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Former Ames Laboratory Science Intern Wins Prestigious Fellowship


Past Ames Laboratory student intern Elliot Combs has won a prestigious national fellowship to help fund his Ph.D. studies.

Combs, 2009 Ames Lab Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) student and 2011 Iowa State University chemical engineering graduate, recently learned he is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Combs will use the award for his Ph.D. studies at the University of Minnesota, where he plans to pursue alternative energy research through photovoltaics. Photovoltaics involves the engineering of materials used in solar energy production.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship provides Combs three years of support, which includes a $30,000 per year stipend for up to $12,000 per year of tuition, research expenses and travel expenses. The fellowship recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who pursue research-based Master’s or doctoral degrees in fields with NSF’s mission to “keep the United States at the leading edge of discovery.”

Brent Shanks, Ames Laboratory associate scientist and Combs’ science mentor during his summer internship and also during his undergraduate years at Iowa State, describes Combs as being “driven to excellence” as an undergraduate. In addition to his research internship, Combs has been a moderator for the Ames Laboratory High School Science Bowl since 2007.

As for the value of his SULI internship back in 2009, Combs says, “It was an instrumental factor that helped me earn the NSF Fellowship. It introduced me to independent research and helped instill in me a passion for experimental science, which strongly influenced my decision to pursue my Ph.D. and apply for a national fellowship.”

Following the completion of his Ph.D., Combs hopes to complete a postdoc term at U.S.Department of Energy national lab and afterward a career path as a DOE research scientist or as a professor at a major research university.

Combs is the second Ames Laboratory SULI student to win a national fellowship. Andrew Fidler, a 2007 SULI student, received the prestigious Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Fellowship in 2010-2011. This award has provided Fidler a tuition and support package worth approximately $50,000 for three years. Fidler has been working on completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and the James Frank Institute. In the third and final year of his fellowship, Fidler has plans to pursue a research faculty position at a university.

As for his feelings about the Ames Laboratory SULI internship, Fidler commented at the time of the award, “My summer in Ames was both a lot of fun and a wonderful professional experience, and many of the skills I learned over that summer have helped me with my current research. That summer definitely confirmed to me that I wanted to go into the sciences.”