(April 10, 2019) At the Graduate School’s annual awards banquet on March 28th, fifth-year graduate student Assad Khan was recognized as the 2019 Graduate Student of the Year. The award selection committee specifically recognized Assad’s academic achievements, his focused and selfless service and his commitment to citizen scholarship.

Assad is a fifth-year graduate student in Prof. Guoliang (Greg) Liu’s group, studying plasmonic nanoparticles and polymer nanocomposites with potential applications in energy-efficient optical coatings for windows, electronics and acoustics. Originally from Pakistan, he was led to Blacksburg by his deep curiosity about the use of polymeric materials for energy related applications.

In the final stages of his graduate career, Assad has made the most of his time at Virginia Tech, racking up nine peer-reviewed publications, nine oral presentations at national conferences, and countless poster presentations. This excellence led him to be awarded the inaugural William H. Starnes, Jr. and Sofia M. Starnes Endowed Chemistry Fellowship, established to recognize outstanding research achievement by a chemistry graduate student, but Assad’s accomplishments don’t stop there.

“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,” says Liu.

For Assad, mentoring undergraduate students comes easily and he views the role as not only an opportunity to refine and develop his interpersonal skills outside the lab, but also as a chance for collaboration.

While many students shadow Assad as part of their requirements, some students show more eagerness for lab work and the students that eventually request to work in the lab come from a variety of backgrounds, from chemistry and materials science to nanoscience and chemical engineering.

“Science requires teamwork and collaboration,” he says. “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 mentored eight undergraduate and graduate students and together, their work formed three co-authored publications. For many of them, the experience fueled their interest in a chemistry research lab, and some have even pursued graduate school, landing in places such as Virginia Tech, Rice University, and Wake Forest University.

For Assad, his journey as a graduate student will soon come to a close as he wraps up his research and thesis this summer. He hopes to go into industry with a focus towards application-driven generation and development of materials.