Caltech: Hertz Graduate Fellows Announced

Twelve graduate students have been named 2021 Hertz fellows by the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, three of whom have a connection to Caltech. The Caltech students are: undergraduate student Alexander Zlokapa, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in physics this year and plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study quantum computers and neural networks; current graduate student Nathanael Kazmierczak, who seeks to encode and process information using individual molecules instead of electronics; and Emily Geyman, who will study perturbations to Earth’s climate across history to help reduce greenhouse emissions.

According to the foundation’s news release, the Hertz Fellowship “supports five years of graduate research and the freedom to pursue innovative ideas wherever they may lead. The fellowship empowers these extraordinary innovators at a pivotal point in their careers, helping to shape their scientific pursuits and accelerate real-world impact.”

“The Hertz Fellowship gives students freedom to work on the topics they are most passionate about,” says Zlokapa. “I think the fellowship’s academic focus closely aligns with the mindset that Caltech cultivates in its students, so the program is an excellent fit for pursuing research.”

At MIT, Zlokapa plans to investigate how quantum computers of the future can speed up neural networks and other forms of AI (artificial intelligence), which could help create more powerful algorithms that learn from larger datasets. Though quantum computers are still in early stages of development, researchers are busy figuring out what kinds of problems the machines could address. Zlokapa says that neural networks are a great example of a tool that could benefit from quantum computers.

Kazmierczak is a chemistry graduate student at Caltech and uses molecular quantum bits to sense chemical microenvironments, with implications for medicine, catalysis, and energy conversion. Kazmierczak received bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and music from Calvin University in 2020.

Geyman, a geoscientist, spent the last two years living in the Arctic Circle in Norway, as a Daniel M. Sachs Global Scholar at Princeton University. She is now developing models to simulate how glaciers will respond to a warmer, wetter climate and contribute to sea level rise in the coming century. She received a bachelor’s degree in geosciences from Princeton University in 2019 and will begin her PhD at Caltech in the fall of 2021.

Every year, the Hertz Foundation awards fellowships to around a dozen students. The Hertz Foundation is the legacy of John Hertz, a Hungarian immigrant who became an entrepreneur in the automotive industry. The foundation has been supporting budding scientists and engineers for 60 years.

“The Hertz is a fellowship sought by many Caltech seniors planning on PhD study in STEM fields and early stage graduate students,” says Lauren Stolper, director of fellowships and study abroad. “The competition is intense and the process stimulates students to think through their goals for graduate study and their professional career. While a small number of fellowships are awarded, the process itself of applying to the Hertz is a stimulating one. In the fall, the Office of Fellowships Advising and Study Abroad will provide essay review and advising for seniors, Caltech graduate students, and alumni who are Hertz applicants.”