Yager selected for a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship award

Yager is the first UAB student to receive the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship award since its inception in 2011.

_MG_1691Photo credit: Riley YagerRiley Yager, graduate student in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Physics, has been selected as a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship award winner. The fellowship will begin in fall 2022 and is supported for up to four years.

This fellowship award is a part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission directorate and supports graduate students who show significant potential to contribute to NASA’s goal of creating innovative new space technologies. As awards are made in the form of grants to a university, Andrei Stanishevsky, Ph.D., professor of physics at UAB and Yager's research advisor, will serve as the principal investigator for the grant.

Yager is the first graduate student at UAB to receive this prestigious fellowship since the program inception in 2011. The fellowship provides a stipend, full tuition and health insurance support, allowances for internships at NASA Centers, conference travel, research supplies, and publications.

Her research will involve an intensive study of low-temperature plasma for the purpose of converting CO2 in Martian atmosphere. The goal is to produce high-value products such as oxygen, water and fuels from in-situ sources on Mars’ surface to aid in sustainable space exploration. This study will incorporate advanced ceramic nanocatalysts, which are fabricated using a novel process developed in Stanishevsky’s laboratory at UAB. Yager believes the optimization of the proposed technologies in her research plan can also be utilized to help alleviate the effects of climate change. 

To Yager, this award is a reflection not only of her future in the world of physics, but of the success that women in the field of STEM can achieve when proper representation in the field and academic support — like what she has received at UAB — are ample for all women.

“As a woman, I have struggled for the spotlight in the STEM world since I started as an engineering undergraduate back in 2015; but after declaring a second major as a physicist at UAB, the opportunities to present my research seemed endless,” Yager recalled. “My words of encouragement to any young woman feeling discouraged in their field are to always keep your head up and eyes open to opportunity. I never thought joining a research lab would lead me to where I am today. This award is not only an opportunity to expand my personal knowledge, but a chance to stand on the frontier of technological growth toward space exploration.”

Yager credits much of her personal and professional success to being able to have access to conduct her research both at home and abroad in a collaborative laboratory setting offered by the Department of Physics at UAB; but to her mentors like Stanishevsky, Yager is proof that investing in teaching the next generation of scientists and engineers is the most fruitful way to continue to advance the science.

“Riley has such broad interests, is an active environmentalist and is a great performer in research, and her receiving the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship award brings a certain perspective to physics,” Stanishevsky said. “At UAB, we have great students and can provide the level of education that allows us to graduate students capable of competing for great spots in industry on a global scale.”

Currently, Yager is spending two semesters at University of Technology of Lodz, Poland, under the Fulbright graduate research scholarship.