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Alex Greenhalgh

Golden Opportunity: Greenhalgh Adds Another Goldwater to Materials Science and Engineering’s Legacy

The Goldwater Scholarship is considered to be one the preeminent scholastic awards that an undergraduate student in the US can achieve, if not the top honor.

Established in 1986, the scholarships provide up to $7,500 annually to selected students intending to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

Department of Materials Science and Engineering junior Alex Greenhalgh was selected as a Goldwater Scholar for 2022, helping bring the number of UT students selected for the honor since 2010 to 26.

“I am honored and grateful to be chosen,” said Greenhalgh, from nearby Oak Ridge. “I am so immensely thankful for all the undergraduate research opportunities that the University of Tennessee has provided me, connecting me with wonderful mentors who genuinely care about my personal and academic growth and giving me chances to gain confidence presenting my research.”

Greenhalgh’s work is focused on understanding how materials behave the way they do, how their structures influence that behavior, and how best to use those behaviors in designing new materials.

He said he has enjoyed being able to take part in undergraduate research opportunities, something that he was quick to praise the department for providing.

In particular, he said that working on various research with his mentor has allowed him to overcome being intimidated by doing such work at a high level, and instead has turned it into something he enjoys.

“I would love to thank my research mentor, Professor David Keffer, for proving to me that no problem is too large or complex to prevent you from breaking it down into small, logical steps,” said Greenhalgh. “He has also shown so much genuine interest and concern for my academic growth and has become someone I can come to not only with my research progress, but also questions about my course schedules and future professional goals.”

Greenhalgh also acknowledged Professor Claudia Rawn for the zest at which she approached her classes, as well as post-doctoral researcher—and MSE alum—Dayton Kizzire, for showing him a path to go from undergraduate to doctoral candidate to researcher.

He said that MSE was a special place at UT, where he feels like every member of the faculty does their best to make the department accessible and welcoming, including asking if students in their classes wish become involved with their research.

As an example of that support, Greenhalgh referenced classmate Matthew Valderrama, who turned the restoration of a 100-year-old organ into a team project proposal, which was then sponsored by a professor.

“They were just able to present their work at UT’s undergraduate research exhibition,” said Greenhalgh. “In this situation and many more, the interest that the faculty take in the success and development of each individual student here in the department makes it an amazing program.”

Further backing that up, Greenhalgh is the fifth student from MSE selected for the award in just the last three years, demonstrating the strength of the department, the performance of its faculty, and the quality of education it provides.

He said that he felt “lucky” to have been surrounded by faculty and mentors in the department, and that he hoped to pay it forward.

“To me, I believe being a part of the UT community is an extension of the Volunteer Creed: ‘One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others,’” Greenhalgh said. “I have seen that selflessness in so many of my mentors and authentic friends that I have found here at UT. I am so thankful for the experiences and opportunities that this institution has given me; being a part of the UT community means embodying that same selflessness towards others in need.”

Following graduation, Greenhalgh plans on taking a couple of years to work before entering a doctoral program, probably in computer science. Eventually, he hopes to work at a national laboratory.