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NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipients
Recipients of prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships include (clockwise from top left) Ian Berke (blue gloves), Hannah Wastyk, Dianna Kitt, Jodi Kraus, Kathryn Wheeler and Jonathan Galarraga.

NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Twelve UD students, alumni win prestigious research support

A dozen University of Delaware students (undergraduate and graduate) and alumni have won National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships as the prestigious competition marks its 65th year. Fourteen others received honorable mention designations.

The awards -- for which more than 13,000 applicants competed this year -- include three years of funding at $34,000 per year, plus $12,000 in cost-of-education allowances to the school for study leading to a master's or doctoral degree in science and engineering. The total of these awards is almost $1.4 million -- a significant boost for the students and their research.

"Research is incredibly important," said Dianna Kitt, a senior majoring in environmental engineering and one of UD's 12 winners. "On a large scale, research is what drives our society and allows us to create new technologies and processes that protect humans, animals and the environment. On a smaller scale, research pushes you as an individual to think outside of the book and answer problems that no one else has answered before."

The awards make a powerful statement about these students, said Donald Watson, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the department's associate chair for graduate studies. That department had four winners - two undergraduates and two graduate students - including doctoral student Sarah Krause in Watson's research group.

"This includes all fields of science and engineering and these awards go to extraordinarily high-quality students," he said. "It recognizes their ability and frees students to do science. And getting multiple awards in a single year is a mark of quality for our program."

Nationally, there were 2,000 winners (about 15 percent of all applicants), representing 449 different schools, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other U.S. territories. Winners included 1,158 women, 498 individuals from underrepresented minority groups and 726 undergraduate seniors.

"This is one of the most prestigious awards a student can get," said Julie Maresca, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and Kitt's faculty mentor. "These awards are highly competitive and truly a recognition of the students' potential for future success.

"The students who get these fellowships have demonstrated not only that they are among our top students, but also that they can convincingly propose a multiyear research project and are committed to broadening participation in their fields."

UD's NSF Graduate Research Fellows:

* Ian Berke of Albany, New York, who earned his bachelor's in biomedical engineering in 2016 and now is pursuing a doctoral degree in biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

"In my sophomore year at UD, I had a sports-related knee injury that required surgery (ACL tear). This got me interested in orthopedic research and I was paired with Christopher Price, assistant professor in biomedical engineering, for a summer scholar research opportunity, in imaging. During the summer and in the following year or so we imaged bone and cartilage using refractive index matching techniques. Dr. Price really sparked my interest in the field and showed me the many avenues researchers were taking to combat osteoarthritis."

* Hannah Clipp of Bel Air, Maryland, who earned two bachelor's degrees -- in wildlife and fisheries resources and multidisciplinary studies -- at West Virginia University and is pursuing a master's degree in wildlife ecology at UD.

The focus of her research is bird migration and stopover ecology and bird conservation.

* Jonathan Galarraga of Belcamp, Maryland, a Unidel Eugene du Pont Scholar who earned an honors bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 2016 and will pursue his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will study tissue engineering, biomaterials, 3D-printing and cartilage repair.

"Biomaterials are changing possibilities for medicine and healthcare across the world because they provide new avenues for exploring prospective therapeutics, modeling disease pathology and assessing drug toxicity. In my Ph.D. thesis, I will develop new materials approaches for tissue repair through rational material design and impact society through new product development. As a Ph.D. student in Dr. Jason Burdick’s Polymeric Biomaterials Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, I am eager to establish strong relationships with leading experts in the country so that I may design and deliver clinically viable biomaterials."

At UD, Galarraga worked in the research group of Christopher Kloxin, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

"Throughout my time in the CJK lab, I gained a strong appreciation for collaborations in research, developed intimate knowledge of the materials science research landscape, and enjoyed the privilege of learning from many great mentors.

"The aims of my career are to conduct research on biomaterials and bring clinically viable biotechnology to market while teaching as a university professor. In doing so, I will improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and diseases, increase the U.S.’ competitiveness in the growing biomedical device industry and improve the prospects for future biomedical research. In addition to commercially developing these technologies, I will employ my bioengineering expertise to help develop and implement policies that will ensure that future biomaterials are readily accessible and disseminated to underserved patient populations."

* Nicholas Geneva of Owings, Maryland, an honors degree candidate who is completing his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and will pursue a doctoral degree, continuing his work integrating state-of-the-art computer technology and engineering at UD.

"Working with Dr. Lian-Ping Wang [professor of mechanical engineering] and his graduate students is largely the reason why I decided to pursue a Ph.D. His work has shown me that the integration of state-of-the-art computer hardware and engineering is a very important challenge that is facing the scientific community today. Computing, whether through traditional CPUs or other hardware accelerators, is becoming ever more powerful, but exploiting this power effectively to solve the difficult engineering problem is by no means trivial."

* Rebekah Houser of Newark, Delaware, who earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and will continue research on vehicle-to-grid technology and firmware for an infrared scene projector.

"Electric vehicles equipped with vehicle-to-grid technology can provide valuable services to electric power generation and distribution systems. These services promote adoption of electric vehicles and facilitate increased incorporation of renewable resources into the electric power grid. Infrared scene projectors enable more efficient testing of infrared imaging systems that serve as critical tools for first responders, law enforcement and military personnel."

* Dianna Kitt of Aberdeen, Maryland, a Unidel Eugene du Pont Scholar who is completing her bachelor's honors degree with distinction in environmental engineering and will pursue graduate-level research in water treatment.

"I grew up near the Chesapeake Bay so I have always been passionate about clean water and the environment. When I was in high school, I was inspired by my AP biology teacher (who was actually a retired research scientist) to work in a research lab for the first time and I fell in love with research. I knew that I wanted to pursue my passion for improving the environment as my career, and I knew that a career in environmental engineering research would allow me to not only study the environment but also develop techniques and processes to protect it."

* Jodi Kraus of Monument, Colorado, who earned her bachelor's degree at Drexel University and is a second-year grad student in chemistry and biochemistry at UD.

In the laboratory of Tatyana Polenova, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, she has focused on determining the atomic-level structure and dynamics of actin-associated protein assemblies using the technique Magic Angle Spinning NMR.

"I was drawn to using solid-state NMR spectroscopy to study large protein assemblies because the scientific understanding of fundamental biological processes is rapidly expanding, and it is of utmost importance to continue developing new methodologies to study these complex systems. I believe that in order to fully understand these biological processes and identify new potential drug targets (in the case of disease), we must investigate their most basic properties. Additionally, I am interested in methods development and instrumentation because I personally find it gratifying to track the exact physical dynamics which correlate to larger functional roles within proteins."

* Sarah Krause of Harford County, Maryland, who earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry at Towson University and is pursuing her doctorate in organic chemistry at UD in Donald Watson's research group.

The focus of her research is chemical synthesis and catalysis.

* Andrew Kuznicki of Boston, Massachusetts, who is majoring in chemistry.

His research has been in the inorganic chemistry lab of Joel Rosenthal, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

* Peter Sariano of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, an honors degree candidate who is majoring in biomedical engineering and plans to pursue research in tissue engineering.

"Biomedical research is the foundation for medical discovery. Research drives our understanding of disease and allows us to develop treatments to address unmet clinical needs."

* Hannah Wastyk of Palmyra, Pennsylvania, a Unidel Eugene du Pont Scholar and honors degree candidate majoring in biochemistry with a minor in biochemical engineering.

"What excites me most about research on human disease is that the body is a system more perfect than any we could possibly engineer. Our immune system is the most complex line of defense we possess, and treating diseases through regulation of its already existing cellular processes to control aberrant signaling is a technique that holds almost unlimited possibilities.

"The concept of growth has always been a passion I continually strive for. Research, both in practice and in mindset, perfectly embodies this endless cycle of growth through the creation of knowledge starting with basic research and applying it to solve real-world problems through engineering."

* Kathryn Wheeler of Boone, North Carolina, a Unidel Eugene du Pont Scholar and honors degree candidate who is earning her bachelor's degree in environmental science and will pursue a doctoral degree at Boston University's Department of Earth and the Environment.

"I am interested in how climate change is altering forest phenology (seasonality) and how the timing of the seasons affects the forest ecosystem and global ecosystems. Specifically, at Boston University I will be working on a project that uses ecosystem forecasting to identify the holes in our understanding of phenology and seasonal variation in carbon and energy transfers between the biosphere and atmosphere. With warmer global temperatures, the growing season is expected to be lengthened in many ecosystems. A longer growing season has the possibility of increasing the amount of carbon dioxide that trees take away from the atmosphere, which consequently would likely alleviate global climate change. In order to improve the accuracy of climate change predictions, it is necessary for us to better understand forest phenology and how it affects and is affected by climate change.

Research with Delphis Levia, professor of ecohydrology and chair of UD's Department of Geography, and doctoral student Janice Hudson introduced her to phenology.

"I became fascinated by the idea that something as seemingly simple as changing the timing of the seasons can have profound impacts on ecosystems. I became particularly interested in how phenology can then affect climate change through an ecosystems ecology course I took with Dr. Rodrigo Vargas [assistant professor of plant and soil sciences] this fall."

Honorable Mention:

Hunter Bachman, mechanical engineering, an honors degree candidate, now at Duke University

Rabae Bounoua, psychology

Christopher Bresette, engineering, an honors degree candidate

Kamil Charubin, chemical engineering

Patrick Cronin, electrical and computer engineering

Nathan Hamilton, chemical engineering, an honors degree candidate

Alyssa Hull, chemistry and art conservation, a double honors degree recipient, now at Duke University

Joshua Lansford, chemical engineering

Charles McCutcheon, chemical engineering, now at the University of Minnesota

Bonnie McDevitt, environmental engineering, an honors degree recipient, now at Penn State University

Alexander Mitkas, chemical engineering

Samuel Modlin, neuroscience, now at San Diego State University Foundation

Lacey Perdue, bioengineering, an honors degree candidate

Jacob Wilmot, biology and neuroscience, an honors degree recipient, now at the University of California-Davis

A complete list of those offered the fellowship for 2017 is available on FastLane. For general information about the program, visit NSF's GRFP website.

 


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