'Homegrown' Engineering Researcher at University of Virginia Lands Prestigious Truman Fellowship

April 17, 2008 — Patrick Hopkins, who is performing postdoctoral research in the University of Virginia's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has accepted the Harry S. Truman Fellowship in National Security Science and Engineering at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. He was one of two fellows selected from a field of 18 candidates.

A Charlottesville resident, Hopkins, 26, researches nanoscale heat transfer and how to control heat as the devices get smaller. Hopkins is working with devices that are 1/10,000 of the thickness of a human hair.

"It was pretty awesome," he said of receiving the fellowship. "It still has not really sunk in yet."

Sandia National Laboratories, created in 1949, is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, and is operated by the Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company. Sandia National Laboratories established the President Harry S. Truman Fellowship in National Security Science and Engineering in 2003 to attract the best new Ph.D. scientists and engineers to support its national security mission. The Truman Fellowship program offers a three-year, postdoctoral position with an annual salary of more than $100,000. Truman Fellows benefit by being able to work with some of the nation's best scientists and engineers. Sandia benefits by the expected transfer of new science and technology.

Truman Fellowship candidates are expected to have solved a major scientific or engineering problem in their thesis work or will have provided a new approach or insight to a major problem, as evidenced by a recognized impact in their field. A Truman fellow is expected to foster creativity and to stimulate exploration of forefront science and technology and high-risk, potentially high-value research and development.

Working at the Sandia Laboratory will give Hopkins opportunities to explore the research of others there and "think outside my field," he said. And it will open more research jobs for him in government or academia later, he said, because after three years at Sandia he should have skills in multiple fields of research.

Hopkins is a homegrown success. He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and a bachelor of arts degree in physics with a minor in applied mathematics at U.Va., graduating in 2004. He was a Rodman Scholar at the School of Engineering and Applied Science and began his research career with a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award.

"This is precisely the sort of thing that we hope will happen with the Harrison winners," said Ricardo Padron, chairman of the Faculty Senate, which awards the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards each year. "The award itself won't be the culmination of their work at U.Va., but a springboard for bigger and better opportunities for research and learning in the future."

As a graduate student, Hopkins, who works in engineering professor Pamela Norris' Micro/Nanoscale Heat Transfer Laboratory, received the first Award for Excellence in Scholarship in the Sciences and Engineering, and he was also a National Science Foundation Fellowship recipient. Last fall, he defended his dissertation on "Scattering processes affecting thermal boundary conductance at solid-solid interfaces in nanomaterial systems."

Hopkins said he was exploring many options, but the Truman Fellowship was his first choice.

"Patrick turned down multiple faculty position offers (that were amazingly good) to accept this fellowship," said Norris, who described Hopkins as an "experimentalist."

Norris believes Hopkins and the Sandia Laboratory will be a good fit.

"In all that Patrick has done, even as an undergraduate, he has a unique multidisciplinary approach," said Norris. "He refuses to focus on just one area of interest, but is insistent on learning about new and very different subjects so that he can fully understand concepts, rather than taking them simply at face value."

Norris thinks his abilities as "a problem solver and a visionary" have already allowed him to make significant contributions to the field of heat transfer.

Among his accomplishments, Hopkins has been a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, a Virginia Space Grant Consortium Aerospace Graduate Fellow, a member of U.Va.'s graduate "Academical Village," Virginia Space Grant Consortium Aerospace Undergraduate Research Scholar, a member of the Raven Society, Tau Beta Pi the Engineering Honor Society, Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honor Society, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He received a dean's fellowship, National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Group Achievement Award, a Double 'Hoo research grant and a Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Chairperson's Fellowship.