EMS graduate students earn top marks at 31st annual Graduate Exhibition

by Liam Jackson
March 24, 2016

Three graduate students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences received awards at Penn State’s 31st annual Graduate Exhibition, which was held on the University Park campus on March 18 and 20, 2016. John Leeman, geosciences Ph.D. candidate, received a first place award in the Physical Sciences & Mathematics category; Amin Azizi, Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering, placed first in the Video category; and Nicholas Holschuh, geosciences Ph.D. candidate, tied for third in the Physical Sciences & Mathematics category.

Leeman’s research aims to improve our understanding of the physics of slow earthquakes, a phenomenon that was discovered within the past two decades. These earthquakes release energy stored in the Earth’s crust over a long duration, sometimes up to several months. Researchers still do not understand why they occur or what keeps them from becoming regular and potentially destructive earthquakes. Even though these earthquakes are not typically hazardous, they could influence the timing of a regular earthquake. By investigating the cause of slow earthquakes, Leeman hopes to improve understanding of seismic risks to help plan and prepare for dangerous events. His faculty advisers are Chris Marone and Demian Saffer, both professors of geosciences.

“I’m very grateful to have been selected to receive this award, especially among so many excellent researchers and presenters,” said Leeman. “Being able to convey our research and how it is stepping us toward important and societally beneficial goals is something that is very important to all of us. Events like this really encourage development of that skill.”

Azizi investigates the synthesis, characterization and application of two-dimensional (2D) crystals. At only one atom thick, they are the thinnest known materials and they enable the fabrication of flexible and transparent devices. Azizi aims to understand structure-property relationships in these materials at the atomic level using state-of-the-art electron microscopes at Penn State. In addition, he uses 2D materials in energy storage devices to enhance their performance at high temperatures. His goal is to impact next-generation technologies such as nanoelectronics and sustainable energy generation and storage devices. His faculty adviser is Nasim Alem, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

“I would like to sincerely thank the Graduate School for this recognition,” said Azizi. “I am honored to be a recipient of this award and it encourages me to do more in the future.”

Holschuh’s research focuses on improving our understanding of how ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica impact global sea level rise. Using observations of modern ice sheets, he investigates the underlying physics controlling ice flow. He hopes that his research will ultimately lead to improved predictions of sea level rise in the future. His faculty advisers are Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences, and Sridhar Anandakrishnan, professor of geosciences.

“The Graduate Exhibition is a unique event. As doctoral candidates, we are often tested in our ability to communicate science at its most technical level, but we don’t have many opportunities to talk about why it is interesting and important for someone outside the discipline,” he said. “To be recognized with this award is a great honor, but more importantly it gives me confidence that I am going down a research path that is interesting and worthwhile.”

student standing next to research poster

Nicholas Holschuh, a doctoral candidate in geosciences, tied for third in the Physical Sciences & Mathematics category at the 31st annual Graduate Exhibition. 

IMAGE: Penn State

The Graduate Exhibition celebrates research and creative scholarship, in all its aspects, as an essential and exciting part of graduate education at Penn State. Established in 1986, the Graduate Exhibition places special emphasis on communicating research and creative endeavor to a general audience and offers an unusual opportunity for professional development by challenging graduate students to present their work in clear, comprehensible terms to people outside their fields.

Last Updated March 28, 2016