College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Graduate School

Two Clemson University Ph.D. students selected for high-profile research program


Two Clemson University Ph.D. students are headed to national labs this summer to conduct research after the U.S. Department of Energy selected them for a program that provides a monthly stipend up to $3,000.

Robert Underwood will be going Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, and Allison Yaguchi is headed for National Renewable Energy Laboratory near Denver.

Allison Yaguchi, left, and Robert Underwood are headed to national labs for research after being selected for a U.S. Department of Energy program.
Allison Yaguchi, left, and Robert Underwood are headed to national labs for research after being selected for a U.S. Department of Energy program.

Underwood and Yaguchi were selected for the Energy Department’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program. The most recent crop included 70 students from 52 universities across the country.

Underwood is pursuing his Ph.D. in computer science and is part of Clemson’s Resilient Infrastructure Systems program. Yaguchi is seeking a Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

Among those congratulating Underwood and Yaguchi was Douglas Hirt, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Clemson University College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

“This program will give them access to the expertise, resources and capabilities available in national labs,” Hirt said. “It is an excellent opportunity for Robert and Allison to advance their theses– and it is well-deserved.”

In a written statement, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said, “These graduate student awards prepare young scientists for STEM careers critically important to the DOE mission.

“We are proud of the accomplishments these outstanding awardees have already made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come. They represent the future leadership and innovation that will allow American science and engineering to excel in the 21st century.”

Underwood leaves for Argonne in June and expects to return to Clemson six months later. Yaguchi plans to to leave for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in June and return in three months.

Both Underwood and Yaguchi said they would like to work in academia after receiving their doctorate degrees.

Here is a brief look at their research:


Robert Underwood

Underwood’s research area is applied mathematics. He said that while computer processing power is getting faster, memory is not keeping up. As a result, researchers are using data-reduction techniques to make data smaller, similar to a zip file.

The trouble is that some of the data is lost. For scientists conducting a study, the question is whether too much of the data is lost, spoiling the study.

Underwood said he wants to make the data-reduction techniques approachable for the average computational engineer and computational data scientist.

“Right now, you need an expert to figure out how much error you can tolerate before something goes terribly wrong,” Underwood said.

Underwood is conducting his research under Amy Apon, professor and Chair of the Division of Computer Science in the School of Computing, and Jon Calhoun, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

He will be working with senior computer scientist Franck Cappello at Argonne.


Allison Yaguchi

Yaguchi’s research area is computational biology and bioinformatics. She uses yeast to break down lignin, a wood-processing waste product, into fatty acids. Those fatty acids could then be turned into high-value chemicals, such as omega-3 fatty acids and biofuels, she said.

“The type of yeast I’m working on has the potential to change the bioeconomy,” Yaguchi said. “There is a lot of wasted lignin in paper processing and biomass crops, but we don’t know how to access it with microbes. This project helps better understand the genome, where an organisms’ instructions are encoded, so we know how to further improve lignin use.”

Costs to make those products could be lowered, if researchers can find a way to process the lignin at a larger scale, Yaguchi said.

Yaguchi is conducting her research under Mark Blenner, the McQueen-Quattlebaum Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Yaguchi will be working with senior research fellow Gregg Beckham.



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