Program Overview

This unique training program is designed to foster collaboration between computer scientists, chemists, and chemical engineers. By learning how to harness data, we will be able to ask and answer new questions in catalysis. The program trains students how to be interdisciplinary scholars, highly skilled communicators and leaders capable of excelling a wide array of careers. Students participate for one year starting in January with an option to continue for a second year of advanced research.

What does it mean to be a trainee?

Graduate students elect to participate in the NRT through faculty mentors. All NRT trainees are actively mentored by their thesis or dissertation committee and Internet of Catalysis mentors through collaboration on a thesis or dissertation chapter that reflects research enabled by the program. Throughout the 1-year program, students will participate in data driven projects and research, take related courses, and develop professional skills. Upon completion of the program students earn a "Chemical Data Science" graduate certificate. Students in the Internet of Catalysis NRT program will continue to be actively engaged and supported by the program throughout their graduate study.

Program Participation Requirements

Our educational model seeks to overcome the following common gaps in graduate training:

  1. Lack of support, knowledge and communication skills needed for research at the interface between chemical and data sciences.
  2. Lack of a global perspective of why research is important
  3. A feeling of exclusion in learning spaces because of race, gender and other differences
  4. Difficulties managing stress
  5. Lack of support for non-traditional career paths

A key aspect of this training is a new 10-credit hour curriculum.  This curriculum aligns with existing departmental requirements so as to not add extra coursework. All courses are open to students from across KU, and any student who accomplishes this curriculum will earn a “Chemical Data Science” graduate certificate.

Curriculum Requirements:

New team-taught course called “Data Analysis in Engineering and Catalysis” (C&PE 715, 3-credits, spring semester). Students will work in groups on projects that integrate data science and catalysis. Teams will focus on a niche topic in research. They will identify information sources to collect data, design a model to extract information from the data, apply/modify algorithms to develop a knowledge discovery approach, and eventually evaluate the performance of the developed system through tradition experimental methods. This course will cover the fundamentals of data science and its applications in chemistry, including three main clusters: (1) information retrieval models, indexing, text processing, and evaluation; (2) data mining; and (3) cheminformatics. Class projects are expected to inform, initiate and contribute to NRT research.

Interdisciplinary Summer Research (3 credits) see "Summer Research" section for more details.

New Boundary-Spanning Seminar Series (1 credit in fall semester)  see "NRT Seminar Series" section for more details.

Data Science Elective These 3-credit courses will be enhanced with catalysis examples and students will gain skills in theory, experiment and computer simulation. For the graduate certificate, students must choose at least one elective from the following:

  • C&PE 778             Applied Optimization Methods
  • CHEM 914            Computational Methods in Physical Sciences
  • EECS 649             Introduction to Artificial Intelligence
  • EECS 731             Introduction to Data Science
  • EECS 738             Machine Learning
  • EECS 767             Information Retrieval


We will also broaden our impact by integrating new modules on catalysis/data science into several undergraduate and graduate level courses. Second year “Enterprising” Trainees will assist faculty members with these enhancements, and we expect that the learning modules will be derived from the trainees’ actual research.

A Festival of Learning Why (FLY). Our NRT training begins with the Winter FLY, an innovative week-long event each January. Activities include teambuilding, communicating across disciplines, active inclusion, and global awareness.

The purpose of this event is to showcase NRT research and broaden trainees' global and cultural perspectives.

A series of challenges will push trainees out of their comfort zone to a place of “productive discomfort” that energizes creativity. Warm-up activities and a time for self-reflection will be key, helping attendees process and learn from the activities. We believe that this immersive experience will foster personal connections between NRT mentors/trainees and set the stage for building the common language needed to embark on interdisciplinary collaborations.

Winter FLY will also expose students to why catalysis research is so important by emphasizing globally relevant societal issues related to catalysis and its applications.

Our Winter FLY event coincides with eagles nesting in nearby eastern Kansas. We will end the event with a trip to see eagles at the annual Kaw Valley Eagles Day (sponsored by the Audubon Society, local school district and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Future Winter FLY events will occur in January, the week before the spring semester starts.

NRT Trainees will enroll in 3 credits of summer research as part of a new framework to guide trainees in interdisciplinary research in the Internet of Catalysis.

During this summer experience, trainees will conduct research to get experiential learning with peers outside of their area of expertise. We will also have sessions to discuss relevant techniques (e.g., Python, Matlab, data visualization, etc.). Students will gain communication skills by practicing storytelling and giving flash talks at the end of the summer.

The overall goal of this summer research experience is to create opportunities for meaningful interdisciplinary conversations that enable student-driven research collaborations that continue into the fall and beyond.

NRT Trainees should enroll in the fall semester of our new boundary-spanning seminar series C&PE 802.

Typical departmental seminars are highly technical and narrowly focused on niche areas. To engage our interdisciplinary group, we will invite diverse speakers (in terms of gender, race, career, industry, etc.) to:

  • discuss broad perspectives about challenges/trends in the Internet of Catalysis
  • tell personal stories about career paths

NRT trainees will also give talks as part of the seminar series to learn how to communicate broadly, gaining feedback on how to improve.

Trainees will keep a reflection journal for these seminars (and all NRT activities) to reflect on their learning, explore career paths, and gain transferable professional skills. Trainees will also have the chance to nominate/invite seminar speakers.

Our overall goal for the seminar series is to foster knowledge by engaging in dialog across disciplines, cultures and ways of thinking. 

Non NRT trainees and faculty are invited and encouraged to participate in this seminar series as well.

All NRT trainees are expected to attend fall and spring CEBC Industry Advisory Board (IAB) meetings (in October and April). 

At these meetings, trainees will have the chance to present their research and network with representatives from our science and industry advisors. They will also gain insights on how research is conducted in the private sector and how discoveries are commercialized.

All Internet of Catalysis research projects are formally evaluated at the spring meeting. Trainees gain feedback from these evaluations that helps advance the project and sheds insight on ways the project might address challenges in industry.

Supporting Student Success

NRT trainees will complete one year of study (see curriculum) and then have the option for a second year of study, advancing from “proficient” to “enterprising” learning levels, as follows:

Proficient Trainee Expectations

  • MS and PhD students
  • Complete required 1-year curriculum (starting in January of their first or second year of graduate study), present results in written and oral formats, attend NRT meetings, and conduct career planning. 

Enterprising Trainee Expectations

  • PhD students only
  • Apply for this level of training after participating in the 1-year curriculum
  • Serve as near-peer leaders for the new cohort and play a leadership role in organizing NRT activities/courses.
  • Can apply for funding for research supplies or travel expenses from the NRT.

Expectations For All Trainees

All trainees in the Internet of Catalysis NRT program, regardless of learning level, continue to be actively engaged, mentored and supported by the program throughout their graduate study.

All NRT trainees, regardless of funding source, are expected to include a thesis or dissertation chapter that reflects research enabled by the Internet of Catalysis program.

Students in the NRT program will participate in a variety of professional development activities including but not limited to continuing education, research, networking events and presentations. Incorporated within NRT courses, seminars, the industry advisory board meetings (IAB), and workshops, these will help students to improve their communication skills, build professional relationships, and grow their network. These opportunities give students the tools and connections to launch successful careers upon graduation.


Successfully integrating data and chemical sciences requires that we recruit, train, retain, and mentor diverse cohorts of trainees. We welcome applications from students from a range of educational, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds and traditions. We also uphold the University of Kansas’ strategic priorities for a more socially diverse, equitable, and inclusive KU.  


Diversity is only part of the equation. Fostering a sense of inclusion is also crucial—and a basic human need for all students.  Students can feel included or excluded in the learning environment by an array of differences in cultures, races, genders, language, socioeconomic class, areas of expertise, and so on. 

Inclusion is vital for the success of the Internet of Catalysis NRT program. Ensuring that all students feel included is of paramount importance to us.  We commit to fostering an academic environment that supports the success of all members of our community because this diversity strengthens and enriches our research, scholarship, and teaching.

Our inclusion strategy involves concrete steps with time-bound milestones and quantitative metrics. University leadership and KU’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) strongly support these efforts.

Resources for Diversity and Inclusion

Graduate students struggle with many challenges, such as:

  • isolation
  • competition
  • high stakes milestones
  • ambiguous goals
  • sleeplessness
  • high expectations
  • career uncertainty
  • self-doubt
  • conflicts with advisor

Emotional and stress-related problems arise from these struggles. One study found that graduate students are six times more likely to suffer from depression/anxiety than the general population. And, nearly half of PhD students could be clinically classified as depressed.

We have seen these struggles first hand at KU with several students, including Robbie Hable who shared his story publicly in the prestigious journal NatureWe believe that graduate school must evolve to help students not just survive but thrive

This is also a community issue, since faculty, students and postdocs all struggle with stress. Our goal is to change the academic culture to be more aware, accepting, and proactive in terms of mental health. Embarking on new interdisciplinary research will likely be challenging for some students to adapt to as well. Therefore, training graduate students to be resilient is of paramount importance to our program.

Key actions include:

  • Mental health awareness: The NRT meetings foster proactive and open dialog about mental health issues before they become too overwhelming to handle.
  • Storytelling: We emphasize storytelling and require students and faculty to learn how to tell their personal stories. Sharing experiences will promote dialogue and build relationships. Learning how to tell stories improves not just professional communication, it enhances inclusion and supports mental health.

​Resources for Resilience

Research Centers

This program leverages two thriving research centers at KU:

Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC)

This hub for innovation seeks to invent cleaner, safer, and cheaper technologies for fuels and chemicals. CEBC has 20+ company partners, internationally recognized catalysis experts, vibrant partnerships with several academic and government institutions, on-site company sponsored research, and major technology transfer achievements (17 issued patents).

Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC)

This National Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education advances knowledge and creates innovative technologies for telecommunications, information systems, bioinformatics, radar, and, with this new NRT, chemistry and chemical engineering areas. While ITTC does not offer any classes, it trains a number of graduate students in state-of-the-art facilities. ITTC also collaborates with roughly 20 companies per year.

By enabling unprecedented interdisciplinary collaborations at KU, this NRT is advancing discovery at the interface of data science and catalysis.

State-of-the-art Buildings

The University of Kansas Central District is a new hub of education and research as part of its mission as a flagship research institution. The focal point of the Central District is the new Integrated Science Building, which comprises 280,000 square feet of space for teaching, learning and interdisciplinary research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields. For our students, this means new classrooms, new ways of interacting with instructors and classmates, and close integration of their undergraduate studies with cutting-edge research activity. For our researchers, it means a state-of-the-art facility designed to spawn multidisciplinary research and be an anchoring point for collaboration among KU’s research centers and campuses.

The Central District also includes student housing, parking, a student union with premier conference meeting space, and a utility plant, which together improves the living and learning environment for our students and provide tremendous new resources to our faculty and staff.

The School of Engineering (SoE) has also made significant investments since 2011 when the Kansas Legislature appropriated $105 million dollars to Kansas engineering schools to increase the number of engineering graduates and meet the growing demand for engineers in the region. This initiative added three new buildings to the School of Engineering. First, the Measurement, Materials and Sustainable Environment Center (M2SEC) added a 47,000 square foot research facility that houses a variety of interdisciplinary research projects creating innovation in sustainable energy, alternative fuels, climate change, and the healthcare fields. Second, the Learned Engineering Expansion Project (LEEP2) building with 139,000 square feet of state-of-the art teaching classrooms and flexible lab space designed to meet the needs of incoming faculty from a variety of engineering disciplines. Third, the Earth, Energy, and Environment Center (EEEC) added another 130,000 square feet of space for petroleum and geological research.

NSF Grant Information

The NRT is an educational experiment intended to enhance graduate training while transforming research and education at the University of Kansas. Our NRT program is funded by the National Science Foundation by grant number 1922649. The program is funded from September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2024 (expected).

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