Congratulations to mechanical engineering master’s student Katie Bezdjian, who has just received the Fulbright Student Program grant. Bezdjian, who is receiving her degree this month, will travel to Spain to analyze and develop a new solar energy device capable of achieving a higher efficiency and power output than current solar energy technologies.

She is one of four University of Utah students to receive the award this year.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide. The Fulbright Program at the U is sponsored by the Office for Global Engagement and the Graduate School.

We asked Bezdjian some questions about what her research is about and how excited she is to go to Spain

How does it feel to receive the Fulbright award?

I don’t think there’s a single word that describes how I feel about being a Fulbright grantee. I’m thrilled, nervous, and excited, but I think the most dominant feeling is gratitude. I’m so thankful to have been afforded this opportunity, and I’m incredibly grateful for the many people who supported me throughout my educational career.

What is your research about?

My master’s thesis was focused on characterizing a high-temperature paint called Pyromark 2500. Pyromark is often used as a coating for components in concentrated solar power systems because it can increase the amount of solar radiation the part can absorb. This improves the efficiency of the entire concentrated solar power system. However, after long-term exposure to high temperatures, the proportion of solar radiation that Pyromark can absorb decreases. I studied Pyromark’s degradation due to high-temperature exposure through physical experiments. I also examined the impact of Pyromark’s degradation on the efficiency of a concentrated solar power system using computer modeling.

Who was your faculty advisor? How did that person help you in your studies?

Dr. Mathieu Francoeur was my advisor. Dr. Francoeur offered endless support, advice, and knowledge throughout my undergraduate and graduate career, and my desire to learn has grown tremendously since I first joined his lab. Most importantly, he listened to my suggestions and ideas for improving my research project. The creative freedom Dr. Francoeur offered me helped me build confidence in my abilities and knowledge.

What university in Spain will you be working at and what will you be doing there?

I received a Fulbright research grant, so I’ll focus exclusively on research while I’m in Spain. (I will not be taking any classes in Spain, and I am not pursuing a degree through this fellowship.) My Fulbright grant is focused on thermophotovoltaics, which are a different type of solar energy technology. Thermophotovoltaics include a heat source that emits thermal radiation toward photovoltaic cells, and the photovoltaic cells generate electricity. I plan to study a novel thermophotovoltaic device fabricated from germanium alongside researchers at the Solar Energy Institute at the Technical University of Madrid in Spain. I will focus on modeling the thermophotovoltaic device and measuring the thermal conductivity of specific device components. My Fulbright grant is part of a larger, three-year grant, so researchers at the Solar Energy Institute will complete portions of this project before I arrive in Spain, and they will continue to build on my research when my Fulbright grant has ended. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to assist in fabricating the final device, but this research task may not transpire until after my Fulbright grant has ended.

What would you like to do for a career when you finish college?

After my Fulbright grant concludes, I hope to work as a researcher in a national lab.

Finally, describe your experience here at the U and the College of Engineering, and how did that experience ready you for what you have in store for the next chapter in your life?

I loved my experience at the U. The culture on this campus and in the College of Engineering is highly conducive to learning and individual growth. The professors in the Department of Mechanical Engineering were passionate about their teaching responsibilities. I had the privilege of learning from truly brilliant individuals, and I am confident in the knowledge I’ve gained during my educational career. Also, there is a strong sense of camaraderie in the College of Engineering. I formed study groups in nearly every course I took, and this developed collaboration and communication skills that will undoubtedly serve me in my professional career.