A dozen University
of Delaware students and alumni, including four students in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have won
National Science Foundation (NSF) 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.
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's winners,
two undergraduate and two graduate students, included
doctoral student Sarah Krause, who works 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
"This is one of the most prestigious awards a student can get," said
Julie Maresca, assistant professor of civil and environmental
engineering. "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."
The Graduate Research Fellows in chemistry and biochemistry are:
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.
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
"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
Also receiving NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are:
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
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
"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."
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."
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
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.
Article by Beth Miller