October 2021

Welcome to the October 2021 ChEGS Newsletter!

We are excited to announce that we have upgraded the ChEGS Newsletter to a webpage hosted on the ChEGS website (as you can see!). In this edition of the ChEGS Newsletter, get to know new Assistant Professor Krishna and Assistant Professor Avraamidou as they describe what led them to become principal investigators here at UW-Madison! Join us in a fireside chat with the new Graduate Admissions Chair, Professor Van Lehn, and hear the new exciting ideas he plans to introduce to the department. Find out how to purchase the first ChEGS merch drop, recap the latest ChEGS events, and add the up-coming ChEGS events to your calendar. Limited research and remote working didn’t stop these tremendous scholars from graduating, who we’ve included in a long overdue list of congratulations! Connect with faculty and fellow graduate students in the new informal Wisconsin CBE Slack channel and share exciting research results, new publications, and seminar events. We hope you enjoy this edition!

–Kevin & RJ

Getting to Know New Assistant Professor Krishna!

We would like to welcome Professor Siddarth Krishna back to the CBE department! Professor Krishna completed his PhD right here at UW-Madison under Professor Dumesic and Professor Huber in 2019. Since then he has worked as a Henson Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Purdue University under Professor Gounder. Most importantly, Professor Krishna is former ChEGS royalty, having served as ChEGS Co-President for the 2015-16 term!  Welcome back to the department, Professor Krishna!

What made you choose UW-Madison? 

This is a special place with long-standing traditions of leadership in chemical engineering, especially in the fundamentals and applications of heterogeneous catalysis, with a collegial atmosphere and a spirit focused on serving society.

What influenced you the most to become a professor? 

Since grade school, I have always wanted to do my part to enable a sustainable future, and once I got to undergrad I knew my contribution would be through chemical engineering skills. I only decided to become a professor mid-way through grad school, when I realized I could make an impact while having the freedom to explore exciting scientific questions, and while getting to teach, mentor, and learn from talented students along the way.

What one piece of advice would you give to graduate students/post-docs aspiring to become principal investigators? 

Considering all of the steps involved in becoming a PI can be overwhelming at times. While it is easy to compare yourself to others and focus on superficial outputs like publications, my advice is to take it one step at a time, and focus on what you can do each day to make yourself a slightly better scientist. Put in the time and effort, enjoy what you do, and the rest will work out.

What is your favorite scientific concept, theorem, or experiment? 

Entropy. It is initially a mysterious concept, but the core idea is actually simple.  Why do two gases mix when you remove a barrier between them? Random chance.

What scientific question (not related to your research) do you most want answered? (e.g. the P versus NP problem) 

Can we explain the behavior of really small things and really big things at the same time?

What hobbies or passions do you enjoy outside of research? 

Traveling, hiking, ultimate frisbee (“Throwmodynamics”), eating, cheering on the Badgers and Golden Bears

What are you looking forward to in Madison? 

Having grown up in California, upon moving to Madison I reasoned that the thermal mass of Lake Mendota is far too great for the entire surface to ever freeze over. For five years, I ran a small, dedicated group of concerned citizens who protested Madison’s lakes freezing over in the winter (“Keep It Liquid” 2014 – 2018). Despite our lack of success in previous years, I hope to continue these efforts when I return to Madison.

Welcome New Assistant Professor Avraamidou!

We would like to extend a warm welcome to Professor Styliani Avraamidou! Professor Avraamidou completed her PhD in 2018 at Imperial College London where she worked under Professor Pistikopoulos. She then moved to Texas A&M University as an assistant research scientist in the Texas A&M Energy Institute. Welcome to the department, Professor Avraamidou! We are excited to have you here.

What made you choose UW Madison? 

The exciting and impactful research that the research groups in the department have been doing for many years was the first aspect that attracted me to UW Madison. Then, after meeting some faculty and students, I discovered the casual and friendly atmosphere both inside and outside CBE. I was also excited to see how collaborative the research groups are and that they are participating in multiple exciting interdisciplinary projects (such as the CUWP center), and I was able to identify researchers that I could collaborate with.

The cherry on top, and what made me finalize my choice, was the natural beauty of the city and the plethora of entertaining activities that are available.

What influenced you the most to become a professor? 

The main reasons why I wanted to become a professor are that a) I love problem-solving and being a professor gives me the ability to do independent research on topics that I really care about, and b) I enjoy the constant interaction with students that overall are highly enthusiastic, energetic and challenge me to think more deeply.

That being said, my Ph.D. supervisor, Professor Pistikopoulos, is a real inspiration for me and was a major influence in my academic journey so far. His dedication and belief in my abilities gave me a lot of strength to navigate the way towards becoming a professor.

What one piece of advice would you give to graduate students/post-docs aspiring to become principal investigators? 

Stay organized, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t give up!

What hobbies or passions do you enjoy outside of research? 

My hobbies include crafting (woodworking, sewing, pottery, etc.), camping, and scuba diving. I’m passionate about marine life conservation in general, but more specifically sea turtles.

The New Graduate Admissions Chair: Professor Reid Van Lehn

What are some of the responsibilities of the Graduate Admissions Chair?

My role encompasses all activities related to recruiting new graduate students, which involves encouraging students to apply, evaluating applicants, and convincing admitted students to join. Specific activities include organizing the visiting weekends (with ample help from Kate Fanis and ChEGS), reviewing applications with the admissions committee, and representing the department at various recruitment fairs and events. Additional priorities for my tenure as chair include revitalizing department messaging to highlight our strengths, improving department visibility through website improvements and increased social media presence (with help from Susann Ely), and collaborating with the climate, diversity, and inclusion committee (led by Prof. Zavala) to support the graduate student community.

We have seen that you have been meeting with graduate students to gauge department weaknesses/strengths. What new ideas have these discussions sparked that you are excited to introduce?

These meetings have been very helpful, and I appreciate the time taken by students to share their thoughts with me. The immediate impact of these discussions has been on our messaging – we have already started to re-design the department website to highlight several of our consensus strengths (e.g., collaboration, numerous NIH training programs, entrepreneurship opportunities – there’s also a link to the ChEGS website and its student-focused content!).

Moving forward, there were lots of great ideas that came up in these meetings that the admissions committee hopes to implement. One idea is to make a department-wide Slack workspace, which would help with day-to-day communication and let us celebrate faculty/student achievements as a department (e.g., by recognizing students as they publish papers or win awards) without requiring the time investment associated with writing a news article for the website. We’d also like to introduce a department-wide online calendar that combines the ChEGS calendar and seminar calendar and can include other department events (such as thesis defenses, social events, etc.). Another idea is to develop skill- and career-development workshops. Prof. Graham is already working on a workshop focused on academic writing, but we envision expanding these to include resume/Curriculum Vitae preparation, advice on applying to industrial and academic positions, and more. Several other ideas (e.g., more informal social events) have been brought to the attention of other committees, as well.

Another set of improvements that been implemented has been to the actual graduate application itself. First, we have eliminated the GRE requirement for the next year and hope to permanently remove it. This decision (spearheaded by Prof. Zavala when he was the admissions chair) was motivated by research showing that GRE scores can be biased against students from historically excluded groups. Similarly, we have revised our online application instructions to be much more explicit about what students should include in their application materials to make their application as competitive as possible. We hope that these instructions will increase the likelihood of admission for students. Finally, we have tried to highlight the availability of application fee waivers to support increased numbers of applicants. We hope that these changes will be particularly beneficial to students who may not have much experience with the graduate admissions process, which can be a challenge for students from underrepresented groups.

Where do you think the CBE department is strong in terms of graduate recruitment?

We have consistently gotten positive reviews about the visiting weekends, much of which we can attribute to the extraordinary effort put in by ChEGS and graduate student hosts. Based on our post-weekend surveys, we’ve found that after visiting students tend to have a very favorable impression of our current students, Madison, and of the collaborative culture in the department.

Another strength is the availability of application fee waivers to all domestic applicants. This is a great resource, but we can only provide waivers to applicants who ask for them, and I think our previous website had this information somewhat buried. We hope that our improved website materials – and continuing to communicate information like this to the current student body – will lead to more students taking advantage of this strength. Along these lines, we’ve recently raised the stipend for all students to offset increases in cost-of-living expenses and segregated fees. We’ve also added a new page to the website describing funding for graduate students (new and current) as well as common costs (housing and child care). We think that this transparency helps us stand out, particularly since our stipend is competitive relative to our peers.

How can graduate students help improve the weaknesses in the department?

The graduate students – and particularly ChEGS officers – already do a lot! Like I said above, a strength of our department is our visiting weekend, which really reflects the commitment and enthusiasm of participating students. I appreciate the initiative of students who have launched efforts to improve the department (e.g., the ad hoc climate and diversity committee from a couple years back) and thank the students who have already provided feedback to me or other faculty about admissions and the department. I would ask that students continue to provide faculty with feedback on department climate and suggestions for improvement, support your peers and celebrate their achievements, and be patient as we work to introduce new initiatives since these can take some time to organize. I also encourage you to utilize social media to highlight exciting research and other department news to continue increasing our visibility.

What is the department looking for in graduate applicants and what do you think prospective graduate students are looking for in a graduate program?

In terms of what we look for in applicants, we look for evidence that the applicant has the potential to be an excellent researcher. Many aspects of an application can attest to research potential – academic and industrial research experience and related research products are obvious examples. Letters of recommendation can also be valuable in assessing a students’ capability to perform research. We also recognize that not all students come from institutions with substantial research opportunities for undergraduates, so we look for excellence in the opportunities that are available, which may include project-based coursework, scientific outreach activities, or academic performance. Finally, we also consider unique aspects of an applicant’s background, such as participation in varsity sports, leadership in student organizations, or volunteering in the community.

In terms of what applicants look for, we have done some surveying during visiting weekends to find out what is most important to prospective graduate students. Consistently, students indicate that they apply to programs based on their research interests and department reputation – both areas in which we excel. However, the most important factor that determines what program they choose is department climate – including how happy graduate students are, whether projects tend to be collaborative or competitive, and department support for students’ career ambitions. I think we are strong both in terms of reputation and aspects of department climate, which is why we continue to recruit fantastic students. Our goal as a committee is to continue reinforcing these strengths and communicating these to the broader chemical engineering community.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

I don’t have favorite toppings per se so much as favorite combos. My favorite recent pizza is the “soprasetta” pizza at Bar Corallini, although it’s pretty pricey. I will admit that my go-to pizza is a Deluxe pizza from Domino’s – can’t beat the price and the Pizza Tracker!

Is water “wet”?

Hmm. Tough one. Per dictionary.com, “wet” is defined as “covered or saturated with water or another liquid.” So, I would say that bulk water is wet (water molecules covered by water molecules) but a single water molecule is not wet.


Defense Congratulations!


Brandon Paul, Hui Geng, Lisa Je (Continuing with PhD program), and Atharva Kelkar


Fall 2020:

Jonathan Dwyer and Ellen Murray

Spring 2021:

Huicheng Shi, Yifu Chen, Ashwin Shekar (<3), Mark Lindsay, Alex Chew, and Hector Fuster

Summer 2021:

Sungho Shin, Alvin Jonathan, Taylor Cook, Brad Dallin, Curran Gahan, Gyunhyung Jin, Yu Yang, and Yicheng Hu

Fall 2021:

Samarthaben Patel, Harshit Agarwal, Hugh Purdy, Yaqing Wu, and Jake Gold

Join the CBE Slack Channel!

Join the new Wisconsin CBE slack channel, a super slack channel for everyone in the department to connect with faculty and fellow graduate students to share exciting research results, new publications, seminar events, make announcements, and recognize achievements. To join the slack channel, click the link sent out by Department Chair Professor Shusta. We’ll see you there!

Award Recognition:


Christine Lucky, Lisa Je, Kyle Chin, Edgard Lebron Rodriguez

#LXChemEng Category Winner, #LatinXChem2021 Twitter Conference:

Carlos Perez De Jesus (Graham Group)

ChEGS Pint Glasses Are Up For Sale!

The official first batch of ChEGS merch has just dropped! Selling for $12.00 each, the proceeds will all be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank, a local food bank whose mission is to end hunger in Southwestern Wisconsin. Contact Ryan Cashen of the Gebbie Group to pick up yours today!

Upcoming ChEGS Events (Click for more info!)

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October 9th, 16th: Volunteering at the UW Madison Arboretum

October 19th, 1-2PM EH3609: Annual ChEGS Officer Elections

The current ChEGS term is coming to an end! Join us for pizza, nominate, and vote for students who you think would make good ChEGS officers!

October 28th: ChEGS Pumpkin Carving!

Join us for our annual pumpkin carving event! Enjoy an evening of spooky creativity, pumpkin carving, and Halloween jams with other CBE graduate students!

Pumpkins, carving tools, food, and prizes will be provided! All you need to do is show up!

October 30th: ChEGS Halloween Costume Party!

Join us for the ChEGS Halloween Costume Party! Put on your best costume and enjoy a night of food, “beverages”, and spooky festivities!