Caltech Announces Hertz Graduate Fellows

Philip Kocheril, who studies physical chemistry at Caltech, is one of 15 graduate students in the United States granted five years of sponsored graduate study by the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. Two additional 2023 Hertz fellows will join Kocheril at Caltech as incoming students next fall: Anjali Gurajapu from UC Berkeley and Adele Payman from Georgia Tech.

Kocheril, Gurajapu, and Payman will join a group of 1,200 Hertz Fellows, past and present. “A Hertz Fellowship not only provides catalytic support during one’s graduate career; being awarded a fellowship welcomes fellows into a community that can accelerate impact for a lifetime,” says Philip Welkhoff, a 2004 Hertz fellow who now sits on the foundation’s board of directors.

Kocheril graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 2021, where he worked on infrared spectroscopy, organic synthesis, and computational modeling projects, all while playing solo trumpet for the UIUC Concert Jazz Band and writing new jazz compositions.

Prior to coming to Caltech, Kocheril developed biosensor assays and instrumentation and studied lipoprotein biophysics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. At Caltech, Kocheril works with nonlinear spectroscopic techniques in the laboratory of Lu Wei, assistant professor of chemistry and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, to characterize the photophysical dynamics of biochemical systems.

Kocheril credits current Caltech Hertz Fellows Emily Geyman, Nathanael Kazmierczak, and Sasha Alabugin with helping him through the application process. “Given my experiences with Caltech’s Hertz Fellows,” Kocheril says, “I am especially excited about meeting the rest of the Hertz community.”

Gurajapu is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley, where she majored in chemistry and data science. Her goal is to use computational science to make organic synthesis more efficient, which could have potential applications in medicine.

Payman, who studied aerospace engineering as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, will focus on applied physics at Caltech. According to a bio provided by the Hertz Foundation, she is particularly interested in plasma physics, particularly in exploring how a deeper understanding of astrophysical plasmas may lead to innovations in propulsion mechanisms for deep space exploration. Payman interned at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA, every summer during her undergraduate career, and she looks forward to collaborations with JPL while at Caltech.

“There’s a unique character to Hertz Fellows—curious, self-aware—they have a fire in their bellies and a desire to share their research,” says Stephen Fantone, chair of the Hertz Foundation board of directors, in the Hertz Foundation’s press release about the 2023 Fellows.

The Hertz fellowship is more than just a one-time prize, says Lauren Stolper, director of fellowships advising and study abroad at Caltech. “The Hertz Foundation continues to support their fellows throughout their graduate studies and careers with events such as scientific symposia, career development workshops, and social networking opportunities. This is a distinctive aspect of the Hertz Fellowship.”

John Hertz, an immigrant from Hungary who became successful in the auto industry in the first half of the twentieth century, in 1957 bequeathed his multimillion-dollar fortune to establish a scholarship fund for engineers as a way, he said, “to show my gratitude and love for America.” In 1963, the Hertz Foundation pioneered the Hertz Fellowship for graduate studies in science and technology, with an emphasis in solving real-world problems.