University of KentuckyUK Center for Applied Energy Research UK College of EngineeringNational Science Foundation

CAER Mentors

Engineers and scientists at the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky investigate technologies that reduce the impacts of energy utilization. Watch this short video for an overview of the UK CAER.


Courtney McKelphin is a junior Chemical Engineering student whose research experience at CAER, leadership position in the UK student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and experience as peer tutor make her an ideal peer mentor.

Courtney McKelphin

Courtney McKelphin, who is originally from Saint Louis, joined UK's Chemical Engineering program in 2013, being awarded both the William C. Parker and the UK Provost Scholarships. Since the spring of 2015 Courtney has been doing research within the Biofuels group of CAER, where her work focuses on the extraction of lipids from algae and the conversion of lipids to fuel-like hydrocarbons. While at CAER, Courtney has procured support for her research – in the form of grants from the UK Office of Undergraduate Research and the Research Scholar Programs of the KY NSF EPSCoR (which has featured Courtney's work commissioning a fixed bed reactor purchased with EPSCoR support) – and presented her results in a number of venues. In addition, Courtney has a strong service record, as she has been a peer tutor since 2014, participates in a number of professional societies – including the National Society of Black Engineers (where she currently serves as vice-president of the UK student chapter) – and has volunteered for a number of the community outreach activities led by CAER. Outside of school and work, Courtney enjoys riding motorcycles, cooking, baking, shopping, and traveling.

The UK CAER Analytical Services boasts an analytical laboratory that offers a variety of services ranging from sample analysis to long-term collaborative research. Mentors from this group include:

Shelley Hopps

Shelley Hopps knew that Chemistry and Kentucky were her first loves very early on. After completing a B.A. in Chemistry and Math at Transylvania University, she pursued her post-graduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where her research focus was Fast-Scan Cyclic Voltammetry and its use in monitoring dopamine release in rat striatum. She returned to Kentucky and UK to pursue additional research in radio nuclear chemistry. From 1999 to 2007, she held the position of lab director at Elemental Analysis Inc. but returned to the academic environment that she loved in March of 2007. She is currently a Senior Research Scientist with the Analytical section at UK CAER. Hiking Red River Gorge with her husband and four children is one of her favorite pastimes. Other personal interests are gardening, running, and generally anything that you can do outside.

Gerald Thomas

Gerald Thomas joined UK CAER as a chemist in 1977. He received his undergraduate degree from Miles College, a Historical Black College in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973 and did his graduate work at Auburn University in Alabama. He is currently a Principal Research Scientist and Manager of CAER's Central Analytical Laboratory. His professional affiliations include the American Chemical Society and the American Society for Testing and Materials where he has been instrumental in developing coal and coke testing procedures. His professional interests include the characterization and analysis of trace elements associated with fuel materials and their by-products. His personal interests include collecting stamps, rare coins, travel and home improvement projects. He lives in Lexington with his wife Margaret. They have two adult sons.

The UK CAER Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis research group develops renewable fuels and reduces the impacts of fuel use. Mentors from this group include:

Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez

Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez, who is originally from Mexico, joined UK first as an undergraduate research intern and then as a graduate student performing his doctoral research at UK CAER and at the University of Alicante (Spain). After obtaining his Ph.D. in 2008, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Utrecht University (The Netherlands) prior to retuning to UK CAER, where he now holds the position of Principal Research Scientist. His current research focuses on the application of heterogeneous catalysis to the production of renewable fuels and chemicals, with emphasis on the upgrading of algae oil to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels. His personal interests include geeky stuff like art, politics, current affairs and finance, but also things like lifting weights and traveling. He lives in Lexington with his wife Annabelle.

Mike Wilson

Michael Wilson, who is originally from upstate New York, holds a B.S and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology and is currently pursuing a PhD in Chemical Engineering at UK. He has over 10 years of experience in product development, systems integration, and multi-disciplinary project management and holds multiple international patents. His current research focuses on algae-based CO2 mitigation and photobioreactor design, with a special focus on student engagement via sponsoring and/or advising senior design projects and mentoring undergraduate researchers. Outside of work, Michael is an avid outdoorsman and family man spending his free time whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, camping, and hanging out with his wife and two dogs.

The UK CAER Carbon Materials research group focuses on developing viable technologies for producing high value carbon materials from Kentucky's fossil resources. The group's scope includes spinning polymers into precursors, followed by conversion to carbon fiber, the synthesis and applications of carbon nanotubes, and polymer processing, as well as the more traditional activated carbons. Mentors is this group include:

Matt Weisenberger

Dr. Matthew Weisenberger is a central Kentucky native. After receiving his M.S degree in Materials Science & Engineering from UKY in 2002, he has worked in CAER's Carbon Materials research group. His early research focused on multiwall carbon nanotube (MWCNT) composites, and MWCNT composite polyacrylonitrile and pitch-based carbon fiber for high strength applications. After achieving a Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering from UKY in 2007, his research broadened to include graphite materials for thermal management, MWCNT arrays for thermal interfaces, and coal-derived carbons for electrodes. In 2014, Dr. Weisenberger took the position of Associate Director for Carbon Materials at CAER. The group's current research, in addition to those mentioned, includes pilot-scale production of experimental precursor for carbon fiber, hollow and multi-component fiber production, pilot-scale synthesis of carbon nanotubes, and novel MWCNT composites for flexible thermoelectric coatings. The group routinely works with top UKY (and other U.S. university) students (graduate and undergraduate), students and professionals from Europe and Australia, and with a host of industrial collaborators. Dr. Weisenberger enjoys tinkering with playing guitar and flying RC helicopters.


Dr. David Eaton, PhD, is a native of Western Kentucky. He received his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Kentucky in 2002, developing new organic semiconductors for use in transistors and LEDs. Dr. Eaton is co-author of a patent that derived from this work. He was a post-doctoral scholar at the National High Magnetic Field lab where he worked on materials and tested them in the strongest magnets in the world. Prior to coming to UK, he worked as an industrial research science for 12 years, working on electrochromic compounds, materials that change color when subjected to voltage. He came to UK as a program manager in 2015 and works with the Material Technologies Group, focusing especially on carbon materials like coke, pitch and polymers, and processing of them into fibers and other forms. Dr. Eaton has supervised undergraduate students working on various projects, including numerical modeling of distillation for local distillers, growing salt-water algae for water remediation, extraction of useful compounds from Kentucky-native plants, and more. Outside of work, Dave enjoys building electronic and mechanical projects and programming computers, and spending time hiking and goofing off with his wife and two sons. /p>

The UK CAER Clean Fuels and Chemicals research group investigates the catalytic conversion of coal synthesis gas to chemicals through the process of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Mentors from this group include:

Muthu Gnanamani

Dr. Muthu Gnanamani obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Garhwal University and the Indian Institute of Petroleum in Dehradun, India, in 2007. His doctoral work included synthesis, characterization, and testing of micro and mesoporous silica supported Mo and W based hydrotreating catalysts. He then joined UK-CAER as a postdoctoral scholar under the supervision of Prof. Burtron H. Davis. There, he studied Fischer-Tropsch synthesis using cobalt and iron catalysts. His focus of research includes FT mechanistic studies using deuterium, 13C and 14C labeled isotopic tracers, hydrogenation of carbon dioxide, dehydration of alcohols, hydroisomerization of naphthanes, and photo-catalytic conversion of carbon dioxide and water to fuels and chemicals. Dr Gnananamani published more than 60 publications, 3 book chapters, and has made several presentations in national and international meetings such as the International Congress on Catalysis. He lives with his wife Jaya and two children and he loves to watch sports like tennis, soccer, and volley ball.

The Environmental and Coal Technologies research group develops construction materials from coal combustion by-products. Mentors from this group include:

Tristana Duvallet

Dr. Tristana Duvallet, who is originally from France, first came to the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research as a research intern in 2008, as part of an exchange program with a French engineering school, ESIREM, in Dijon, France. After returning to France to finish her engineering studies, she came back to CAER and enrolled in a doctoral research program in the Materials Science and Engineering department at UK in 2009, and obtained her PhD in 2014, specializing in the production of low-energy, low CO2-emitting cements through the use of by-products. She then worked as a post-doctoral scholar, and now holds the position of Research Engineer Associate in the Environmental and Coal Technologies group at CAER. Her current research focuses on the use of by-products (such as fly ash, slag, red mud, etc.) in the production of green cements. Her personal interests include cinema, video games, eating chocolate, and travelling.

Bob Jewell

Dr. Bob Jewell, was born in Wisconsin and raised in Kentucky. He came to the Lexington area as an undergraduate student in Geology and having a fascination in geological systems he continued to pursue a Master's degree as a research intern at UK CAER. Two years later he accepted a research scientist position at CAER, where he worked towards obtaining a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and now holds the position of Senior Research Engineer. His current research focuses on the beneficial utilization of industry byproducts - particularly those stemming from the generation of electricity from coal combustion - to develop sustainable construction materials. Additionally, his other research interests include functionalizing cementitious materials for smart and intelligent structures. When away from work he enjoys camping, projects that involve power tools, and traveling with his wife Meghan and twin boys Elliott and Isaac.

Anne Oberlink

Anne Oberlink joined UK CAER as a chemistry graduate student in the summer of 2009. She finished her second Masters of Science in Chemistry at UK in December 2010, and began working for NuForm Materials, LLC, a company dedicated to recycling utility-produced byproducts into different construction materials. In 2012, she began to work full time for the Environmental Coal Technologies (ECT) group at UK CAER, which investigates all aspects of coal combustion byproduct utilization. She also helps in planning the biennial World of Coal Ash Conference (WOCA), as well as the corresponding ash workshops that the UK CAER ECT group hosts. Her personal interests include volunteering with the Lexington Junior League and with the Lexington division of the American Cancer Society, participating in the Beta Sigma Phi service sorority, making stained glass art, golfing, reading, and movies.

Jim Hower

Dr. James Hower - who has been with the UK CAER since the completion of his PhD at Penn State in 1978 - is a Principal Research Scientists at CAER, albeit he also serves as an adjunct professor in UK's Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences. Jim's research interests have included a broad range of topics in coal and fly ash petrology and chemistry. He has mentored students from high school through to graduate degrees. In addition to serving on graduate committees in many departments at UK, he has played an active role in advising students at other US and international universities. Jim's personal interests include running, gardening, and reading. Jim and his wife Judy live in Lexington.

The UK CAER Power Generation and Utility Fuels research group focuses on developing viable technologies for producing clean electricity and energy from Kentucky's fossil resources and biomass. Mentors from this group include:

Xin Gao

Dr. Xin Gao, a native of Shanghai, joined the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research as a Postdoctoral Scholar after completing his PhD in Physical Chemistry at the University of Limerick in Ireland in 2012 and a MEngSc and BS in Process and Chemical Engineering at University College Cork in Ireland in 2007. He now holds the position of Senior Research Engineer at UK CAER, and his research interests include energy storage and generation, water treatment, and electrochemistry. His personal interests include cars, arts and sports.

James Landon

Dr. James Landon, originally from New Jersey, joined the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) as a Postdoctoral Scholar after completing his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 2011 and a BS in Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University in 2006. He now holds the position of Principal Research Engineer at UK CAER, and his research interests include electrocatalysis, liquid and gas phase separations including desalination and CO2 capture, electrochemical corrosion processes, and materials design and synthesis. Especially of interest are the trade-offs and interdependency of separation techniques and their energy costs such as the energy-water nexus. His personal interests include hiking, camping, tennis, some kayaking (I'm no expert!), cars, and most new technology.

Heather Nikolic

Heather Nikolic earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1995 and a MS in Materials Science and Chemical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1998. She has previous industrial experience at Dow Corning and Texas Instruments and joined UK CAER in January 2012 after taking 12 years off to raise a family. Currently she is a team leader within the Power Generation and Utility Fuels group. She leads both the bench-scale CO2 capture team and the chemical looping combustion team. She is also co-investigator and project manager for the small pilot-scale CO2 capture facility, located at EW Brown Generating Station in Harrodsburg, KY. When not at work, she spends her time as a wife and mother of three boys in Stamping Ground, Kentucky.

Ayonkule Omosebi

Dr. Ayonkule Omosebi, originally from Nigeria, joined the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) as a Postdoctoral Scholar after completing his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2013. He previously received a M.S. in Chemical Engineering from Newark Institute of Technology obtained in 2007, and a B.Sc., also in Chemical Engineering from City University of New York obtained in 2004. He now holds the position of Associate Research Engineer at UK CAER, and his research interests include electrochemical separations, energy storage and power generation, materials design and synthesis, and capacitive deionization. His personal interests include new devices and technology, racket ball, basketball, and tennis.

Andy Placido

Andrew Placido, who was born and raised in Kentucky, joined UK CAER first as an undergraduate research student and then as a graduate student working on his Master's degree with the Carbon Materials group. Upon completion of his graduate degree he was hired on as a full-time researcher in 2010. He currently holds the position of Senior Research Engineer working in the Power Generation and Utility Fuels group, where his work focuses on coal gasification and managing the coal to liquids pilot plant facility. His personal interests include sports, outdoor activities, traveling and finance. He lives in Nicholasville with his wife Tabor.

Reynolds Frimpong

Dr. Reynolds Frimpong first joined UK CAER as a postdoctoral scholar on completion of his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Kentucky in 2009. He is originally from Ghana where he obtained his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology prior to receiving his Master's degree also in Chemical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. Currently a Senior Research Engineer, his research focus is in gas-liquid phase separations - particularly developing effective processes for CO2 capture from coal combustion flue gas. Outside of work, he is an avid soccer fan and player.

The UK Solar research group develops new carbon-based materials for a wide range of electronic technologies including flexible flat-panel displays made from inkjet-printed components; low-cost solar cells; improvement of solid-state lighting; creation of new materials for light-weight batteries. Mentors from this group include:

John Anthony

Dr. John Anthony is the J. C. Hubbard Professor in the Department of Chemistry, University of Kentucky, and holds an associate position at the Center for Applied Energy Research, where his research laboratories are located. He received his B.A. from Reed College, and his Ph.D. work was completed jointly between the University of California, Los Angeles and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich, Switzerland. His research focuses on the use of carbon-based materials for applications in power generation, energy storage, high-speed computing, bio-imaging, and flexible printed electronics. He has successfully commercialized several of the materials developed in his research group, leading to longstanding collaboration with a number of large U.S. and European companies. His recent efforts in material design and synthesis have been published in journals such as Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chad Risko

Originally from a small farming community in Kansas, Dr. Chad Risko - Assistant Professor in the UK Department of Chemistry and an associate at CAER (where his lab is located) - received his PhD from the Georgia Institute of Technology and was a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University. After working as a Senior Research Scientist at Georgia Tech, Dr. Risko joined the UK and CAER in 2014. Dr. Risko's research group is engaged in developing and implementing theoretical materials chemistry approaches - aiming to uncover critical relationships among molecular composition, packing, and the resulting electronic, redox, and optical properties of novel materials - of interest for energy conversion and storage applications and new generations of electronic and optoelectronic devices. Outside of research and teaching, Dr. Risko is a semi-avid runner and spends most of his time on family adventures.