Starting at the age 6, Anders James Gulbrandson began roaming his grandfather’s farm in rural Minnesota, getting to know nature and conducting science experiments.
Gulbrandson would collect plants, leaves, water and soil, anything to place under his grandfather’s microscope and examine their cellular makeup.
“My grandfather showed me all the fantastic things you could do not only with nature but with chemistry and science,” said Gulbrandson, a Midshipman 1st Class at the United States Naval Academy. “He showed me how to take my first samples from things on his farm. So from very early, I had an element of scientific wonder instilled in me and I think that’s carried through.”
Those experiences translated to the 22-year-old Gulbrandson recently being selected as one of 16 students to receive the Churchill Scholarship, which provides funding to American students for a year of master’s study at Churchill College, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge in England.
Gulbrandson, a Minnesota native, intends to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry, and is interested in exploring the ability to create carbon-absorbent textiles from naturally occurring and renewable sources, such as carbon.
“I want to use natural substances that are biodegradable to make ultraviolet light resistance clothing,” he said. “Usually, the items just end up in a landfill once they tear or people grow out of them. So, creating items that can absorb back into the earth I believe is more sustainable.”
The scholarship program was created at the request of Sir Winston Churchill to fulfill his vision of a scientific exchange between the United States and the United Kingdom, with the goal of advancing science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic.
This year, more than 119 candidates from 77 institutions competed for the 16 Churchill scholarships in science, math and engineering, plus two more in science policy.
Courses run between nine and 12 months. The award covers tuition, round trip airfare to the UK, visa fees and health surcharge, and a stipend, according to the scholarship’s website. Recipients are eligible to apply for a $4,000 special research grant. The total value is around $65,000.
. As a chemistry major at the Naval Academy, Gulbrandson won the 2022 Goldwater Scholarship, and was named the Trident Scholar in the Naval Academy’s Class of 2023.
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Under the guidance of Naval Academy faculty Cmdr. Dave Durkin and professor Paul Trulove, Gulbrandson has conducted research involving nano-modified biopolymer composite materials, nanoparticle synthesis and applications, and ionic liquids. He also co-authored three articles about his research in peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Journal of Ionic Liquids, Macromolecular Materials and Engineering, and the Journal of Materials Science. Gulbrandson has also conducted electrochemical sensor research at Vanderbilt University under the direction of professor David Cliffel.
Most recently, he conducted research at MIT Lincoln Laboratory under the direction of Gary Smith.
“Everything I’ve been able to achieve has been done in a collaborative manner,” Gulbrandson said. “I haven’t done any of this by myself, so I just feel fortunate to be surrounded by such talented and supportive professors.”
Gulbrandson, who will graduate in May, wanted to attend the Naval Academy because he appreciated the idea of a meritocracy, and wanted his accomplishments to be based on his hard work as opposed to someone perceiving he was handed something.
“Obviously, absolute equality is hard to come by since so many factors in your life can affect outcome, but I feel like here at Annapolis the playing field is mostly level and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.
Outside of the classroom, Gulbrandson plays defense on the Navy hockey team and last summer he served as Plebe Summer Battalion Operations Officer. He was in charge of scheduling more than 500 incoming midshipmen.
Gulbrandson joins another midshipman to receive a prestigious award from a British institution. Midshipman 1st Class Benjamin Kwong was selected in November as the academy’s 55th Rhodes scholar. He will continue his education at Oxford University in England next year after he graduates.