Trainees

Rebekah Duke

Rebekah Duke is originally from White Bluff TN. In the fall of 2020, she began UK’s doctoral program in chemistry as well as UK’s NSF Graduate Research Traineeship in INFEWS. Since 2020, she has been doing research under Dr. Chad Risko at CAER, focusing on dihedral bond energies in organic polymers. In her free time, Rebekah enjoys spending time with her husband, cooking and baking, and experiencing the outdoors.

Robert Ellis

Robert Ellis grew up in Raeford, North Carolina, on his families’ row crop and livestock operation. He completed his B.S. in Agricultural Economics at Auburn University in 2016. He has previous experience working in the veterinary medicine industry until starting his M.S. degree. His prior research has focused on topics including cover crop economics, machinery economics, and land valuations. Robert is currently a Ph.D. research assistant working in production agriculture and farm management.

Abelline Fionah

Abelline Katusiime Fionah is originally from Uganda. She got her B.S. and M.S. in chemistry from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. At Ball State University, Abelline worked under Dr. Elsayed Zahran. Her research focused on synthesizing metal oxide nano materials for environmental remediation. She joined UK’s NRT on INFEWS in the fall of 2020. Abelline is currently pursuing her PhD in chemistry at UK and conducting research under Dr. Isabel Escobar. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, dancing, and event planning.

Umenweke Great

Umenweke Great is originally from Nigeria, with an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO). Great worked as an undergraduate research intern at Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), where he learned about research on biomass utilization and biodiesel. As an undergraduate, he received an award of excellence by the Nigeria Society of Chemical Engineers (NSCHE) Students Body, for uplifting Chemical Engineering students in Nigeria. He also worked as a teaching and Laboratory assistant in the department of Chemical Engineering, University of Abuja.

Great is a PhD student in the department of Chemistry University of Kentucky, with Research interest in the application of Heterogeneous Catalysis in the conversion of Biomass to chemicals and fuels, under the mentorship of Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez. Great enjoys listening to music and reading in his spare time.

Gary Lopez

Gary Lopez grew up in southern California and completed his undergraduate degree at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT). He majored in chemical engineering and minored in chemistry. He is currently a masters student in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering department at UK and is advised by Dr. Joshua Jackson and Dr. Sue Nokes. His main research interest lies with exploring the applications of industrial hemp. During his gap year between his time at NMT and UK he worked as an 8th grade science teacher which confirmed his passion for teaching while also revealing that teaching middle school isn’t right for him. A quirk about Gary is that he has a dislike of coffee tables (there is a whole theory behind it, but you’ll have to ask him on Twitter @GLopezChemE). He would like to have a career that both benefits his community and contributes to a sustainable future, which is why he coined his own motto of “Cultivate, Innovate, and Educate.”

David Lu

David Lu, who is originally from Murray, Kentucky, joined UK’s Chemical Engineering program in the fall of 2016. As an undergraduate student, he received the Otis A. Singletary Scholarship, obtained a Power and Energy Institute of Kentucky (PEIK) Undergraduate Certificate, and was in the Lewis Honors College. In 2017, David helped evaluate the material properties of additive-manufactured ABS products as part of the UK Bucks for Brains Summer Research Program. In 2018, David conducted research under Dr. Fuqian Yang in developing a microbial fuel cell capable of filtering wastewater and generating an electric current. Currently, he is a graduate research assistant under Dr. Isabel Escobar with a research focus on developing polymeric membranes derived from green polymers and solvents. David has also been an active member of Alpha Phi Omega, the UK American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) chapter, and the Center for Community Outreach. Aside from academics, David enjoys volunteering, music, playing basketball, hiking, and travelling.

Eric Luteyn

Eric W. Luteyn is originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Plant and Soil Sciences with a minor in Animal Science from the University of Kentucky in the fall of 2019. Eric joined UK’s Integrated Plant and Soil sciences program in the spring of 2020. He is currently conducting trait evaluations on Eragrostis teff under the mentorship of Dr. Timothy Phillips. In addition, Eric served in the United States Army for over 10 years as a construction supervisor. During his time in service, Eric planned and executed numerous large-scale projects both in the continental United States and abroad. He volunteers as a soccer coach in Madison county and enjoys reading, gardening, and spending time with his wife and 3 children.

Rilwan Oyetunji

Rilwan Oyetunji is a US immigrant, originally from Nigeria, enrolled in UK’s Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) department. Rilwan is currently the vice president of Black Graduate and Professional Students Association (BGPSA) and represents BGPSA and BAE on UK’s Graduate Student Congress. In January 2018, Rilwan began his Ph.D. studies under the mentorship of Dr. Sue Nokes and his research is focused on the stability of red clover isoflavones under various storage and drying conditions. Rilwan’s hobbies include discussing philosophical questions with friends, and colleagues, and reading books.

Julia Parker

Julia Parker, who is originally from Suwanee, Georgia, has been involved in research since 2018, when she started working at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) as an undergraduate majoring in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE). At CAER, Julia’s undergraduate research was supported by the Kentucky-West Virginia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and a Broadening Participation in Engineering grant of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which also allowed her to attend a summer school focused on the application of renewable energy at the Reiner Lemoine Institute in Berlin, Germany in the summer of 2019. Immediately following graduation, Julia started pursuing a Master’s in BAE under the mentorship of Drs. Czarena Crofcheck and Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez, performing her research in the laboratories of UK CAER focused on the development of methods for the valorization of lignin as sustainable source of fuels and chemicals. Her graduate studies and research are currently supported by the NSF LSAMP Bridge to Doctorate Fellowship.

Kent Pham

Kent Pham, who is originally from Buena Park, California, joined UK’s Integrated Plant and Soil Sciences program in the Fall of 2020. He has been doing research funded by the USDA under the mentorship of Dr. Luke Moe, where his work focuses on the impact of crop rotation on local microbial communities. His hobbies include rock climbing, snowboarding, and painting miniatures.

Sara Qian

Sara (Cheng) Qian is from Guilin, China originally and came to the US in 2014. She began her PhD studies in 2019 at the department of Plant and Soil Sciences of the University of Kentucky, under Drs. Jason Unrine and Travis Shaddox. Her current project is silicon uses in turfgrasses. She is currently serving as the GSC representative in the professional development and networking committee. Outside of work and study, she enjoys watching operas and musicals, travelling as well as hiking and weight training.

John Quinn

John Quinn was accepted into the Department of Chemistry’s PhD program in August of 2019 after graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a B.S. in Biochemistry. He began research at CAER under the mentorship of Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez and Dr. Chad Risko. focusing on the synergistic application of computational, analytical, and experimental methods to understand and improve upon the use of Ni bimetallic catalysts on oxide supports in the deoxygenation of triglyceride and fatty acid feedstocks to green diesel and green jet fuel. Ideally, the successful development of this catalyst system will help drive the shift from petroleum derived fuels to waste-derived and bio-derived fuels that perform on par with their petroleum derived counterparts. John is from Dayton, Ohio and recently moved to Frankfort, KY with his wife, Jeanette. His hobbies include rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and a host of other outdoor-focused activities.

Briana Snyder

Briana Snyder is originally from eastern Pennsylvania. She went to Ohio Wesleyan University to earn her bachelor’s degree in Pre-Professional Zoology with a minor in Chemistry. After graduating in 2015, she spent two years as an AmeriCorps with the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area stationed at The Nature Conservancy of West Virginia (TNCWV), where she aided in the restoration efforts of the red spruce ecosystem. After finishing her service, she continued to work for TNCWV first as the leader for the invasive species management crew then as the leader for the ecological restoration team. In the spring and summer of 2020, she worked as a reforestation coordinator overseeing the mined land restoration in the Monongahela National Forest for Green Forests Work. She is a first year Masters student in the department of Forestry and Natural Resources and works as a research assistant to Dr. Barton. Her research will focus on the use of restored mined land by terrestrial wildlife. Briana highly enjoys the Appalachia region and takes advantage of its recreational opportunities whenever possible, particularly hiking, star gazing, mushroom hunting, and lazy river kayaking.