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Michael Alves Awarded NSF Fellowship to Broaden Diversity in Chemistry

September 20, 2021 | By Mario Aguilera

091621-Alves.jpgMichael Alves

UC San Diego Chemistry and Biochemistry graduate student Michael Alves has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowship designed to boost the involvement of underrepresented groups in chemistry.

The $200,000 award, “Environmental Organic Chemistry of Indoor Gases and Surface Films,” will be conducted through NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Ascending Postdoctoral Research (NSF MPS-Ascend) Fellowship program. The project will be based at UC Berkeley, where Alves will be taking a postdoctoral position after finishing his doctoral degree.

During his PhD studies at UC San Diego, Alves has been splitting research time in photochemistry as part of the NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on the Chemistry of the Environment, as well as studying surface chemistry related to indoor areas. The latter studies, Alves says, are a relatively new field investigating the differences between indoor and outdoor environments, including related implications for indoor pollution and public health. 

“Our research group (in Vicki Grassian’s lab) was involved in a short preliminary study looking at surfaces across the pandemic’s lockdown cycle, comparing non-lockdown surfaces to quantify the impacts of indoor pollution as a function of increased indoor presence due to quarantining and we are taking part in an upcoming research campaign to hopefully address some of the questions we got from that study,” said Alves.

As part of Professor Allen Goldstein’s lab at UC Berkeley, Alves will extend these experiments to analyze surface chemical reactions in a new indoor-controlled research facility that mimics a real-world home residence. Follow-on laboratory experiments will attempt to isolate the role of common surfaces in relation to indoor chemicals.

Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, Alves will be the first in his family to receive a PhD. He currently serves the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as a graduate student representative on the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Climate (EDIC) Council. 

Through his NSF MPS-Ascend project, Alves aspires to fill gaps in EDI support. While many programs work to help underrepresented students during summer, fewer paid opportunities exist during the school year, creating a barrier for those who can’t afford to perform unpaid work.

Alves’ goal is to expand mentoring and paid school-year research for underrepresented minority students. He also plans to collaborate on a program to develop indoor-relevant chemistry demonstrations for K-12 students in local communities.

“The MPS-Ascend fellowship seems to be one of the first steps made to bring EDI work beyond PhD programs on a large scale,” said Alves, who also held an NSF Graduate Research Program (GRFP) Fellowship during his time at UC San Diego. “Incorporating postdocs into this type of work, while also increasing pay, is going to hopefully expand useful efforts in EDI while also providing another platform for underrepresented minorities to enter academia.”

Vicki Grassian, Alves’ advisor, agrees. “The MPS-Ascend fellowship is an important program that will make a real difference for newly minted PhDs who value EDI in STEM fields. Mike Alves is ideally suited for this fellowship and I am so pleased he was chosen,” said Grassian. “The fact that the NSF awarded him a $200,000 grant says a lot about his scientific excellence and his commitment to EDI as well as the opportunities he had at UC San Diego to be competitive for this type of award.”