December 2021

Welcome to the December 2021 ChEGS Newsletter!

Welcome back to the ChEGS Newsletter! In this edition of the ChEGS Newsletter, get to know Assistant Professor Matt Gebbie beyond the usual formalities! Meet the newly elected 2021-2022 ChEGS Officer Team and hear the Mission Statement from the new Co-Presidents Ryan & Unni. These past few weeks were jam-packed with ChEGS events! Look back with us to see all the pumpkin carvings at this year’s Pumpkin Carving Contest, the creative Halloween costumes at the annual ChEGS Halloween Party, and a lot more! 2021 was also the return of the ChEGS Thanksgiving Potluck with excellent turnout! Also check out the GERS-sponsored OPPS conference! Don’t forget to add the up-coming ChEGS events to your calendar and congratulate the achievements of our colleagues in congratulations! As always, 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

Faculty Spotlight: Professor Gebbie!

We are excited to present our latest Faculty Spotlight with Professor Matt Gebbie! Professor Gebbie completed his PhD in 2016 at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Dr. Jacob Israelachvili. He then traveled North to Stanford University, where he worked as a GLAM fellow in the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials under Professor Nicholas Melosh. Professor Gebbie joined the CBE department here at UW-Madison in 2019, where his research focuses on interfacial science and electrochemistry.

What made you choose UW Madison?

Two main reasons – our department has an exciting, collaborative, and collegial environment where I could clearly see that the faculty and students listened to one another and enjoyed being around one another. I was also very impressed by how UW-Madison is a public institution with a strong educational mission and world-leading strengths in all disciplines – not just engineering, but also art, humanities, social sciences, medicine, natural sciences, business, and other areas.

What has been your favorite part of being a new professor at UW?

Working with the students! Learning the ins-and-outs of launching a research group, teaching classes, and mentoring students has been one of the most challenging and rewarding times in my career. I really value the welcoming climate on our campus and appreciate students’ willingness to be flexible with me and provide useful feedback as I learn and grow.

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

Resilience is one of the most important characteristics needed to follow this career path. I hear “No” a lot, and this has been the case throughout my career. This applies to papers, fellowships, awards, grant proposals, and job applications. At the same time, I have been extremely fortunate to hear “Yes” at key junctures as well. It is super important to develop strategies for mitigating disappointment – I work to practice mindfulness and meditation and make every effort to celebrate the successes at least an order of magnitude more intensely than I worry about the rejections.

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

My favorite experiment is a tie between the double-slit experiment and visualization of Brownian motion of particles. The first provides visual proof of wave-particle duality and the latter is a direct observation of molecular level fluctuations. Each experiment forced humans to radically update our understanding of the natural world. I haven’t thought about it this way before, but this may explain my interest in experiments based on interferometry and particle tracking.

If you could have the complete answer to any scientific question, what would you ask?

Why is entropy maximized at equilibrium for isolated systems? Building on this, how did the universe end up at some lower entropy initial condition?

What hobbies or passions do you enjoy outside of research?

I love active outdoors sports and spending time with friends and family. Meshing the two is the best! Heading into winter, I am excited about getting out cross country skiing. I am working on arranging a setup to tow Charlotte behind me, and one of her Christmas presents is a set of toy toddler skis to play in the snow. The rest of the year, my favorite hobby is biking – both road and mountain – and I spend a lot of time camping, running, swimming, and playing guitar. I want to get back into rock climbing soon – that’s my aim for a top father-daughter sport.

If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?

Easy! Slowing down or reversing time. There are quite a few ways this could be helpful in both a personal and professional setting…

A Message from the New ChEGS Presidents

Mission Statement from Co-Presidents Unni and Ryan:

Primarily, our plan as ChEGS presidents is to keep the ship running. We want to work with our team to organize events that bring grad students, faculty, and staff together and strengthen department culture. We also want to continue the ChEGS tradition of a strong role in the recruitment process and professional development for current students (for example through the ChEGS seminars).

Looking forward, we want to build on previous efforts in ChEGS to develop programs aligned with core values in the department- meaningful and sustained outreach, inclusivity, transparency and discussion. We have an excellent officer team this year and we look forward to working with graduate students, faculty, and staff to build on ChEGS traditions and start some more.

Matching Process Discussion Synthesis

Throughout the last few weeks, graduate students and the graduate program committee have been discussing the results of the advisor-graduate student matching process. This year, the matching process resulted in an unprecedented percentage of students who did not match with their first choice. ChEGS presidents met with the director of graduate studies to discuss what occurred this year and what the match process looks like. Following this, ChEGS held a lunch event this month to discuss issues and strong points in the match process. The consensus from this meeting was clear: transparency in the process was the main concern. Graduate students want to know what the matching process looks like before they go through the process.

Following up on these events, the Graduate Program Committee met with first-year graduate students who recently went through the process. The committee explained how the matching process works using an example scenario to illustrate the details. The committee explained that the major reason why many students did not receive their first-choice pick was due to student overlap in first-choice selections and general research areas. This was an anomalous year, with relatively few PIs receiving a first-choice selection from students. The committee also stated that they could have explained more about the process during orientation, and will do so in future years. Finally, the committee expressed interest in further discussions with graduate students to get feedback about how the process could be improved.

Looking forward, discussions between grad students and faculty have led to some broad points about adjusting the process and clarifying expectations such that everyone in the department achieves improved outcomes:

  1. During the match process, students really value transparency from advisors. Students consistently state that they want to have a better idea before making their selections whether or not an advisor would select the student to join their research group. Students are understanding and are, to a large extent, okay with being told whether it’s due to the funding situation, how well a project aligns with a student’s interests, or frankly whether the advisor thinks the student would be a good fit for their lab. Many students feel that if advisors are willing to indicate during discussions whether they are likely to take a student, it would greatly help students in their efforts to select PIs they want to work with and are likely to work with. During future orientations, the faculty committee will walk students through the matching process, including what happens after students submit their forms (ideally with example scenarios). This will be useful for future graduate students to sit through, so they can understand what to expect from the process and therefore how to approach it. Separately, faculty discussions have led to a potential seminar series for first-year graduate students that could provide a suitable avenue for these discussions, alongside the various other aspects of graduate student life.
  2. Students must communicate actively with advisors and other students. The onus is on students to reach out and ask detailed questions about the research project, group culture, and advising style. Students should meet with multiple grad students in a potential group to understand what it’s like to work for a specific advisor. Additionally, many students feel that incoming students should communicate with each other to understand areas where there is likely to be overlap between advisor selections, in order to mitigate this. Students routinely do these activities, but these discussions are often impromptu. Many faculty and graduate students feel that ChEGS and the department can formalize these discussions through orientation events designed to emphasize the active roles students have to play. This is planned going forward.

This year’s match process was disappointing for many first-year graduate students. Through the above changes and more, the department is improving the process for future students. As ChEGS presidents, we hope that this transparent discussion and collegial focus on improving everyone’s communication can lead to greater graduate student and PI success moving forward.

— Unni Kurumbail, Ryan Cashen

Opportunities in Engineering Conference

This past month, many CBE graduate students helped to host the annual Opportunities in Engineering Conference (OPPS). The event, hosted by Graduate Engineering Research Scholars (GERS), brings in prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds to learn about graduate school and research in the COE. The conference includes presentations on research, funding, the application process, and career options, while giving prospective students time to interact with current graduate students and faculty. In the future, ChEGS plans to hold social events concurrently with OPPS in order to facilitate more interactions with the CBE department. For more information about GERS or OPPS, please visit their website or contact our CBE/GERS faculty liaison Prof. Zavala!


Defense Congratulations!


Elise Gilcher of the Dumesic and Root groups successfully defended her thesis “Catalytic biomass deconstruction and selective hydrogenation to value-added products” on 10/28/21.

Venkatachalam (Venkat) Avadiappan of the Maravelias group successfully defended his thesis “Methods for incorporating real-time information in online scheduling” on 10/19/21.

Chandler Est of the Murphy group successfully defended his thesis “Vitamin A transporter interactions in Alzheimer’s disease and at an induced pluripotent stem cell model of the blood brain barrier” on 10/11/21.

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:

WARF Innovation Award:

Congratulations to Hochan Chang of the Huber and Dumesic groups for being nominated for the 2021 WARF Innovation Award!

Ragatz Award:

Discussion: Xiaopo Cheng and Raka Ghosh Dastidar

Lab: Kevin Sánchez-Rivera and Abdulhadi Al-Zahrani

Upcoming ChEGS Events (Click for more info!)

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Winter Holiday Party (TBA Jan 2022)

Monthly Board Game Night (TBA Jan 2022)

Keep your evenings free for the return of ChEGS board game nights (with pizza!)

Student Seminar (TBA Jan 2022)

Event +1 (TBA Jan 2022)