Montana State University

Two MSU students receive NSF research fellowships

May 30, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Sarah Lukes (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Two graduate students in the same Montana State University department have received research fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

Christopher Colson and Sarah (Grochowski) Lukes, both working on their doctorates in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will each receive up to $121,000 over three years. Colson, who used to be a nuclear engineer officer on a submarine, will focus on power systems related to alternative energy. Lukes, who was MSU's top engineering student in 2005, will work to improve the focus controls on optical instruments used in surgery.

"The support is important, but it just facilitates me continuing the work that I already knew to be important," Colson said. "It has the significance of being recognized by the National Science Foundation."

The fact that one department produced two NSF fellows is attributed to a variety of factors. Colson and Lukes point to topnotch faculty and research that's necessary, relevant and exciting. Colson said his adviser, Hashem Nehrir, is a pillar in the power systems field. Lukes said the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering attracts faculty who graduated from prestigious institutions and have the connections for high-powered collaborations. One example is her adviser, David Dickensheets, who graduated from Stanford University.

Dickensheets and Nehrir said Colson and Lukes are excellent students working on sound research. They join other outstanding students in the department, like Andrew Dahlberg, who is continuing to work on his doctorate with a three-year National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Before coming to MSU, Colson, a native of Washington, D.C., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999 and served most of seven years on a submarine. When his service ended, Colson said he was "kind of reborn as an electrical engineer" and decided to attend graduate school. He was attracted to MSU because of its strong power systems program.

"I always knew I wanted to pursue research," Colson added.

His time on the submarine was all about nuclear energy, Colson said. He will use his fellowship to work on power management of power generation systems as they relate to alternative energy.

"It's an absolutely relevant topic for the NSF to be supporting," Colson said.

Lukes, a native of Casper, Wyo., will use her fellowship to improve the focus controls on optical imaging devices. She will work in the Montana Microfabrication Facility at MSU and apply her understanding of mechanical systems to catheter-based microscopy.

Lukes earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. She became interested in research and developed her abilities through internships, Lukes said. At the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., she analyzed the joint space in knees and attended several conferences on transplants and related technology. At Boston Scientific, she was involved in stent development. When she interned with Ross Snider at MSU, she helped analyze neurological data from crickets. She learned machining while working in Doug Cairns' composite materials laboratory at MSU.

"She's got a lot of energy, a lot of talent," Dickensheets commented, noting that Lukes is considering pursuing a medical degree in addition to her Ph.D.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or