Sweet receives prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

April 23, 2024

Campbell Sweet

Campbell Sweet, a PhD student in chemical engineering, has received a 2024 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF).

Sweet is currently in the first year of her PhD program at Mizzou, conducting research under the mentorship of Professor Patrick Pinhero. The award covers three years of a graduate program.

“I was very excited when I found out I won this award,” Sweet said. “I’m honored and grateful to have received it. I’m looking forward to putting the research I proposed in my application statement into action with the support of the National Science Foundation, my peers and my mentors.”

The path toward graduate research began for Sweet during the summer of 2021, when she started working as an undergraduate researcher in Pinhero’s lab. It was initially supposed to just be for the summer to gain experience for her resume, but Sweet was fascinated by the work and passionate about sustainable energy.

So, she continued working on projects with Pinhero after the summer ended, through the end of her senior year.

“I had a really great time doing projects as an undergrad,” Sweet said. “The more I learned in my research, the more I could use in the classroom. I could see more and more connections forming between the two in my last two years, and it made me realize that this path was right for me.”

In addition to undergraduate research, Sweet was involved with Mizzou’s chapter of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the organization’s Chem-E-Car team and Mizzou Engineering Peer Learning Assistants. She was also awarded Outstanding Junior in Chemical Engineering in spring 2022 and Most Outstanding Process Design Student in spring 2023.

Sweet graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering in May 2023 and returned in the fall to begin her graduate research.

“My experiences as a chemical engineering undergraduate at Mizzou prepared me to take on challenges anywhere,” she said. “I could have explored other options for graduate school, but I loved my mentors here at Mizzou and I loved Columbia. I wanted to do my best to continue learning from and contributing to this place.”

Since beginning her graduate studies, her enthusiastic approach to research has only grown.

“I love the work, I love the creativity,” she said. “I feel like you get to be more of yourself doing research — you’re not given a task that you have to complete, you get to choose the problem that you want to solve and the path you take toward the solution.”

The broader problem Sweet is trying to solve is increasing the supply of clean energy. Through her graduate research, she plans to investigate mass transfer limitations in molten salt-based electrorefining systems. Molten salt-based electrorefining is a potentially more sustainable alternative to current reprocessing techniques for spent nuclear fuel and permanent magnet scrap. She hopes that her work will contribute to optimizing the reprocessing of these materials via clean pathways and increasing their reutilization rates.

Sweet actually applied for the NSF GRF last year but did not feel as confident in her work, which was reflected in her application. But that’s changed over the past year as she’s begun her graduate studies.

“I applied last year because my research mentor encouraged me to, but I didn’t think I could get it because it was such a prestigious honor” she said. “I compared myself to others and I didn’t think that was who I was at that time. I had little confidence that I was the type of person who receives this type of award. I had to overcome that to submit a better application that was more representative of myself and my research.”

Right now, Sweet is just beginning her graduate studies. But she says that while her ultimate career goal is still undecided, she is interested in staying in academia.

“As a peer learning assistant for chemical engineering courses I became interested in teaching and instruction along with research,” she said. “So, I’m definitely thinking about post-doctoral training and potentially getting back into academia as a research professor. I’d like to make contributions to science directly as a researcher and through the education of future generations as a teacher.”

Two other Mizzou Engineering alumni taking part in PhD programs at other institutions also received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. Congratulations to Jacob Search (mechanical engineering `22) and Yousuf El-Jayyousi (biomedical engineering `21)!