2021 MSE-NE Virtual Spring Banquet

MSE-NE 2021 Virtual Spring Banquet


This EVENT celebrates the successes of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and the Nuclear Engineering Program’s 2020-2021 academic year

Watch the video replay of the Banquet below or scroll down to read through the content presented during the broadcast


Departmental Scholarship Awards Student Society Recognition Faculty Recognition
Staff Recognition In Memoriam  



Michele Manuel, Ph.D.Welcome to the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Nuclear Engineering Program Virtual Spring Banquet page. I am Dr. Michele Manuel, Chair of the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and I am so glad you have taken some time to read a bit about our past year.

2020-2021 has been yet another outstanding academic year for the department. I am pleased to share that the materials science & engineering graduate program has extended its streak of Top 10 rankings among public universities to six years. The nuclear engineering graduate program maintained its No. 12 ranking, the highest over the last 10 years. Both programs are also ranked No. 1 in the State of Florida. The continued success of both of our programs is due to your efforts and dedication to our academic community and its vision.

IDEA CoalitionThis past year saw the launch of our departmental Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access – IDEA Coalition.

The Coalition has members from our faculty, students, and staff. Its vision is to create a department in which all identities are welcomed and protected, in which all individuals have equal access to resources and feel empowered to speak up, and in which we work together as a community towards our mutual success, growth, and well-being.

We welcome all department members to join our events and efforts to help us all realize our best potential.

Goldberg Lecture Jim Burns, Ph.D.In other news, the inaugural Eugene Goldberg Lectureship Series event took place in February and featured Dr. Jim Burns, a post-doctoral researcher who studied here at the department under the direction of Professor Eugene Goldberg, himself.

The Eugene Goldberg Lecture Series was founded in 2019 to honor Dr. Goldberg’s enduring legacy and the lasting impact he had on his students at the University of Florida. The fund, made possible thanks to the generosity of Dr. Goldberg’s former students, led by Dr. Margaret Kayo and Dan Urbaniak, provides the support needed to bring in top industry leaders, visiting professors and scholars to deliver a lecture and engage with our students and faculty.

Spring commencement is just weeks away where 71 undergrads, 65 Master’s and 8 Ph.D. candidates will receive their well-earned degrees.

As a university and as a department, our primary mission remains to empower students to fulfill their dreams through our educational programs. With that in mind, we first recognize the accomplishments of our students.

[ps2id id=’Scholarship’ target=”/]DEPARTMENTAL SCHOLARSHIP AWARDS

The students receiving these awards have distinguished themselves as both leaders and scholars within the department.

While academic awards come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each one helps provide valuable support to our students. These gifts would not be possible without the generous supporters who have either established a scholarship or have donated to these funds over the years, and their altruism cannot be overstated.

MSE Scholarships

F.N. Rhines and W.R. Tarr Scholarship
  • Charles D’Ambra
  • Garrett Toenjes
  • Julinna Villarta
  • Marshall Frye
  • Nina Erwin
  • Miles Kendall
Jonathan Hack Memorial Scholarship for Materials Science
  • Veronica Hubbard
  • Marah Mukhtar
Richard G. Connell Scholarship
  • Catalina Lizarazo
  • Noah Molko
Robert David Adamson Scholarship
  • Jordan Sweeney
  • Kade Nelson
  • Noah Caracuel
Robert E. Reed-Hill Scholarship
  • Alexander Kane
  • Delfina Rodriguez
  • Vanessa Ritota
Vladimir Grodsky Memorial Scholarship
  • Jonathan Balent
  • Katie O’Malley
Wolf Research Award
  • Nagarajan Rajagopal


NE Scholarships

Alan M. Jacobs Memorial Scholarship Fund
  • James Kennedy
  • Mitchell Mika
  • Hannah Patz
  • Kaylee Cunningham
  • Jacob Hunt
  • Jacqueline Golabek
  • John Vidak, IV
GE Edison Scholarship
  • Kaylee Cunningham
  • Jacob Hunt
  • Jacqueline Golabek
  • John Vidak, IV
  • Jonathan Arnaud
James E. Swander Memorial Scholarship
  • Emily Kwapis
  • Thomas Smola
N.L. Griesheimer Memorial Fund Award
  • Jonathan Arnaud
Ohanian Scholarship
  • Claudia Tariche Fortes
  • James Kennedy
  • Mitchell Mika
  • Hannah Patz
  • Kyle Latty

The Botic Family Scholars Professional Pathways Fund

To provide the Department of Material Science & Engineering undergraduate and graduate students with awards that will enhance their University experience through experiential learning, and to honor the multi-generational Botic family legacy here at the University of Florida, it is with great pride and gratitude that we officially announce the establishment of our newest endowed award – the Botic Family Scholars Professional Pathways Fund.

Ben Botic received his Masters’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 1971. He credits his experiences in college with setting the foundation for his future career. Following in his footsteps, Ben’s children continued the tradition of Gator graduates in the family. Ben’s daughter, Michelle Lynn, earned her UF degree in 1992, and his son, Bryan, received a UF degree in 1993. 

The Botic family decided to create a fund that would forever be a part of the department, and their contributions will support both materials science and engineering and nuclear engineering students by providing experiential learning opportunities anywhere in the world. These experiences will give students the hands-on skills to become outstanding professionals in their chosen careers.

The recipients will be identified as Botic Family Scholars and will be supported financially to enhance their learning and defer the costs of industry internships, national lab placements and other programs that provide valuable student experiences outside the classroom.

The Materials Science & Engineering and Nuclear Engineering community of alumni, donors, and supporters are key to our continued success as a department and as a college. Without all of you behind us, we could never have reached the heights we have thus far as a program. We look forward to implementing this exciting new opportunity for our students, and we would once again like to thank Ben Botic, and the entire Botic family, for helping this vision become a reality. This fund, which is a first of its kind in our department, will surely make a difference for countless future Gator Engineers.  


Student societies provide unique opportunities for students with related interests to advance their education beyond the classroom, to become members of a larger intellectual community outside of campus, and to take on important leadership roles.


Materials Science & Engineering

Alpha Sigma Mu MSE Honor Society
  • Faculty Advisor: Michele Manuel, Ph.D.
  • President: Ian Arndt
  • Vice President: Jakub Pepas
Bladesmithing Team
  • Faculty Advisor: Gerhard Fuchs, Ph.D.
  • Co-Captains: Devin Ritter and Brandon Capellini
Ceramic Mug Drop Design Team
  • Faculty Advisor: Amanda Krause, Ph.D.
  • Captain: Vanessa Ritota
  • Co-Outreach Directors: Savannah Horowitz and Catalina Lizarazo
  • Team Lead of Mechanical Testing: John Langhout
  • Team Lead of Ceramic Composition: Luke Pentzke
  • Graduating Seniors
    • John Langhout
    • Leslie Rodriguez
Material Advantage (MATADV)
  • Faculty Advisor: Gerhard Fuchs, Ph.D.
  • Outgoing President: Rachel Blaydes
  • Outgoing Vice President: Natalie Starr
  • Incoming President: Drew Davidson
  • Incoming Vice President: Molly Kole
  • Incoming Secretary: Catalina Lizarazo
  • Incoming Treasurer: Ethan Caballero
  • Graduating Seniors
    • Jonathan Balent
    • Rachel Blaydes
    • Marshall Frye
    • Bobbi-Ann Matheson
Society for Biomaterials (SFB)
  • Faculty Advisor: Greg Hudalla, Ph.D.
  • President: Bryan James
  • Vice President: Heather Ursino
  • Treasurer: Yan Pacheco
  • Secretary: Justin Silberman
  • Industry Liaison: Sophia Saenz
  • Webmaster: Melissa Gutierrez


Nuclear Engineering

American Nuclear Society (ANS)
  • Faculty Advisor: Justin Watson, Ph.D.
  • President: Kaylee Cunningham
  • Vice President: Micah Troyer
  • Treasurer: Kervin Coss Flores
  • Secretary: Madison Bushloper
  • BEC Representative: Mitch Mika
  • Webmaster: Claudia Tariche Fortes
  • Social Media Chair: Tyler Mark
  • Outgoing seniors:
    • Micah Troyer
    • Kush Patel
Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (INMM)
  • Faculty Advisor: Andreas Enqvist, Ph.D. / Kyle Hartig, Ph.D.
  • President: Ezra Cockram
  • Vice President: Taylor Harvey
  • Treasurer: 
  • Secretary: 
  • Outreach Chair: 

ALUMNI RECOGNITION: Early Career Alumni Award

Jacob DeWitte, Ph.D.
Jacob DeWitte, Ph.D.

Our 2021 Distinguished Early Career Alumni Award winner is Jacob DeWitte, Ph.D., a nuclear reactor developer commercializing next-generation fission power systems. Dr. DeWitte is a co-Founder and the CEO of Oklo, Inc., a Sunnyvale, California-based company developing and building small nuclear reactors.

Dr. DeWitte is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Florida in 2008, followed by his Ph.D. at MIT, both in nuclear engineering. While at MIT, his research included developing strategies for better economic management of nuclear power plants.

Dr. DeWitte has conducted nuclear reactor design and analysis for 15 years, including stints at Sandia National Labs, Urenco USA, the United States Naval Nuclear Laboratory, and at General Electric, where he led core design on the PRISM sodium fast reactor. He has experience with design and analysis spanning various reactor types, including molten salt and next-generation pressurized water reactors. In 2014 he was also recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 for the Energy Sector.

Dr. DeWitte raised the first modern institutional venture capital-led financing of a fission company and is currently working to bring the United States’ first commercial advanced reactor to market.

He truly inspires and sets an example for all of our current and future students here at UF.

Congratulations to our Early Career Alumni Award winner, Dr. Jacob DeWitte!



Over the past year, our faculty once again brought the department, the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and the University of Florida prestigious awards, grants and national recognition. They are incredibly essential to the success of both the department and to the talented students we send out into the world.


Dr. Kyle Hartig is leading a research team as part of the newly formed Interaction of Ionizing Radiation with Matter – University Research Alliance (IIRM-URA). Funded by a $51.5 million Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) award, the alliance is a diverse coalition of 12 nationally recognized universities and 10 industry affiliates and national labs focused on identifying, understanding and exploiting the fundamental physics of interactions of ionizing radiation with matter.

 Dr. Amanda Krause was awarded $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation for a cutting-edge, 3D X-ray microscope system. Dr. Krause is employing artificial intelligence methods to track and catalog data for her abnormal grain growth research.

Dr. Nancy Ruzycki’s Engaging Quality Instruction through Professional Development (EQuIPD) program is already revealing its impressive impact among Florida teachers. Funded through her $5 million Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) Award to improve both STEM education and learning among kindergarten through ninth-grade students, an evaluation survey found that teachers with EQuIPD training are implementing more technology and computational thinking in their classrooms and are also using real-world problems to help develop workforce skills in their students.

Several faculty members achieved significant professional milestones in the past year, including:

Last spring, two of our faculty members were recognized for their extraordinary contributions to science and our society.

Congratulations to all of our faculty on their outstanding achievements.


Since our LAST Spring Banquet in 2019, we’ve welcomed eight new faculty members to the department.

Megan Butala, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, joined us from her postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and specializes in energy storage materials, lithium-ion batteries, x-ray diffraction, pair distribution function analysis and structure-property relationships.

Ira Harkness, Ph.D., Lecturer and Director of IT and Facilities, joined the faculty from his staff position within the department His interests are Monte Carlo methods, neutron transport and nuclear safeguards and nonproliferation.

Chris McDevitt, Ph.D., Associate Professor, was previously a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and focuses on computational and theoretical plasma physics, momentum transport, runaway electrons and Monte Carlo methods.

Tori Miller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, joined us from North Carolina State University and her research interests include structural evolution in crystalline materials, advanced electron microscopy techniques and deformation mechanisms.

Ryan Need, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, joined us from his postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and specializes thin film deposition, interface and defect engineering, emergent phenomenon, quantum materials and nanoionics.

Aroba Saleem, Ph.D., joined us from the Royal Military College of Canada and her specialties are engineering education, material characterization, nondestructive evaluation (electromagnetic measurements), structure-property relationships and micromagnetics.

Donald Wall, Ph.D., Professor of Practice, came to us from Washington State University and is the Director of the UF Training Reactor. His interests include regulatory compliance and nuclear facility radiation safety and security.

Nathalie Wall, Ph.D., Professor, also joined us from Washington State University and her research specialties are radiochemistry, nuclear wastes, nuclear forensics, nuclear fuel cycle and environmental behavior of radionuclides.

We are honored they have all chosen to join the Gator Nation, and our students and fellow faculty have benefitted from the knowledge and expertise they bring to their classrooms and labs.

UF MSE-NE 2021 Faculty Excellence Award


Our Faculty are encouraged to nominate their peers for recognition of outstanding performance, innovation and effectiveness over the previous year. We also ask them to think about ALL of the areas of excellence that we value as a department, not just research. We ask them to also consider service, education, diversity, inclusion and outreach when submitting their nominations.

The following faculty members were nominated and chosen by their peers in the department as displaying excellence across all categories.

JENNIFER ANDREW, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Margaret A. Ross Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, is being recognized for excellence in research, teaching, mentorship of early-career faculty, and leadership in the recruitment and admission of graduate students.

JOSEPHINE ALLEN, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Genzyme Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, is being recognized for excellence in research, teaching, mentorship of early-career faculty, and leadership in faculty recruitment and honors and awards committee.

NANCY RUZYCKI, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Laboratories, is being recognized for excellence in research and teaching of high quality and a large number of undergraduate laboratories, especially during a global pandemic.

MICHAEL TONKS, Ph.D., Associate Professor and MSE Undergraduate Coordinator, is being recognized for excellence in research, teaching, and leadership as MSE Undergraduate Coordinator and in faculty recruitment.

UF MSE-NE Brennan Staff Excellence Award[ps2id id=’Staff_Recognition’ target=”/]STAFF RECOGNITION

2021 marks the second year of our endowed staff recognition honor, the Tony and Kathy Brennan Staff Excellence Award. Dr. Tony Brennan retired in 2019 after nearly three decades as an innovator, leader and mentor to countless students and others along the way.

Dr. Brennan and his wife Kathy were consistent champions of our dedicated staff and recognized their critical role in keeping everything moving as smoothly as possible – all while working primarily behind the scenes.

With their selfless generosity, the Brennan’s have ensured that the hard-working members of the department staff are sufficiently recognized for their outstanding efforts, as well.

This year, we have two staff members chosen for this honor.  They are being recognized for their efforts on the front lines to ensure that our physical infrastructure and personnel were always safe, and for maintaining the stability of the department’s programs during a global pandemic. They are well known and work closely with both faculty and students.

This year’s winners of the Tony and Kathy Brennan Staff Excellence Award are Laboratory and Safety Manager, Dr. Kevin Gilley, and Facility Operations Manager, Mark Haberman.

Kevin Gilley, Ph.D.
Kevin Gilley, Ph.D.
Mark Haberman
Mark Haberman









Congratulations to both for this prestigious honor!


Edward Dugan, Ph.D.

Edward T. Dugan, Ph.D., a University of Florida alumnus and Department of Materials Science & Engineering nuclear engineering professor emeritus, passed away on January 24th, 2021, at 74 years of age.

He was a pillar of our NE program for decades and left a lasting impression on multiple generations of UF Nuclear Engineering students. 

Dr. Dugan graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He attended UF for graduate school, earning a Masters in Nuclear Engineering Sciences in 1972 and his doctorate in 1976 under Dr. Nils Diaz. Dr. Dugan became a UF faculty member in 1977, beginning an illustrious 33-year academic career until retiring from teaching in June 2010. He spent a couple of years at NucSafe in Tennessee before returning to the UF Nuclear engineering program in 2012. 

During his tenure at UF, Dr. Dugan participated in research projects with national and international significance, including advanced reactor analysis, nuclear power plant dynamics & control, space nuclear power and propulsion, and radiation transport. To prevent another Columbia shuttle disaster, NASA utilized his pioneering backscatter x-ray imaging technology to examine space shuttle foam for potentially deadly voids and other defects.

Dr. Dugan was a well-published author and co-author, held numerous patents, and was consistently recognized for his teaching with multiple awards for Professor of the Year. Moreover, his dedication to and rapport with multiple generations of students had a lasting impact on the graduates themselves and his fellow faculty members. 

In 2019, the Edward T. Dugan American Nuclear Society Professional Excellence Award was established. It was created by nuclear engineering students at UF to honor Dr. Dugan’s unwavering commitment to students and their development both professionally and personally. His lasting impact is embodied through the students who receive support from this fund.

The family has asked that gifts be made in Dr. Dugan’s memory to the Edward T. Dugan American Nuclear Society Professional Excellence fund to continue this support of students.

It has been heartwarming to see the outpouring of sentiments from Faculty colleagues, students, mentees, and others who have had their lives enriched by Dr. Dugan, many of which may be found on our Dr. Ed Dugan Memorial Tributes webpage. We hope to carry on Dr. Dugan’s spirit, passion, and lessons in our Nuclear Engineering Program here at UF and beyond.

Thank you for taking the time to read through our 2020-2021 Academic Year summary.


Departmental Scholarship Awards Student Society Recognition Faculty Recognition
Staff Recognition In Memoriam Back to Top