student conducting research
Kevin Kam is a 2017 UH Mānoa graduate and a current PhD student at Columbia University.

A current University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Engineering senior and a recent graduate have each been awarded a $135,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. They are two out of only 59 electrical engineering students selected nationwide.

Nicholas Yama

Nicholas Yama is in his final semester at UH Mānoa and is scheduled to be a PhD student at the University of Washington in fall 2020. Yama said the funding will cover his educational and living expenses.

Nick Yama's headshot
Nicholas Yama

“Beyond the financial security it provides, it also alleviates the stress on my PhD advisor to find funding for me from their own grants,” Yama said. “This means that I’ll be able to be more flexible with what projects I work on what research interests I can pursue.”

Yama said he is considering a career path in research due to his experiences with UH Mānoa’s Vertically Integrated Projects in microbiotics and liquid-metal electronics, and his advisors UH Mānoa Professors Wayne Shiroma and Aaron Ohta. One of his projects was to characterize the electronic properties of sodium hydroxide (NaOH).

“The NaOH enables us to reconfigure the liquid metal electronically but we weren’t sure exactly how it affected the performance of the devices (in the lab),” Yama said. “Our work measured the relevant electronic properties, fitted it to theoretical models and used the data to simulate devices using software. Using the results of this project, we’ve been able to design a liquid-metal device and are hoping to apply it to other domains where liquid metal can be used.”

Kevin Kam

Kevin Kam graduated from UH Mānoa in 2017 and is currently a PhD student at Columbia University. Kam said the award will help fund his PhD research on designing rechargeable implantable bio-potential monitoring devices for wild rats.

Kevin Kam headshot
Kevin Kam

“New York City is home to a ton of wild rats. In collaboration with the Columbia University Medical Center, the goal of this project is to implant wild rat colonies with these devices to study the stress-induced pathophysiology of wild rats versus laboratory rats,” Kam said.

As an undergraduate student, Kam said he worked on a project involving ferromagnetic materials to create configurable radio frequency circuits using liquid metal with Shiroma, Ohta, graduate student mentors and other UH Mānoa alumni.

“The vertically integrated project was fun as it allowed me to gain more responsibility in the group as I progressed through my degree,” said Kam, a two-time Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program awardee.

This is the fourth consecutive year at least one UH Mānoa electrical engineering student has won the fellowship award. Sasha Yamada, a 2019 award winner, is pursuing a master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Pooja Nuti earned the award in 2018 and George Zhang won the award in 2017.

—By Marc Arakaki