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Since taking her first physics class and learning about electricity and magnetism, Maria Virginia White has been drawn to the study of electrons and quantum mechanics.

White, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a second-year PhD student who expects to complete her degree in quantum chemistry in another four years. She is one of five PhD students recently honored as Tennessee Doctoral Fellows.

Tennessee Doctoral Fellows are chosen every three years; this is only the second group of fellows at UT. The fellowships are funded by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and UT’s Graduate School.

Recipients are chosen from nominations campus-wide. The three-year awards consist of a $20,000 fellowship, a 25 percent assistantship in their home department, a tuition waiver, and $2,500 for conference travel or other academic expenses. In addition, the fellows enjoy networking and professional development opportunities and are paired with a faculty mentor.

Since her introduction to physics, said White, “all my questions have revolved around understanding the electron and how it behaves. Most of quantum chemistry problems deal with solving the Schrödinger equation for a given system and understanding the electronic structure of that system. I want to contribute to the understanding of the methods that allow us to compute quantum mechanical calculations and gain understanding of what is it that is happening in molecules.”

White, whose family moved from Argentina to Miami, Florida, when she was nine, attended Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee, and then completed her bachelor’s degree at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.

“The most important thing in choosing a doctoral program for me was to find a place in which I could maximize my learning and feel like home,” she said. “UT’s chemistry department is exceptional. They notice all their students and their hard work. I think this is important to create a positive environment for all the students.

“I have had amazing professors in all my classes, and Assistant Professor Konstantinos Vogiatzis, my PhD mentor and adviser, has allowed me to work on a project that I truly love.”

White said the fellowship means a great deal to her, professionally and personally.

“It will allow me to focus more clearly on my work and dedicate my time to research adequately,” she said. “I have a son named Liam. He is three years old and he is the best thing that ever happened to me. I will be able to spend even more time with him and my family. In addition, I will be able to travel to conferences and network with people in my field.”

White aspires to teach chemistry and physics.

“I hope to have my own research group of students and that I can inspire students to love the subject as much as I do—and to inspire them like my past and current professors have inspired me,” she said.