Pfiester earns Mistletoe Research Fellowship to study sustainable technologies


Nicole Pfiester Latham, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering (ECE), won the Mistletoe Research Fellowship for 2020-2021.

The Ohio State University partnered with the Momental Foundation to support the program, which offers a combination of career and funding support for postdoctoral scholars by providing $10,000 in unrestricted research funding, along with professional development training via remote entrepreneurial collaboration. The grants go toward research advancing sustainability through technology.

Pfiester is a President’s Postdoctoral Scholar with ECE Professor Sanjay Krishna’s Infrared Detector Lab. She uses resonant structures to reduce the dark current in infrared photodetectors based on Type II superlattice materials. 

As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, she received the first Joint-PhD in Electrical Engineering and Materials Science Engineering from Tufts University for her work on metamaterial selective emitters and filters in the near infrared. She received a B.S. in Physics from Purdue University, where she worked with self-assembled GaN nanowires grown via molecular beam epitaxy.  Her research interests include combining physics and materials science approaches to improve the performance of electrical devices, with an emphasis on light manipulation and sensing. 

According to the Ohio State Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, all Mistletoe Research Fellows participate in two programs designed to build communication and project management skills that will help them to succeed and work more effectively with outside collaborators, whether they seek industry careers or to pursue a position in academia.

Pfiester said the fellowship allows her to use funding for her research, and participate in the StartUp Collaboration, which pairs fellows with startups as consultants for their product development. The Mistletoe Fellows collaborate in areas such as Sustainability, Civil Society, and Autonomy/Mobility.

“The startups all aim at improving the world,” Pfiester said. “I think the 'Civil Society' topic better aligns with my skills, but I could fit into any of them, depending on what problem is trying to be solved."

Pfiester said the Sustainability area promotes science and community-driven approaches to environmental sustainability. Topics include permaculture, sustainable consumption and recycling, cleaning pollutants and debris. The Civil Society area addresses the development of solutions and platforms for disaster relief, civic participation, and skills-building. Topics also include emergency response, remote collaboration and communication platforms, and building commons-based resources. The Autonomy/Mobility area focuses on the design of products and services that empower independence, self-sufficiency, and geographical-movement at personal and community levels. Topics include off-grid solutions, personal mobility, human-centered design, remote education, and wellness/bioinformatics.

The Mistletoe Research Fellowship previously led students across the world to take part in technology workshops, but during the pandemic all Research Fellows and MRF Startups will be part of the same community within the OLC and all will attend a single Virtual Match Workshop event. The Virtual Match Workshop takes place Friday, October 23 to Monday, October 26.

“At the Momental Foundation, it is our belief that unfettered research – without pre-negotiated deliverables – is necessary to produce the kinds of scientific and technological advances with the potential to change the world,” said Jennifer Reynolds-Kaye, PhD Director of University Relations, Momental Foundation.

Originally founded in 2017 as the "Mistletoe Foundation," the Momental Foundation is a grantmaking accelerator. Its mission is to build bridges between the academic, entrepreneurial, and civil communities to create a more human-centered and sustainable future through technology. 

First piloted in 2018,  the Mistletoe Research Fellowship (MRF) initiative partners with 11 top universities - 10 in the United States and one in Singapore.  Each year, over one thousand startups are pre-screened before issuing up to 50 limited invitations to apply to its accelerator program, with up to 20 startups being chosen as finalists for video interviews prior to cohort selection. In 2020,  due to COVID-19, the Momental Foundation will run a smaller program, accepting 12 Mistletoe Research Fellows and three MRF Startups to participate.

Story by Ryan Horns, ECE/IMR Communications Specialist | | @OhioStateECE