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NMSU alum working to reduce environmental harm with NSF award

New Mexico State University alumnus David Hogan has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship of $132,000 to continue working toward a Ph.D. in environmental sciences.


Man in a lab coat holding scientific equipment
New Mexico State University alumnus David Hogan works with biologically produced surfactants in a research lab at the University of Arizona. The NMSU alum was recently honored with the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship award. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Walker)

"Receiving this fellowship is a significant honor indeed," Hogan said. "It constitutes a confirmation that my research is important and has the potential to impact society at large. It also indicates that researchers already working in my field believe I have the potential and credentials to make significant contributions as I develop as a researcher."

Hogan graduated with honors from NMSU in 2007, also receiving distinction in university honors. He earned his bachelor's in microbiology in the College of Arts and Sciences with minors in environmental management, chemistry and mathematics.

The researcher was one of 2,000 recipients selected from a pool of more than 13,000 applicants. He will begin using the three-year award next month at the University of Arizona, where he is two years into a five-year plan of study, researching biosurfactants produced by the bacterium "Psudomonas aeruginosa" known as rhamnolipid. Hogan refers to them as soaps.

"These compounds have great potential for use in both industry and environmental remediation," Hogan said. "I am particularly interested in using rhamnolipids for the remediation of metals from liquid waste streams."

The NSF GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. The oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the program has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers.
As a freshman at NMSU, Hogan entered the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program and joined biology professor Michele Nishiguchi's marine symbiosis lab. The NMSU-HHMI program aims to expand research opportunities to undergraduates through a variety of projects.

"Through these projects, I learned how to conceive, develop, execute and interpret a research project," Hogan said. "Having the opportunity to work in labs at NMSU gave me the experience necessary to apply to other programs."

In 2006, Hogan spent the summer interning at the Department of Defense's Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. The experience led to his senior thesis on algal biofuels.

"Not only did my experience with HHMI help me get into this program, HHMI also supported my travels to and from the internship as part the HHMI's summer intensive research, an integral component of the program," Hogan said.

At NMSU, Hogan was also a member of the Pride of New Mexico Marching band during his sophomore year, and a recipient of the NMSU President's Associates Scholarship program, the university's most prestigious scholarship for incoming freshman.

His future plans include a career in higher education, where he can begin a research program and mentor students.

"Before that, however, I would like to be in industry for a while to gain real-world experience," he said. "I am passionate about reducing humanity's impact on the environment, so I would like to find a position at an environmental consulting firm or as an environmental manager."