student working with vials in a lab
Katie conducted innovative research on ionic polymers during her time as a grad student.

For Kathryn (Katie) O’Harra, attending graduate school greatly benefited her, both academically and professionally. After studying polymers as an undergraduate student, she knew she wanted to pursue a career based in academics and research so that she could have the opportunity to be at the forefront of important innovations. Hence, she decided to pursue her Ph.D.

Katie’s research as a grad student enabled her to work independently, explore new information, and execute complex projects. Unlike her experience as an undergrad, she found herself applying skills in dynamic contexts to solve interdisciplinary problems and drive the development of new ideas and products. For example, Katie developed new material classes such as ionic polymers and played a role in the design of self-healing materials. Thus, through grad school, Katie had exciting opportunities to independently discover innovative technologies rather than just apply well-known engineering solutions.

Studying in graduate school yielded clear professional and academic advantages for Katie. She presented her work at numerous national and international events through which she made impressive connections with businesses like 3M, as well as professors at prominent universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Lastly, her research allowed her to stand out in the field, leading to numerous awards and recognitions* that have benefited her visibility in both academia and industry.

Currently, Dr. O’Harra is an Assistant Professor in the UA Honors College and holds an Adjunct Professor appointment in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Most recently, she was awarded a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study gas transport in ionic liquid membranes at different length scales.

Katie O’Harra Awards*

  • Elias Klein Travel Award (North American Membrane Society Annual Meeting, June 2018)
  • 3-Minute-Thesis (3MT) Semi-Finalist (University of Alabama, 2018 and 2019)
  • 1st Place in Gas Separations Category (NAMS Student Poster Competition, June 2018)
  • 1st Place Springer Award for Oral Presentation [selected from PhD students/postdocs] (ILMAT 5, Nov. 2019)
  • Recognition & Oral Presentation within “Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research” Symposium (ACS National Meeting, March 2020)
  • 2020 Women in Chemical Engineering (WIC) Travel Award (AIChE Annual Meeting, Nov. 2020)
  • Selected as Speaker/Panelist for “Soft Matter for All: Celebrating Diversity and Creativity in Soft Matter Symposium” (Princeton/UDel, Oct. 2020)
  • Recipient of Engineering Council of Birmingham (ECOB) Graduate Engineering Student of the Year Award (Feb. 2021)
  • 2021 3M Raising Influence in Science & Engineering (RISE) Invited Research and Professional Development Symposium (June 2021)
  • 2021 DSM Bright Science Award Finalist, Competition/Presentations in Award Symposium at ACS Conf. (August 2021)
  • MIT Chemical Engineering Rising Stars Workshop, Invited Participant/Presenter (Sept. 2021)
  • 2021 AIChE Annual “Excellence in Graduate Student Research” Session – Selected as Speaker/Presenter (Oct. 2021)
  • 2021-2022 College of Engineering Overall Graduate Student of the Year, University of Alabama (February 2022)
  • 2021-2022 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award, University of Alabama Premier Award (March 2022