Doctoral student Assad Khan, in the chemistry department of the College of Science, has been recognized as the 2019 Graduate Student of the Year for his academic achievements, focused and selfless service, and commitment to citizen scholarship.

Khan works in Assistant Professor Guoliang (Greg) Liu’s research lab, where he studies plasmonic nanoparticles and polymer nanocomposites with potential applications in energy-efficient optical coatings for windows, electronics, and acoustics. Originally from Pakistan, Khan said he was led to Blacksburg by his deep curiosity about the use of polymeric materials for energy-related applications.

During his time at Virginia Tech, Khan has authored nine peer-reviewed publications and given nine oral presentations at national conferences and countless poster presentations. He was the first recipient of the William H. Starnes Jr. and Sofia M. Starnes Endowed Chemistry Fellowship, established to recognize outstanding research achievement by a chemistry graduate student.

“He not only does great science himself, but also leads his fellow group members in many aspects, from challenging the scientific frontier to patrolling a safe lab, and to mentoring younger students in the lab,” Liu said.

Many undergraduate students shadow Khan as part of their requirements. Some students take an interest in lab work after that experience, and those who eventually ask to work in the lab with Khan come from a variety of disciplines, from chemistry and materials science to nanoscience and chemical engineering. Khan said he views his role as a mentor to undergraduate students not only an opportunity to refine and develop his interpersonal skills outside the lab, but also as a chance for collaboration.

“Science requires teamwork and collaboration,” Assad said. “Driving and mentoring a team of dedicated and invested young scientists and engineers proved an astounding experience for myself and them.”

Within the lab, he has mentored eight undergraduate and graduate students, and the team’s work led to three co-authored publications. For many of the undergraduates, the experience fueled their interest in a chemistry research lab, and some have pursued graduate school at universities that include Virginia Tech, Rice University, and Wake Forest University.

Khan’s journey as a graduate student will soon come to a close as he wraps up his research and dissertation during the summer. He hopes to go into industry with a focus on application-driven generation and development of materials.

Written by Corrin Lundquist