Engineering Alumna Earns Prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

photo of stanford university's memorial church

Stanford Memorial Church (By Yuval Helfman for AdobeStock)

Ashley David has always been a competitor. She was a Florida State University track team member while getting her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2023. She is now an engineering graduate student at Stanford University.

After earning numerous research awards, David’s latest investigation was rewarded with a fellowship from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). She will receive a stipend of $37,000 for three years (within a five-year fellowship period) and a $16,000 allowance for educational expenses such as tuition and fees.  

“Receiving the fellowship was exciting and it is rewarding to see my work pay off,” David said. “I started my Ph.D. program at Stanford shortly after graduating from FSU, which gave me time to thoroughly explore my research area (human skin) and develop a solid proposal. This funding will give me greater independence and creativity in my research, enabling me to pursue unique experiments and explore new areas that might otherwise have been out of reach.”

Photo of ashley david with dog in front of Stanford’s memorial church.
Ashley David in front of Stanford’s memorial church. (Courtesy David)

As an undergraduate, David worked in the Polymers for Advanced Energy and Sustainability Lab under Daniel Hallinan, an associate professor in chemical and biomedical engineering at the joint college. 

“I study how molecules move through the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin and explore how cosmetics and other factors like UV radiation affect it at a molecular level.”

“Ashley worked on what I consider the most novel project in my group, studying thermal diffusion in polymer electrolytes,” Hallinan said. “She is well deserving of this prestigious award due to her exceptional drive and passion to be the best and do the best work that will positively impact the world. We are proud of her achievement!”

David reflected on her time at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

“Joining Dr. Hallinan’s Lab during my junior year sparked my initial interest in research,” she said, “and it’s where I learned to use lab tools like the FTIR-ATR (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy) and wrote my first first-author paper, recently published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B.”

“Dr. Hallinan and Dean De encouraged me to present my research at various conferences such as AIChE, the Electrochemistry Society and the FSU President’s Showcase,” she continued. “These experiences helped me become skilled at presenting and explaining my work and provided valuable networking opportunities. I met many industry and academic professionals who offered advice on graduate school and more.”

David’s research at Stanford focuses on human skin and its critical role in various biological processes. She is using some of the tools she used in Hallinan’s lab, like the FTIR-ATR, to closely examine molecular changes in lipids and proteins in her research. 

“Skin is the body’s first line of defense, protecting us from external elements, regulating our body temperature and preventing dehydration,” David said. “I study how molecules move through the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin and explore how cosmetics and other factors like UV radiation affect it at a molecular level.”

David says that understanding these processes may open doors to developing more effective and personalized skincare products and treatments to boost skin health and protection. The research may give more insight into the biomechanical properties of the organ and may lead to innovative approaches to drug delivery and how medications are administered through it.
So, what’s next for David? Her new life in Northern California has given the alumna her share of adventures. She spends her weekends exploring San Francisco, hiking in national parks and visiting the beach. She said her favorite place so far has been Big Sur. 

“Since starting my summer research, I’ve focused on two main projects: comparing the stratum corneum of male vs female skin and studying how the skin’s structure changes when emulsions are applied,” David said. “The next step is to finalize my data and hopefully prepare it for publication or presentation at a conference soon. After graduating from Stanford, I aim to either start my own company focusing on sustainable skincare or pursue a position in research and development at a leading skincare company.”


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