When Brian Drolet casts his gaze toward the
not-so-distant future, he sees the dawn of a global energy
crisis as the world's fossil fuel supply begins to wither.
Major developed countries like the United States still rely
almost entirely on petroleum, coal and natural gas, finite
natural resources that are being consumed faster than they
biophysics major also worries about the further strain
the burning of fossil fuels places on the environment.
Drolet says that environmental issues and energy policy, in
particular alternative energy sources, have been key
interests of his since his high school days. He says he
only scratched the surface of these topics before he came
to Johns Hopkins and wanted to use his time in college to
explore the potential of such energy alternatives as the
use of hydrogen in sustainable systems.
He would, in fact, do all that and more with the aid
of a $10,000
Woodrow Wilson fellowship award to pursue an
independent research project of his own design over the
course of his college career. He is one of 26 Wilson
fellows who on Friday, May 6, will display and discuss the
results of their research at a poster session to be held
from 3 to 5 p.m. in Homewood's Glass Pavilion.
Armed with the time and resources, Drolet set out to
determine if hydrogen can be created from renewable energy
sources, like solar or wind power, and then reliably stored
for later use in a fuel cell or furnace. He believes that
under ideal conditions a hydrogen-powered home or office is
not only feasible but would be a cheaper and
environmentally safer alternative to fossil fuel use.
Drolet says that while hydrogen technology is not yet
commercially viable, he envisions the day when hydrogen
energy can phase out reliance on the current system of
"I feel hydrogen energy can decentralize this vast
system because it can be produced and stored for later
use," Drolet says. "Now we rely on the electrical grid, and
you can see the drawbacks of that with the August 2003
power failure. In addition, the grid requires trillions of
dollars of upkeep. With a hydrogen system, paired with a
renewable energy source like solar power, we can become
responsible for our own energy demands."
Founded in 1999, the annual Woodrow Wilson
Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program allows students
in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to delve into
unconstrained research during their undergraduate
experience, mentored by distinguished
Johns Hopkins faculty. Each Wilson fellow receives a grant
of up to $10,000 to be distributed over four years to
support research expenses, including costs associated with
travel, equipment and use of archives.
The awards are given to incoming freshmen of
outstanding merit and promise and also to rising
sophomores, who receive up to $7,500 for three years. For
high school seniors, a Woodrow Wilson brochure is included
in the application packets mailed out by the Office of
Undergraduate Admissions. Current freshmen, however, must
submit a two-to-three-page proposal, a resume, a
second-semester transcript and a letter of recommendation
from a JHU faculty member who would become the student's
The award is named after the former U.S. president,
who received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins. The program
was developed for the School of Arts and Sciences by
Herbert Kessler, then dean of the school and now a
professor of art history; Steven David, associate dean for
academic affairs; and university trustee J. Barclay Knapp,
who funded the fellowships through the school's James B.
Knapp Deanship, named for his late father.
The individual research projects are designed by the
Wilson fellows, and each student has the choice of focusing
on a single long-term project, exploring several aspects of
a particular discipline or working on various short-term
undertakings in an array of fields. Students can opt to
pursue research in their own major or, if they wish, branch
off into a totally unrelated discipline.
Drolet used his funds to purchase books for research
and to pay for travel expenses to the International
Hydrogen Conference held in Toronto last fall. He was also
able to build his own working hydrogen fuel cell, which he
will demonstrate at the poster session.
He says he still can't believe his good fortune at
being selected for a Wilson.
"It's kind of a shock to the system when you learn
you've just won an award to pursue an independent research
project for your four years at school," he says.
Drolet says perhaps the highlight of his research
journey was the trip to Toronto.
"That was really inspiring," he says. "It gave me the
motivation and the idea to build the fuel cell display. For
the first time, I was working firsthand with technology
that I had been reading about in books. It's really
Subjects of other Wilson projects on display at the
Friday poster session include a biographical look at the
groundbreaking politician John Mercer Langston, poverty in
Tanzania, the impact of diamond revenues in Botswana and
genetic modifiers of Huntington's disease.
Katie Gradowski, seen here in the
Eisenhower Library, made two trips to Berlin to study
letters, exhibition catalogs and architectural plans in the
PHOTO BY HIPS/WILL KIRK
Katie Gradowski, a senior Writing
Seminars major, applied for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship
as a rising sophomore to pursue her interest in German
Gradowski started out focused on Bauhaus, specifically
the relationship between the artist Vasily Kandinsky and
the famous early-20th-century architecture school, which
sought to raise the quality of everyday life through
designs based on a modern and universal aesthetic.
"What I realized, however, as I started doing my
research was that [Bauhaus] is without a doubt one of the
most highly researched topics in modern German art," she
Gradowski, not wanting to travel over a well-worn
path, says she had to switch gears. During her early
research, she became interested in the Exhibition for
Unknown Architects, hosted in 1919 by the Arbeitsrat fur
Kunst (Worker's Council for the Arts), an association of
radical German architects, artists and critics founded in
the days of the Weimar Republic. The association included
among its members Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.
The Arbeitsrat fur Kunst saw itself, Gradowski says,
as a radical alternative to existing architecture
organizations, one whose goal was to create a new
architecture that would lead the world into a socialist
utopia--and also explore a sort of architectural fantasy
"[The organizers] appealed to a lot of radical artists
and called for works that weren't meant to be built, ones
that would be built only in the imagination," she said.
"[The Exhibition for Unknown Architects] was a fantastic
exhibition of all these amazing sketches that were
incredibly imaginative but completely and totally
For her project, Gradowski studied the roots of the
Arbeitsrat fur Kunst and traced it back to a series of
debates within an earlier movement called the Werkbund,
which also wanted to unify industry and the arts. Gradowski
says she wanted to refute the idea that the Arbeitsrat fur
Kunst was solely based on high socialist rhetoric and the
"I found that it wasn't this completely autonomous
thing that sprang up amidst this socialist fervor," she
During the past two summers, Gradowski visited Berlin
to work in the Bauhaus archives, where she perused letters,
exhibition catalogs and architectural plans. She says that
what began as an interest turned into a challenging,
character-building and very worthwhile endeavor.
"This project has been a central part of my experience
at Hopkins," she says. "Independent research is really
hard, and you need the time, at least two years, to work on
it. I found that you spend the first year messing it up and
the second year realizing what you've done wrong and fixing
it. Most of my substantial work I've done in the past year
and a half. I think that is the purpose of the Wilsons, to
teach people how to do research, not necessarily how to
create something. I'm looking at grad schools now, and I
think I will have a jump-start on the research process,
knowing how to organize a project and think out what ideas
will work, and which ones won't."