Passion for creation sparks student success in research

Undergraduate researcher Hannah Pohlmann receives prestigious Astronaut Scholarship

Penn State senior Hannah Pohlmann has been awarded the Astronaut Scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year, one of the most prestigious scholarships given to undergraduate STEM students. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Hannah Pohlmann, a rising senior studying mathematics and materials science and engineering, has a key piece of advice for undergraduates interested in conducting research: start early.

“Start your first year if you can. If you want to do it lightly — just to get your hands dirty — that would be good for getting an internship and having hands-on experiences,” said Pohlmann, a scholar in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College.

Leading by her own example, Pohlmann has done just that. From submitting a first-author paper in the journal Applied Physics Letters to serving as a polymers applications development intern at ExxonMobil this summer, Pohlmann already boasts far-reaching achievements.

Among her list of accolades, Pohlmann was awarded the Astronaut Scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

“The Astronaut Scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarships awarded to undergraduate STEM students,” said Caitlin Ting, interim director of the University Fellowships Office. “The Foundation looks for leadership, imagination, and research excellence, which are all areas in which Hannah excels. We are so proud that her efforts are being recognized.”

With the goal of fostering U.S. leadership in science and technology, the Foundation has supported more than 400 scholars, including 26 other Penn State students throughout the award’s history.

For Pohlmann, her passion — and creative outlet — is polymers research. In one project at the University, she investigated oil absorbent polymers for oil spill cleanup. Pohlmann’s goal was to transform existing plastics into enhanced property products that are easier to commercialize.

“I like the polymers side of materials science because there are just thousands of different polymers out there, and there are so many ways to synthesize them,” the Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, native said. “I like the idea that you can go off and make anything.”

Relying on her mathematics background, Pohlmann has also explored computational modeling. As a first-year student, she studied simulations of autonomous vehicles through a research program at Temple University. Self-driving cars, Pohlmann concluded, may prevent faulty human driving behaviors, especially in stop-and-go traffic.

To supplement an honors-optioned thermodynamics course this year, Pohlmann helped develop fundamental equations for ferroelectric oxides. Under the guidance of Long-Qing Chen — the Donald W. Hamer Professor of Materials Science and Engineering — the results were just accepted for publication.

“I would not hesitate to rank Hannah as the best undergraduate student among all the students who have been through my thermodynamics class over the past 24 years of my career at Penn State,” Chen said. “Hannah’s outstanding academic achievement, her dedication for research, and her strong desire for new discovery of science made her an extremely strong candidate for an Astronaut Scholarship.”

After graduation, Pohlmann intends to continue technical research and development of polymers. Yet, she’s still debating between an academic research setting and industry track.

“I am excited about both options and look forward to having a long research career no matter which path I choose,” Pohlmann said.

To learn more about the Astronaut Scholarship, or about other fellowship and grant opportunities, visit the University Fellowships Office website.

The University Fellowships Office is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Hannah Pohlmann, wearing a lab mask and coat, gives a thumbs up. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated July 03, 2017