Fifteen UD students, alumni awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

Fifteen University of Delaware undergraduate and graduate students and alumni have been awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. An additional three current students and six alumni received honorable mentions.

The highly competitive fellowship, the oldest of its kind in the nation, is among the most prestigious awards for graduate students. It supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master’s or doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at accredited institutions in the United States.

The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

This year’s competition attracted more than 12,000 applicants from over 500 academic institutions. NSF selected 2,000 fellows from all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

NSF fellows are considered future knowledge experts who will go on to become lifelong leaders, innovators and teachers. Since the program’s inception in 1952, NSF has funded more than 60,000 Graduate Research Fellowships from over 500,000 applicants. Over 40 NSF fellows are Nobel Laureates, and more than 450 NSF fellows are elected members of the National Academy of Sciences.

“To have 15 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships awarded to UD students this year is an outstanding achievement. Many terrific students are turned away and to be recognized in this way puts these 15 students in a very elite cohort of young scientists and scholars,” said Louis Rossi, dean of UD’s Graduate College. “NSF panels have an outstanding track record for choosing exceptional people for these fellowships who then go on to transform their fields. These are future leaders and innovators.”

UD’s 2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellows

The following current UD students (undergraduate and graduate) earned NSF fellowships and plan to pursue research in the following fields and graduate schools, according to NSF:

Brea Chernokal (Honors College), biomedical engineering, UD

Brea Chernokal, a senior biomedical engineering major and Spanish for healthcare minor, is exploring ways to engineer tissues and organs for the treatment of disease or trauma. Advised by Jason Gleghorn, associate professor of biomedical engineering, she is focused on nephron engineering. Nephrons are the part of the kidney responsible for filtering blood. Chernokal is developing a model to understand how the stiffness of the extracellular matrix, which is made of proteins that help bind cells together, affects the way nephrons develop. She hopes this work can inform ways to engineer nephrons for the purpose of treating various kidney diseases. Following graduate school, Chernokal plans to pursue medical school and work at the intersection of medicine and research.

Minji Kong, computer science education, UD

Doctoral student Minji Kong is developing tools to foster inclusive computer science learning environments. Advised by Lori Pollock, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, Kong plans to co-design and prototype tools with practicing K-8 computing teachers to supplement personalized in-class support for students using Scratch, a block-based programming environment widely used to engage youth in coding and computer science. The work expands on her undergraduate honors thesis. It is grounded in her personal experiences as an immigrant and as a woman in computing and inspired by meaningful mentorships from UD professors. Kong is active in many computer science and diversity efforts, including co-founding The Papaya Project to address discrimination, bias and inequities in computing education research, as well as Partner4CS and CS4DE.

Kyle Korman, chemistry, UD

Kyle Korman, a doctoral student studying chemistry and biochemistry, is developing materials to capture carbon dioxide and remove harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere more efficiently. Advised by Eric Bloch, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Korman specifically is exploring ways to use porous materials as small-molecule adsorbents to improve atomic-scale interactions for gas storage technologies. Porous materials are materials designed to have spaces that can be used to hold (or adsorb) other things, like the way activated carbon is used to filter water or sponges are used to soak up spills. Following his doctoral studies, he hopes to continue related work that leverages porous materials as tools to remediate pollution.

Emily Park Lambeth, biomedical engineering, UD

A common cause of knee osteoarthritis is injury to the meniscus, the cushion-like tissue between the bones that protects the joint from large concentrations of force, among other functions. While research has centered on traumatic injuries, a large percentage of meniscus injuries arise from chronic degeneration. Emily Lambeth, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering, is developing methods to simultaneously assess the structure and function of this type of meniscus injury using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and an MRI-compatible loading device. Lambeth said this work could inform targeted treatment options for a large number of patients, in collaboration with clinicians, if they can understand how this chronic degeneration simultaneously affects the meniscus and joint properties over time. Lambeth is advised by Dawn Elliott, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

Laura Blaire Marvin, plant biology and soil sciences, UD

Laura Marvin is a first-year doctoral student exploring how plants communicate and protect themselves from disease. Specifically, they are working to understand how plants use intercellular communication networks unique to plants, called plasmodesmata, by identifying proteins involved in the process and, subsequently, understanding their function. Next steps in the work include developing methods and controls for labeling, purifying and identifying these proteins using proteomics, a growing area of molecular biology. Marvin is advised by Jung-Youn Lee, professor of plant molecular and cellular biology. Following graduate school, Marvin would like to pursue interdisciplinary research and to serve as an advocate for those within the autistic community to make graduate-level education more accessible for everyone.

Emma Lindsay Peterman (Honors College), chemical engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Emma Peterman, a senior chemical engineering major, is interested in using biomaterials to improve medical treatments. While at UD, Peterman has explored methods to deliver drugs to the lungs, under the advisement of Catherine Fromen, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Specifically, Peterman developed 3D-printed prototypes for medical devices to target inhalable drugs to different regions of the lung and worked on designs for nanoparticle-based antiviral treatments for COVID-19. Peterman also has been active in STEM outreach, developing a virtual learning module on vaccines for high school students, along with mentoring and tutoring activities. During her doctoral studies at MIT, she hopes to collaborate directly with clinicians and continue to be involved with STEM outreach.

Camila Polanco, STEM education and learning research – mathematics education, UD

Camila Polanco, a doctoral student studying human development and family sciences, is working to address social and cultural inequities in education with culturally responsive and relevant teaching practices. Specifically, she is exploring ways that teachers can support Black and Latina girls in STEM. The work builds on previous research with two UD professors: Roderick Carey, her doctoral adviser, and Laura Desimone. With Carey, assistant professor of human development and family sciences, Polanco examined the way African American high school boys’ academic goals are influenced by students’ perception of how they matter to their school, teachers, peers and families through the Black Boy Mattering project. With Desimone, professor and director of research in the College of Education and Human Development, Polanco explored ways professional learning partnerships across the United States can help dismantle racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in education.

Niko Reed, quantum information science, University of Maryland

Niko Reed, a senior majoring in mathematics and physics, is investigating ways to exploit quantum physics to create useful devices and technologies. During their doctoral studies, they plan to work with Quantum Diamond Microscopes to probe magnetic fields with unprecedented detail. These microscopes are extremely sensitive, opening many new avenues to observe the magnetic field generated by a single neuron; develop smaller, more efficient computational technologies; study the early Earth by looking at the magnetic arrangement of ancient rocks; and more. The work builds on Reed’s undergraduate work at UD, advised by Mark Ku, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and physics and astronomy, using machine learning methods to process experimental data from these quantum-diamond microscopes. They plan to continue this experimental work at the University of Maryland’s Joint Quantum Institute.

Savannah Rose Roberts, developmental psychology, UD

Savannah Roberts is a doctoral student in UD’s clinical science psychology program. She is investigating how body dissatisfaction and eating disorders develop during adolescence, under the advisement of Sophia Choukas-Bradley, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences. Roberts wants to understand body dissatisfaction among transgender and gender-diverse adolescent populations in the LGBTQ+ community, since existing theories in this area are based on research with cisgender, heterosexual adult women. Concurrently, she plans to gain clinical experience as a therapist treating eating disorders and other mental health concerns at Thomas Jefferson University’s Center City Clinic for Behavioral Medicine in Philadelphia, during the 2021-2022 school year. Ultimately, she hopes to pursue a research career at a tier-1 research university.

Scarlet Arizona Shifflett, ecology, UD

Scarlet Shifflett, a senior wildlife major, is investigating the relationship between the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, and human Lyme disease risk in Delaware. Shifflett’s undergraduate research found B. burgdorferi to be widespread in immature black-legged tick populations across Delaware. But, while the presence of this pathogen is often used to estimate Lyme disease risk, only some strains can cause disease in humans. Advised by Vincenzo Ellis, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, Shifflett will examine skin and fecal samples from small mammals to learn whether an animal’s microbiome plays a role in influencing the probability of B. burgdorferi strain infection, in order to develop more accurate ways to estimate Lyme disease risk.

Alumni Awardees

The following UD alumni will also continue their graduate research through the fellowship:

Christopher James Calo, chemical engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder

Caitlin Sinclair Grasso, computationally intensive research, University of Vermont and State Agricultural College

Grant Alexander Knappe, biomedical engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kevin Joseph Modica, chemical engineering, University of California Santa Barbara

James Michael Skripchuk, technology education, North Carolina State University

Honorable mentions

An additional nine UD undergraduate or graduate students and alumni earned honorable mentions:

Current institution is UD:

Joshua Davis, computationally intensive research

Sadia Tamanna Islam, cell biology

Malek Waleed Elsayyid, cell biology

UD alumni

Krista Balto, chemical synthesis, University of California San Diego

Colby Richard Banbury, computer systems and embedded systems, Harvard University

Phoebe Hertler, inorganic chemistry, University of California San Diego

Lauren Reich, neurosciences, University of Pennsylvania

Madeline Torres, microbial biology, University of Pittsburgh

Darian Yang, biophysics, University of Pittsburgh

Article by Karen B. Roberts | Photo composite by Jeffrey C. Chase | May 24, 2021