Kevin Chang, a third-year Ph.D. student working with Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Geoff Geise, has been named a University of Virginia Engineering Volkswagen Group of North America Fellow.

The students in Geise’s research lab study polymeric materials to engineer phenomena, at the nano- and molecular-scale, that control rates of water and ion transport through membranes. Ultimately, the group seeks to develop advanced membrane materials that expand access to clean water and enhance the use of renewable energy sources.

The award is part of an elite graduate scholarship program made available through a relationship between the Volkswagen Group of America and UVA Engineering. The fellowship includes a stipend, tuition, fees, and some discretionary funding. It will support Chang’s research for the academic year.

Chang will study materials that are candidates for desalination membranes using a microwave dielectric spectroscopy technique that will provide insight into molecular interactions between salt and the polymer. This knowledge will be used to engineer an advanced membrane material that could solve a critical membrane chemical resistance challenge facing the desalination field.

Geise appreciates what that means for furthering the technology, and credits Chang for his persistence.

“Kevin has worked hard over the last year to get the microwave radiation-based dielectric spectroscopy technique, which will sit at the core of his fellowship research, up and running. The fellowship will enable him to investigate an interesting fundamental question about how to engineer advanced desalination membranes,” Geise said.

The award is a big deal for Chang, who said it funds more than the continuation of his work.

“It also allows me to disseminate my research at academic and industrial conferences,” he said, noting the added benefit of expanding his network of connections in the field by attending the events.

He’s aiming to use those connections, along with his experience at UVA Engineering, to land a position in the chemical engineering industry in the U.S. To that end, he said his decision to study at UVA was a great one.

“I’ve always hoped that I can use my knowledge and skills to make this world a better place,” Chang said. “It is an absolute honor to be awarded this fellowship for what I have accomplished so far, which definitely motivates me to work harder to accomplish more exciting things in the rest of my career.”

He also expressed gratitude for Geise’s, “intelligent, well-organized, responsible [and] patient” guidance. Chang said his mentor is representative of the caring community he’s become a part of in the Chemical Engineering Department, which encompasses graduates and undergraduates alike.

“Every professor in this department can be the person to talk to when you are experiencing struggles in your research, or even in your life, because they are always going to be our biggest support for this not-so-easy journey of grad school,” Chang said.

“As a person who is working and studying far away from my family, who are all back home in Taiwan, I am happy to say that I have found a second home right here [in] Charlottesville, Virginia.”