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Golden Opportunity: Greenhalgh Adds Another Goldwater to Department’s Legacy

Alex Greenhalgh

By David Goddard. Photography Randall Brown.

The Goldwater Scholarship is considered to be one the preeminent scholastic awards that an undergraduate student in the US can achieve.

Established in 1986, the scholarship provides up to $7,500 annually to selected students who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

MSE senior 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, which he was quick to praise the department for providing.

He added that working on various research with his mentor allowed him to overcome being intimidated by high-level work, turning 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 with which she approaches her classes, and postdoctoral researcher Dayton Kizzire, an MSU alum, for showing him a path from undergraduate to doctoral candidate to researcher.

He said MSE is a special place at UT where he feels every member of the faculty does their best to make the department accessible and welcoming, including asking if students in their classes wish to 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. (To learn more about the project, see “Matthew Valderrama Leads Team to Find Materials to Restore History” in this issue.)

“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.”

Greenhalgh is the fifth student from MSE selected for the award in in past three years, demonstrating the strength of the department, the performance of its faculty, and the quality of education it provides.

He said he feels lucky to have been surrounded by faculty and mentors in the department and that he hopes 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.