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USM Graduate Student Earns Prestigious Department of Energy Award

Mon, 10/04/2021 - 16:37pm | By: Van Arnold

Mark RobertsonUniversity of Southern Mississippi (USM) graduate student Mark Robertson has been selected to receive a prestigious U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) award.

Robertson, a PhD candidate in polymer science, is one of just 65 graduate students nationwide chosen for the program’s 2021 Solicitation 1 cycle. A native of Pensacola, Fla., Robertson earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Mississippi in chemical engineering before entering the doctoral program at USM in 2019.

Robertson says that the SCGSR award came as a shock. “Initially, I was very surprised and almost in disbelief after the first notification,” he said. “This eventually gave way to general excitement and a great deal of appreciation for everyone and every opportunity that has led me to this point.”

Through world-class training and access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources at DOE national laboratories, SCGSR prepares graduate students to enter jobs of critical importance to the DOE mission and secures its national position at the forefront of discovery and innovation.

“The DOE Office of Science provides the scientific foundation for solutions to some of our nation’s most complex challenges, and now more than ever we need to invest in a diverse, talented pipeline of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who can help us build a brighter future,” said Dr. Harriet Kung, Deputy Director for Science Programs in the Office of Science. “These outstanding students will help us tackle mission-critical research at our labs as this experience helps them begin a successful and rewarding career.”

SCGSR awardees were selected from a diverse pool of graduate applicants from institutions around the country. Selection was based on merit peer review by external scientific experts. Since 2014, the program has provided more than 765 U.S. graduate awardees from 153 universities with supplemental funds to conduct part of their thesis research at a host DOE laboratory in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist.

Robertson’s primary field of research involves the scalable development of polymer-derived carbon materials for applications in water remediation, energy storage, and the reduction of CO2 emissions. Plans call for him to work with neutron scattering scientist Dr. Lilin He at the Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory, beginning in late spring or early summer 2022.

Robertson notes that much of his growth as a researcher and a person is due to the mentorship from his faculty advisor, Dr. Zhe Qiang. Robertson joined Qiang’s research group in the spring of 2020.

“Dr. Qiang has an infectious excitement for science and has worked closely with me to develop the ability to creatively address real-world problems through practical solutions,” said Robertson. “Additionally, he has taught me more than I thought was possible about general polymer science fundamentals and communications skills.”

A list of the 65 awardees, their institutions, host DOE laboratory/facility, and priority research areas of projects can be found at