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Anna Fraser Awarded NSF Fellowship

Anna Fraser, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been selected for the 2019 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Fraser is currently a second-year graduate student working with the Dingemans Group in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences.

Each year NSF recognizes outstanding graduate students in STEM fields of study who “have demonstrated the potential to be high-achieving scientists and engineers, early in their career.” Fraser is one of just 2,000 fellows this year, selected from an applicant pool of more than 12,000 candidates. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards recipients with stipends to support their research, as well as educational allowances and professional development opportunities.

The funding and opportunities provided by the NSF fellowship will allow Fraser to continue her research in water desalination, or the process of converting salt water to potable water.

“Water desalination and purification are topics I have been passionate about since I began taking human geography courses as an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee and realizing the challenges many underdeveloped nations face in obtaining potable water,” Fraser said.

By better understanding the molecular water flux (permeability) and salt rejection (selectivity) of water desalination membranes, Fraser hopes to improve access to clean water worldwide.

“Our main goal is to reduce the overall operational cost of water desalination and make desalination units more affordable,” Fraser said. “Additionally, this work will advance our understanding of the relationship between the polymer interchain spacing and polymer functionality and the trade-off between membrane permeability and selectivity.”

In addition to research Fraser will complete at UNC, the NSF award will also allow her to work internationally with populations affected by this issue.

“Recipients of the NSF award have the option of doing research abroad for a few months, which would allow me to work in a region where water scarcity is a pressing issue,” Fraser said. “There, I hope to work in a lab that collaborates with a commercial desalination plant to optimize the fabrication and working conditions of membranes. From this experience, I will better understand how to design membranes with improved performance and directly see the conditions used in commercial desalination plants.”