May 24, 2018  

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USM Polymer Student Wins Prestigious Graduate Research Award

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USM doctoral student Abagail Williams

University of Southern Mississippi doctoral student Abagail Williams has been chosen to receive a prestigious Graduate Student Research Program (SCGSR) award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Williams is one of only 60 graduate students nationwide to earn the honor.

A native of Independence, Mo., Williams has spent the past year working the lab of USM polymer assistant professor Dr. Jason Azoulay. As a SCGSR award winner, she will begin work in June at The Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.

Williams applied for the award last November, but did not learn of her selection until recently.

“I had just landed on an airplane when I received an e-mail with the award notification,” she said. “So I celebrated in silence, but with overwhelming feelings of joy and appreciation. Joy for recognition of my hard work and determination, and appreciation for all the people who have helped me get to where I am.”

At CFN Williams will be using state-of-the-art ultrafast and nonlinear optical spectroscopy to study light matter interactions in advanced polymer semiconductors synthesized within the USM School of Polymer Science and Engineering. She will be working in the photophysics lab of Dr. Matthew Sfeir, an internationally recognized expert in the field.

Notes her mentor Dr. Azoulay: “The emergent properties measured in these systems hold potential for applications in energy conversion, infrared optoelectronics, catalysis and quantum information. Abagail is passionate about fundamental research and is motivated by the challenges of working at the forefront of science.”

SCGSR’s objective is to prepare graduate student for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission, by providing graduate thesis research opportunities at DOE laboratories.

The program provides opportunities for graduate students to conduct part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE laboratory/facility, in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist. The SCGSR research projects are expected to advance the graduate awardee’s overall doctoral thesis while providing access to the expertise, resources, and capabilities available at the DOE laboratories/facilities.

The award also provides support for inbound and outbound travel to the laboratory, and a monthly stipend of up to $3,000 for general living expenses while at the host DOE laboratory during the award period, which covers anywhere from three to 12 consecutive months.

Williams emphasizes that the guidance and rigorous training provided by Dr. Azoulay have played a significant role in her development as a researcher.

“Jason is known for having high expectations for his students and pushing us to our greatest potential,” she said. “He is very good at listening to what his graduate students want out of their education and what career path they want to pursue.”

Williams earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Missouri University for Science and Technology. She is the daughter of Douglas and Lisa Gourley of Independence, Mo.

To see the full list of awardees, visit: