Meet Alanna Gado

Alanna Gado is a second-year Ph.D. student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the President of the 2022-2023 John Lof cohort.

As the leader of John Lof, Gado has a lot of great plans for the future. One of those plans is to tackle food insecurity that affects graduate students, the newest initiative that members pledged to fight this year.

“We are working on ways to both bring awareness and work on figuring out solutions for that. Even though John Lof is a couple of years old, it’s up to us to expand outside of our regular workshops and activities into what we can do for the university,” Gado said. 

The cohort is building a framework for a website with various resources on the UConn campus for college students to understand nutrition and find cheap and easy meals. They also have to gather data on graduate food insecurity to figure out what resources would be the most useful.

Gado’s work is parallel to her research with hydrogen fuel cells and advocacy for renewable energy. She works at the Center for Clean Energy Engineering group at UConn, which focuses on research and outreach concerning electrochemical systems, power electronics, and more. Her mentors include President Radenka Maric and research scientist Leonard Bonville.

“My favorite thing, even though I come in every day, and I work long hours, is facing new problems and figuring out those puzzles every day. We’ve had high schoolers and middle schoolers come in to see instructional classes. We did demos where they saw a functioning fuel cell. And it’s nice to see that super young people are actually interested in this because when I was young, engineering seemed pretty boring,” Gado said. 

Her interest in hydrogen fuel technology was directed by internships at Proton OnSite and Nel Hydrogen. At Proton Onsite, she focused on improving the efficiency of membrane water electrolyzers. That makes the fuel cells more efficient.

At Nel Hydrogen, they made industrial-scale electrolyzers for companies. She was on the small-scale R&D team, testing the durability of different catalysts.

According to Gado, it’s important to advocate for hydrogen as it is not only a cleaner energy source than fossil fuels, but it also can lead to self-sufficient energy production for countries. For hydrogen, water from anywhere can be used and outmatches fossil fuels in availability. 

That leads to her current research. Through an analysis method called distribution relaxation times, Gado can analyze specific processes and their contribution to the objective performance of a fuel cell. Taking a closer look at these processes can mean identifying areas of improvement for fuel cell efficiency. 

She also has an extensive history of research, having worked on 5 published papers. There’s also a diversity in her work history, where she helped maintain roadside trees as part of Stormwise. 

Gado has been at UConn for her entire educational history. Her Master’s in Advanced Systems Engineering combined aspects of chemical, mechanical engineering, and material science engineering. But, she first heard about John Lof through her lab mates.

For the first year, r favorite speaker was Doug Young from Northrop Grumman. It was nice to hear from a successful UConn alum who had tackled all of these problems in the industry. 

Now that she is the president, she oversees the organization of workshops. A few weeks ago, she participated in her favorite workshop. They had a prompt where they were put into teams and had to rank the importance of items in imagined scenarios.

A semester passed and Gado was asked how John Lof has changed her definition of leadership.

“Before John Lof, I was still learning how to do grad school. I just didn’t feel confident in myself when people would ask me questions about situations that we’re facing on the research or social sides. Now, I feel a lot more assertive. Even if I don’t really understand a solution for their problem, I feel stronger in my ability to help them find a solution or help them work through it,” Gado said.