Events & Media

Sept. 23, 2016

A Bren School Scholar Heads East to Move Up
During seven years at Bren, Adeyemi Adeleye earned a master's and a PhD, started a family, and became a first-rate researcher. Now, a prestigious fellowship is leading him to Rhode Island.

Adeyemi Adeleye

When Adeyemi “Yemi” Adeleye left Nigeria in 2009 to pursue a master’s degree at the Bren School, it was his first time traveling abroad. As he leaves Santa Barbara this weekend bound for an EPA lab in Rhode Island, he takes with him not only a MESM degree (2011), but also a PhD (2015) and years of experience in Bren professor Arturo Keller’s lab, first as a MESM research assistant and more recently as a postdoctoral researcher.

Oh yes, in the seven years he has been here, Yemi also married and had a son, who is now four.
“This has been my home since I left Nigeria,” he says. “I’ve come here almost every day for the past seven years. I’ve become used to it, and I love it here.”

He is leaving Bren now to pursue opportunities available to him as the recipient of a prestigious and highly competitive National Research Council Research Associateship Program Fellowship, awarded under the auspices of the National Academies of Sciences.

"I am very proud that Yemi has obtained this prestigious NRC Fellowship,” said Bren professor Arturo Keller, who served as Yemi's PhD advisor. “He earned it through his dedication, creativity, perseverance, and charisma. He is a fantastic researcher and mentor, and just a great guy to have around. He will definitely be missed by all of us, particularly me, but I know we will hear of his great accomplishments in the future, and he knows he will always be received here with open arms."

The NRC fellowship program places promising young scientists in research labs at federal government agencies. Some three hundred fellowships are awarded each year from a pool of up to one thousand applicants from around the world. To be considered, applicants must propose a research agenda they wish to pursue. Yemi proposed research to address uncertainties regarding the behavior ― and thus, the environmental implications ― of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) in marine systems. He plans to focus on graphene, a relatively new nanoparticle that is coming into wider use.

After a brilliant undergraduate career studying microbiology, Yemi wanted to pursue a PhD at Bren but also wanted to switch his focus, though he wasn’t sure of his new direction. Concerned that he might not get in to a PhD program at UCSB or Bren, he applied for the Bren School professional master’s program. Though the MESM degree is not intended as a prelude to the PhD track but may serve as one, Yemi recalls thinking “It would give me a good start to new direction and provide a basis for anyone who might evaluate me as a potential PhD student.”

He recalls being impressed from day one by the "friendliness and flexibility of the staff and their willingness to help a rookie."

Yemi’s Bren School Master’s Group Project focused on developing health and safety guidelines for the then-nascent nanotechnology industry. He also worked as an assistant in the lab of his Group Project advisor, Bren professor Patricia Holden, who leads a microbiology research group for the UC Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology. Keller is associate director of the global collaboration, based at UCLA, for which Bren professors Hunter Lenihan and Sangwon Suh also lead focused research.

Originally, Yemi had intended to return to Nigeria to work on remediating pollution from the large petroleum industry there, but he then realized that plenty of solutions to those problems already existed and that the real problem was that they weren’t being used, so he chose the nano direction.

“Before I came to Bren, I had no idea what a nanoparticle was,” he says with a laugh, but once he began studying ENPs, “I thought I could make a meaningful contribution to a new field.”

Now, seven years later, he has developed substantial expertise in how nanoparticles behave in aquatic systems. He gives some of the credit for his success to Keller, his longtime mentor, describing him as someone who “creates the motivation to work hard. He gives you the freedom to create your own experiments and ask your own questions. He helped me tap into my own creativity while continuing to focus on the overall goal of the lab.”

Yemi hopes to become a professor, and sees the NRC fellowship as an important step in that direction, enabling him to expand his professional network and make his mark as a researcher beyond the university environment while experiencing how government uses research to solve real-world problems.
The Bren School wishes Yemi safe travels and much continued success.