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ASU's first Churchill Scholarship awarded to chemical engineer


Christopher Balzer, the first ASU student to receive the prestigious Churchill Scholarship, works in chemical engineering assistant professor Bin Mu's lab. Balzer credits his research experience with Mu as a contributing factor to receiving the scholarship. Photo by Robert Mayfield/ASU

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January 26, 2017

Today Christopher Balzer became the first student from Arizona State University to ever receive the prestigious Churchill Scholarship.

Since 1963, the Churchill Scholarship has been awarded to exceptional science and engineering students to fund graduate studies at the University of Cambridge.

After graduating from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy with his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in this spring, Balzer will make the trip across the pond to the United Kingdom in September. He’ll begin pursuing his master’s degree in advanced chemical engineering come October.

Scholars are chosen based on outstanding academic achievement, personal qualities and a demonstrated interest in research. The Churchill Scholarship was established to honor Winston Churchill’s vision of U.S.-U.K. scientific exchange with the goal of advancing science and technology and helping to ensure the prosperity and security of both nations.

Balzer, a student in Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, said he first heard about the opportunity from the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Barrett. ASU has been participating in the scholarship program run by the Churchill Foundation for only the past four years.

“I’m the first but definitely not the last,” Balzer said of receiving the scholarship. “It’s an honor to be first, considering some of the great scholars who have applied from ASU in the past few years. Someone had to be first, and I’m happy I get the chance to represent ASU at Cambridge.”

A component of the scholarship revolves around research, which Balzer is no stranger to as a three-semester participant in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative. At Cambridge, he’ll work with professor David Fairen-Jimenez, who heads the university’s Advanced Materials Research Group. Balzer will contribute to ongoing work with modeling metal-organic frameworks for carbon capture.

“While alternative technologies are developing, carbon-capture technology can be implemented into current systems to ‘stop the bleeding’ in a way,” said Balzer, who noted that his future work will align closely with his current research in chemical engineering assistant professor Bin Mu’s lab.

In fact, Balzer credits his extensive experience under Mu as a factor in his success.

“It’s clear that my research experience in Dr. Bin Mu’s lab has put me in the position to be competitive for a program like this,” he said. “I’ve had incredible support along the way, especially from doctoral student Mitchell Armstrong and Dr. Mu. They’ve trusted me to take on my own projects and work on a lot of different projects. Not many undergraduates get the chance to present at several conferences, be a part of publications early on, and even first-author a publication. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without their help.”

Balzer also credits support from internal ASU scholarships, as well as the Goldwater Scholarship for allowing him to focus on his research and studies. Balzer was one of three ASU engineering students to receive the Goldwater Scholarship in 2016, which recognizes excellence in science, math and engineering.

Christopher Balzer

Balzer said he’s interested to see the difference in curriculum at Cambridge.

“While the core classes in the program are mostly the same as they would be in the U.S., some of the electives focus more on the managerial and business aspects of chemical engineering, which is something you don’t really see in U.S. graduate programs,” he said. “I’m excited to get a new perspective from the classes as well as from the diverse instructors and students at Cambridge.”

In addition to looking forward to the research and educational opportunities of the scholarship, Balzer is also excited to study and live in the United Kingdom.

“I’ve never studied abroad before,” said Balzer. “With the breaks between terms being so long, I plan to travel to some of the countries I’ve always wanted to go to — mostly to see historical sites and museums that I’m interested in.”

After completing his studies at Cambridge, Balzer plans on pursuing his doctoral degree.

In addition to his research colleagues, he extends gratitude to Kyle Mox, Brian Goehner and Laura Sells at the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at ASU for all their help with both the Goldwater and Churchill scholarships.

“Other than that, I’d like to thank my family for their support of all of the opportunities I pursue,” Balzer said. “No one gets these scholarships alone — it’s something built over years of support.”

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