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A legacy of student support and research excellence

By Lindsey Doermann
October 15, 2020

ChemE launches the Berg Endowed Fellowship

It was Ryan Gharios’s first year of grad school, and his motivation was waning as he put in long hours studying for a final. That is, until one morning when he woke up early to find an email from department chair Jim Pfaendtner informing him he’d been awarded the John C. Berg Endowed Fellowship. “It was definitely a morale booster,” says Gharios.

Now in his second year and part of Professor Cole DeForest’s group, Gharios is the first recipient of the Berg Fellowship. Longtime ChemE professor and philanthropist John Berg was thrilled to start supporting students in the 2019-2020 academic year, after growing the fellowship fund for several years.

“The grad student population is the heart and soul of the department,” says Professor Berg. However, as the cost of living in Seattle ticked upwards, he saw more and more how students were having a tough time getting enough support to live and study at the UW. He recognized an opportunity to make a difference for these ChemE trainees — and to provide a consistent source of support that smooths out the inevitable peaks and troughs in research funding.

professor john berg with ryan gharios

Ryan Gharios with Professor John Berg


It certainly made an impact for Gharios. A citizen of Lebanon, he has found it particularly difficult to find fellowship support for his UW ChemE education. Many fellowships are available only to US nationals, and that makes others extremely competitive among international students.

With the Berg Fellowship, he can focus more intently on his research in the DeForest lab. His work combines his interests in advanced materials and molecular biology. He’s designing light-responsive proteins that can reveal basic biological phenomena — how cells communicate, for example. Insights from the research could have applications in tissue engineering.

Gharios views Professor Berg as a mentor. After more than 50 years on the ChemE faculty, countless students similarly hold him in this high esteem. Berg has also bolstered the department’s research reputation. An expert in interfacial and colloid science, he has positioned UW ChemE as a leader in those areas. He has also authored a best-selling textbook in the area which has been adopted by universities throughout the world. “We are one of the only departments that has a required undergraduate course in this area,” he likes to point out. The Berg Fellowship supports a student whose work relates to surface, interfacial, and colloid science.

Through the fellowship and his philanthropy more broadly, Professor Berg hopes to establish a lasting legacy — in the research program he’s cultivated over decades, and crucially, in support of students.


Give online to support the John C. Berg Endowed Fellowship