The University of Texas at Dallas

Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science


Student Receives Goldwater Scholarship

Electrical Engineering Student Receives Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

August 5, 2016

When Hans Ajieren began working in a materials science lab as a freshman at UT Dallas, he was placed on a team working to develop a new cochlear implant made from shape memory polymer, a material that changes its mechanical properties in response to changes in temperature.

“We are designing an implant that can recover into the shape of the cochlea once it heats up to body temperature. I was sold on the idea the moment I heard about it,” Ajieren said.

Hans Ajieren

His efforts now have garnered national recognition. Ajieren, an electrical engineering junior in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and a McDermott Scholar, has received a full scholarship from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

Another Jonsson School student, Muhammad Akram, a mechanical engineering senior, received an honorable mention. Two UT Dallas students in other schools also received honorable mentions.

This is the first time that all four UT Dallas nominees were recognized. Because universities can nominate only four students a year, the selection is “very vigorous,” said Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Honors College and clinical professor of political science.

“Beyond the honorifics for the individual scholars, our showing in the Goldwater competition highlights the University’s institutional maturity in being able to give such a deep field of outstanding undergraduates,” Dow said.

Ajieren, a graduate of the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, was tasked in the Advanced Polymer Research Lab of Dr. Walter Voit, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, with developing an electronic device to insert the shape memory polymer cochlear implants. He has completed the device and is fine-tuning its thermal and mechanical controls. This summer, Ajieren researched implantable devices in a biomedical engineering lab at Purdue University.

Voit said Ajieren’s personality and technical competence make him an excellent role model who inspires other students.

“Hans is a bright, dynamic innovator, thinker and scholar. As an undergraduate researcher, Hans exceeds expectations and is the kind of problem solver and tinkerer that will be a future leader in his generation,” Voit said. “Hans helps foster the engaging, dynamic culture that makes research enterprises such as our Advanced Polymer Research Lab fun, yet challenging, places to be creative and tackle problems with a technical mindset.”

Eventually, Ajieren plans to earn a PhD in electrical engineering and continue researching innovative devices for the medical field, focusing his work on wireless signaling and power management. 

“Academia is the place for cutting-edge research, for those big dreams we’re not sure will even pan out yet,” Ajieren said. “Electrical engineering offers solutions to a number of nervous system disorders. I see bioelectronics research as the most rewarding place to take my degree right now.”

Akram also has done undergraduate research at UT Dallas.

Akram has worked in the labs of two assistant professors of mechanical engineering: researching biomechanics with Dr. Majid Minary and robotics with Dr. Yonas Tadesee. Last summer, he studied how to optimize silicon chips for maximum energy at Stanford University.

Akram has a personal reason for wanting to research how to develop neuro-interfacing devices that can help regenerate nerves. Since birth, Akram has had Bell’s palsy, which has left half his face paralyzed.

“My brother has Bell’s palsy as well, but to a lesser extent. I wanted to come to UT Dallas to figure it out,” Akram said.

He plans to pursue a graduate degree and continue working with different materials to develop implantable biomedical devices.