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Two Caltech Students Named Hertz Graduate Fellows

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation annually grants fellowships to exceptional students to fund their graduate study. This year, of the 18 students named Hertz Fellows, two are Caltech students: PhD student Andrew Laeuger and spring 2024 BS graduate Virginia Canestraight.

Hertz Fellows receive five years of funding for their graduate studies so that they may "pursue research that best advances our nation's security and economic vitality," according to the Hertz Foundation's press release.

Canestraight, a native of Okemos, Michigan, will soon graduate from Caltech with a BS in chemical engineering and begin her PhD in materials science and mechanical engineering at Harvard.

During her undergraduate career, Canestraight worked in the lab of Jonas Peters, Bren Professor of Chemistry and director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute, studying the effects of mass transport on electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction to value-added fuels like methane and ethylene. As a student in Mike Vicic's class, Optimal Design of Chemical Systems, Canestraight participated in a challenge to synthesize hydrogen fuel from seawater. She spent the past year developing numerical tools to model large-scale ocean degassing technology with Captura, a Pasadena-based start-up founded by Chengxiang Xiang, research professor of applied physics and materials science, and Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, Otis Booth Leadership Chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and director of the Liquid Sunlight Alliance. Captura develops technologies that can be scaled to remove carbon dioxide from the ocean, allowing it to then absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help restore Earth's climate.

Supported by the Hertz Foundation and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Canestraight will join Zachary Schiffer's lab at Harvard to push the boundaries of electrochemical engineering for sustainable chemical synthesis.

Laeuger, who hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a PhD student in theoretical physics at Caltech. He aspires to predict the gravitational signatures of as-yet-undiscovered physical phenomena, with the hope that these can be sought and found in gravitational-wave observations. At Northwestern University, where Laeuger was an undergraduate, he helped to develop a novel high-frequency gravitational-wave detector to aid in this search.

"The 2024 Hertz Fellows embody the kind of transformative scientific talent needed to make an enduring impact on our nation and the world," Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, said in the press release. "We are proud to welcome them to the community of visionary researchers that the Hertz Foundation has supported for more than six decades."

Canestraight and Laeuger will be joining a network of more than 1,300 Hertz Fellows from over the past 60 years, including two Nobel laureates, and numerous recipients of MacArthur Foundation "genius awards," the Fields Medal, the National Medal of Technology, and the National Medal of Science.

Written by Cynthia Eller

Cynthia Eller