First Place at the FTC World Championships. As a physics and robotics enthusiast, he is intrigued by the intersections between the fields as relates to applications in aerospace, in particular the monitoring and remediation of space debris. 

An avid writer, Durrani is a fan of Columbia alumnus Dr. Isaac Asimov, who demonstrated in his life’s work as a writer and biochemist the importance of an interdisciplinary worldview. Durrani is the youngest writer to be a two-time Semifinalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, which is judged by both prestigious writers and scientists. His work addresses environmental engineering, the physics of space debris, photosynthetic coherence, quantum evolution, and the near future of aerospace. He also was selected to work for Scholastic, Inc. and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards as Editor for The Best Teen Writing of 2012, available on Amazon soon. Durrani helped develop a new award for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, “The Future New,” sponsored by the engineering company 3D Systems. “The Future New” seeks to recognize works of art and writing which transcend creative boundaries by using cutting-edge elements of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Durrani is also a minor in Middle Eastern, South African, and Asian Studies, focusing on the cultural history of science.


New Graduate Student Winners

Edward H, Chen
was awarded a 2012 NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF). He is a third-year graduate student in the department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University, working in the Quantum Photonics Group with Professor Dirk Englund. As an aspiring experimentalist, he tries to take advantage of the sheltered university years to learn as much as possible and, of course, to tinker with the best and most expensive toys in the lab. Recently, his favorite toy has been the highly sensitive electron multiplied CCD camera from Princeton Instruments.

This past year, he won an award from NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist for his proposed research in applied physics. Although ecstatic to win an award, he remembers the words of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. during a commencement speech: Bolden said that you will be remembered by how you affected those around you from day to day and that nobody will care to remember what award you did or did not end up winning. “You do the best you can with the time that you have.”

With this in mind, Edward hopes to use his award to make important research contributions because he believes that the progress of science is vital to the progress of human civilization.  He hopes to develop techniques using the spin properties of the negatively charged nitrogen vacancy center (NV-) in diamond for both sub-diffraction resolution imaging as well as for quantum information processing at room temperatures. Eventually, these techniques can be used to create innovative new space technologies for secure space communication and optical characterization. Recent papers have shown the NV- to be a promising candidate for biological sensing. We hope to methodically utilize abundantly more features of the NV- for fundamentally new methods in neuron imaging, which may prove useful for understanding the long-term neural effects on humans in space in an in-situ manner.

Tackling ambitious and challenging problems and learning from mistakes, Edward continues to work hard in graduate school. With the expertise in quantum optics he will develop in graduate school, he hopes to help nurture key quantum computation or biological sensing technologies that will play a critical for deeper scientific investigations in the coming century. He is yet to decide what next step he will take once he graduates—be it a career in academia, government, or industry—but he hopes to follow the career that will allow him to make the most positive impact on society.

Eric Isaacs was awarded a 2012 Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. This fellowship provides up to four years of support to students pursuing a doctoral degree in areas of study that focus on the use of high-performance computing technology to solve complex problems in science and engineering. Eric is a Ph.D. candidate in Solid State Physics working with Prof. Chris Marianetti to compute the properties of complex materials from first principles, and his research focuses on designing materials for renewable energy applications such as photovoltaics and lithium ion batteries. Prior to coming to Columbia, Eric received a B.A. in Physics from University of California, Berkeley and worked as a research assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Mordechai Kornbluth won a Presidential Fellowship  — a special award which is part of a school-wide competition. The award includes full tuition for three years, an annual stipend for the academic year, and additional funding for summer departmental research. Departmental funding is also guaranteed for his fourth year of study.

Mordechai is a first-year M.S./Ph.D. track student.  He joined the Applied Physics program, focusing on the solid-state/optical physics. He received his B.A. with Honors from Yeshiva University, with a major in physics and minors in mathematics and (just for fun) Semitic languages. Before Yeshiva, he studied Talmud at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel. As an undergraduate at Yeshiva, he was awarded the Kressel Research Scholarship and an Honors Program scholarship. Mordechai's past research has encompassed a variety of topics, including applied computer science, nanoscale friction, plasma physics, quantum mechanics, and nanoparticle heating. These led to an undergraduate Honors Thesis, two publications, and two more papers in progress. This semester provides a short hiatus from research, but he will continue with solid-state and/or optical physics as soon as he finds an advisor. In the long run, Mordechai anticipates a career in physics research, probably in industry, exploring physics that can be applied practically. In his monotonically decreasing spare time, he enjoys rigorous Talmud analysis, classical music, and spending time with friends and family.

Nan Shi was awarded a Columbia Optics and Quantum Electronics IGERT Fellowship. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering who works with Prof. Chee Wei Wong.

Neil Tandon
won the 2012 Bakhmeteff Award. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Mathematics who works with Prof. Lorenzo Polvani.

Iva Vukicevic
, a current Ph.D. candidate in Applied Mathematics, was awarded a Columbia Optics and Quantum Electronics IGERT Fellowship. Iva graduated from New York University with an honors degree in Mathematics and a minor in French Language and Literature. She then joined Columbia University where, upon finishing her first year, she started working with Michael Weinstein on various problems involving partial differential equations. Within the past couple of years they have focused on studying the mathematical properties of waves traveling through microstructures by analyzing the Schroedinger equation with spatially localized and highly oscillatory potentials. This particular problem can be interpreted as a quantum particle in a rapidly varying inhomogeneous medium or, in the paraxial approximation of the wave function, as guided and propagating waves in a dielectric medium. Currently they are also considering wave propagation through a background periodic medium with a spatially localized highly oscillatory perturbation. Upon graduation, her goal is to apply the skills that she has learned in an R&D setting.

Continuting graduate fellowhip award winners include:

Arunabh Batra, a Ph.D. cadidate in Solid State Physics working with Prof. Latha Venkatarman, is an NSF Fellow.

Philip Chuang, a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science and Engineering working with Prof. Helen Lu, has a Learning through Ecology and Environmental Field Studies (LEEFS) National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellowship.

John Dwyer, a Ph.D. cadidate in Applied Mathematics working with Prof. Adam Sboel, has a NASA Fellowship.

Clara Orbe
, a Ph.D. cadidate in Applied Mathematics working with Prof. Lorenzo Povlani, has a NASA Fellowship.

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©2012 Columbia University