Recent Oakland University graduate awarded NSF Fellowship


Maggie Willard

Pictured is the Engineering Center at OU. 2020 engineering graduate Alyssa Lalko will receive a five year Graduate Research Fellowship from NSF.

Now a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), Oakland University 2020 engineering graduate Alyssa Lalko has been selected to receive a five year Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

The Graduate Research Fellowship will assist Lalko in both her collegiate and research-based endeavors at CU Boulder. According to the NSF Website, the fellowship awards three years of financial support — including a stipend and full coverage for classes — and five years of access to unique professional development opportunities. The research work done with the assistance of this fellowship — Lalko notes enthusiastically — carries real world professional implications for her. 

“I am very excited to conduct research at the forefront of engineering, and my doctoral degree will equip me with the skills necessary to conduct research as a career,” Lalko said. “I am still exploring what I would like my future career to look like. Between academia, industry, national laboratories and policy positions, there are many exciting opportunities.”

Lalko’s work in the Precision Laser Diagnostics Lab — with the guidance of Greg Rieker, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder — focuses on the study and use of laser-based sensors in detecting air pollutants. 

Applications of similar lasers previously developed by the lab are currently being used across the United States (U.S.) to detect methane leaks in oil and gas fields, Lalko explained. Lalko’s research objective is to expand upon the current laser technology so the sensors can be implemented effectively in urban settings.

The sensors Lalko studies produce and capture laser light. When the light travels through a given environment’s atmosphere, the sensor gathers information about the contents of the atmosphere. Subsequent analysis of the laser’s variations between the two collection points allow researchers to examine what type of gas or other pollutant molecules are caught by the laser light. 

Development of cutting edge technologies such as this laser sensor system is instrumental to the U.S.’ changing business climate, and researchers like Lalko will prove to be indispensable to companies moving forward, Dr. Rieker explained. 

“You can’t open a news website without news about climate change or pollution,” Dr. Rieker said. “This is generating a lot of push in the capital markets for companies — such as BlackRock — to invest in companies that have a responsible plan for combating climate change. This in turn generates huge opportunities for students who study and research pollution and emissions.” 

This intense research process — which will continue throughout the Ph.D. program — requires enormous amounts of time and energy, and Dr. Rieker believes Lalko’s personal and academic commitment to studying pollution is a testament to her work ethic. 

“There are a handful of students who receive this fellowship,” Dr. Rieker said. “We here in the Precision Laser Diagnostics Lab are truly proud of Alyssa and her choice to continue her education here at CU Boulder.”