Rising Researchers

Rising Researchers

Introduction

The Rising Researcher program recognizes undergraduate students who excel in research, challenge their intellect, and exercise exceptional creativity.

Faculty members are encouraged to nominate eligible students whom they advise/mentor. Calls for nomination will be issued twice a year at the beginning of spring and fall semesters. Nominations for the Rising Researcher award are currently closed. Find information on the nomination process, eligibility, and recognition.

 

Spring 2021 Class

This year, persistent UMass Amherst undergraduates adapted to COVID-19 restrictions as they engaged in substantial research, exercised their creativity, and elevated campus and the community. They found ways to thrive—they worked on campus when permitted and capitalized on remote research, learning, and volunteer opportunities. Read about the remarkable accomplishments of the nine spring 2021 UMass Amherst Rising Researchers below.

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Rising Researchers Spring 21 banner

Ali Abdel-Maksoud '21

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Ali Abdel-Maksoud

Electrical engineering

“In college, things clicked for me. I took the time to find what I like and I learned not to quit when things got hard. When I found my passion, I knew I had to focus.”

Ali Abdel-Maksoud describes himself as a curious kid, the kind who would take things apart and poke around in an electrical socket. As an intern in the Wearable Electronics Lab of Trisha Andrew, associate professor of chemistry and chemical engineering, he put that curiosity into action.

The Andrew lab makes textiles that can harvest solar energy. These textiles can be used to make wearable electronic garments that can power devices and monitor health and activity. Ali works on fabricating solar cells using soft electronic materials and a technique, known as oxidative chemical vapor deposition, that the lab developed to create electronic polymer films on textiles.

 

Samantha Hano '22

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Samantha Hano

Public health sciences and psychology, Commonwealth Honors College

“I’ve always had a desire to help people who have challenges and are struggling with life. I believe an individual can make changes that can create a domino effect to improve the lives of the vulnerable and overlooked.”

A courthouse is a nexus of troubled people—many with opioid use disorder. At the Holyoke, Massachusetts, District Court, a new program brings same-day access to medications and other treatment right to the courthouse. When UMass Amherst junior Samantha Hano heard about this program, called HEART, she saw a way to put her two majors—psychology and public health—to work to reduce opioid overdoses.

“This was my dream internship,” she says.

Well aware that opioid use disorder is a massive and complex problem, Samantha was nevertheless confident that her UMass education had given her the tools to contribute to the project. HEART (Holyoke Early Access to Recovery Treatment) was founded in March 2020 by Judge William P. Hadley. UMass Amherst public health interns are assisting in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the program, advised by Associate Professor of Public Health Elizabeth Evans.

During the course of the year, alongside fellow UMass interns Amelia Bailey ’24G and Kene Orakwue ’21, Samantha conducted research, planning, and evaluation of the innovative HEART program. She studied comparable programs in other locations, designed an evaluation plan, solicited feedback on the program’s functionality, adapted the program for remote access due to COVID -19, and created a comprehensive report on the HEART initiative.

 

 

Claire Healy '21

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Claire Healy

Political science, Commonwealth Honors College

“I realized I had to understand history and culture and be able to speak to people in their own languages in order to make a positive impact on the world.”

In her first year at UMass Amherst, Claire Healy had a grand vision. What if there was an international, multilingual magazine that could create community among young people across borders? The magazine would publish poets, writers, artists, and journalists and its audience would experience a diverse collective of perspectives, artwork, and languages. The first issue of Claire’s dream magazine, The Open, will be published before she graduates from UMass Amherst in May. She produced it on a focused foundation of four years of coursework, internships, study abroad, and extracurricular work.

Claire traces her interest in global social justice to her childhood among the international community in Cambridge, Mass. “Growing up, the conversations my friends and I were having were often about social justice and human rights,” she says.

Beginning with her first semester at UMass Amherst, she took advantage of every opportunity to expand her education beyond the classroom. She was both a political science and a legal studies research assistant; participated in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences internship program in Washington, D.C., and remained in the capital for a summer internship; wrote for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and was an Amherst Media news anchor; worked as a communications assistant for Commonwealth Honors College; and attended a journalism bootcamp.

 

Isabel Levin '22

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Isabel Levin

Sociology, Commonwealth Honors College

“I am no longer consumed by the fear that a career in academia is incompatible with spearheading community development, policy change, and the celebration of my voice as a marginalized thinker.”

After enrolling at UMass Amherst, Isabel Levin progressed from barely having heard of sociology to becoming what Assistant Professor of Sociology Kathryne Young calls “the most promising undergraduate researcher I have ever met.”

As Young’s research assistant, Isabel laid the groundwork for her later independent work. She learned qualitative data collection, conducting highly sensitive interviews on topics as diverse as the opioid epidemic and queer underground sexual cultures.

In the summer of 2020, Isabel took part in the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where marginalized undergraduate researchers in the social sciences and humanities conduct independent research. Through MURAP, Isabel came to the realization that her identity and personal experiences as a Latinx-Jewish woman were a resource: “I learned that I can maintain scientific rigor in my contributions while still using my voice as a symbol of resistance against the historic silencing and mistreatment of my community,” she says. Consequently, Isabel chose to draw on her identity as a Latinx-Jewish woman for her research project.

On her research website, Isabel recalls growing up with her Peruvian mother in Marblehead, Mass. “I always felt like my family stuck out, especially in school,” she writes. “It felt like my mom’s voice, perspective, and knowledge did not have a place in my education and, in turn, that she was somehow less than the other moms. As I have grown up, I have started to think more critically about how non-white, specifically Latinx, families are treated within public schools and how schools can, but often fail to be, places of community development and collective growth.”

 

Kathleen Loonie '21

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Kathleen Loonie

Pre-veterinary sciences, Commonwealth Honors College

“The research realm gives you a place to apply your knowledge and space to practice what you are learning, which is so important.”

As a young girl dreaming of becoming a veterinarian, Kate Loonie may have expected some of the hands-on experiences she had at UMass Amherst. She vaccinated and ear-tagged Belted Galloway cattle, medicated injured horses, helped deliver lambs, and even cared for turtles as a summer intern at the New England Aquarium. But she didn’t expect that some of her most fulfilling work would be performing gene sequencing on a computer.

“I never saw myself doing research, especially in my undergraduate years,” Kate says. “I didn’t think I would enjoy lab work. But it pushed me to places I didn’t think I’d be able to go.”

Working in the lab of Professor of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Cynthia Baldwin beginning in her first year, Kate has been involved in three cellular immunology research projects related to tracking down a gene family, known as WC1, in sheep, cattle, and goats. She will leave UMass with her name on three published research papers.

Although genetic sequences at first looked like alphabet soup to her, Kate learned the Baldwin lab’s bioinformatics technology quickly. “I practiced and practiced that tedious software every moment I could,” she recalls. Baldwin noted that Kate is a good collaborator who is proactive in the lab. “She is really passionate about learning new techniques and is a very mature, independent, and responsible individual,” she said.

 

Eugenia Roberts '21

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Eugenia Roberts

Biochemistry and molecular biology, Commonwealth Honors College

“I did not have a single revelatory experience that pointed to my future. Instead, I had a ladder that helped me grow intellectually; each step of this ladder was an experience I was able to live through my research.”

Eugenia Roberts was only 17 when she came to UMass Amherst from her home country of Nicaragua. English was her second language and she had some trouble at first fully understanding her fellow students. Understanding biochemistry and molecular biology, however, has not been a problem. Working with Sloan Siegrist, assistant professor of microbiology, Eugenia has developed a new, much faster way to detect bacterial bloodstream infections. Last fall, the technology received a $100,000 seed grant from the UMass Amherst Manning/IALS Innovation Awards program.

As Siegrist says, “I often forget that Eugenia is an undergraduate. Her maturity and productivity would be impressive at any stage! In the year since she joined my lab, she has made an outsize impact on our work.”

In her first semester at UMass, Eugenia joined the lab of Leonid Pobezinsky, assistant professor of veterinary and animal sciences, and conducted cancer immunology research. “Coming from an underdeveloped country, I had to teach myself not only basic things like the science behind PCR [polymerase chain reaction] but also very advanced molecular biology pathways that I would not otherwise have learned so early in college,” Eugenia recalls. “I even took a senior-level immunology class during my sophomore year.”

 

Nicholas Sbalbi '22

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Nicholas Sbalbi

Chemical engineering, Commonwealth Honors College

“While simultaneously tackling classes and my research projects can be a lot to handle at times, I have found that my research work has enriched my classroom experiences.”

What excites Nicholas Sbalbi about research is the element of surprise. He says, “At UMass I have experienced the frustration of sensitive experiments, the mystery of unexpected data, and the satisfaction of confirming hypotheses. None of these emotions have matched the simultaneous joy and intrigue of discovery—whether it is finding a unique or wacky morphology under the electron microscope or generating surprising yet impactful results when analyzing data.”

Nicholas has already made some useful discoveries, and this spring his potential as a scientist was nationally recognized when he was one of three UMass juniors to win a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. 

Nicholas began working with Laura Bradley, assistant professor of polymer science and engineering (a graduate program that welcomes undergraduate researchers), in his first semester at UMass Amherst. Since then, he has worked year-round for Bradley’s HIP Materials Group and has had his name on one of their published academic research papers. He likes the complexity of materials science, an interdisciplinary field that investigates the properties of matter. “In my research, I’m just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” he says. “It’s a puzzle to figure out which knobs you can turn without drastically varying the system.”

Nicholas’s first project was working on a new chemical vapor deposition chamber for producing functional polymer coatings. These nanometer-thin coatings can be used for battery technology, controlled wettability, and other applications.

 

Alan Simon '21

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Alan Simon

Interdisciplinary studies, University Without Walls

“This period of structured learning at UMass has reawakened an intellectual passion I had when I was younger and, for many reasons, was unable to fulfill in my youth.”

Al Simon jokes that some people earn their undergraduate degree in four years, some in six, but he was on the 44-year plan. He’ll graduate from the University Without Walls in May at age 61.

As the son of French-Canadian millworkers from Somersville, Conn., who didn’t complete high school, he was at a disadvantage when he enrolled in college at 17. “My first attempt was a total disaster. I was ashamed of that until I got older and learned about obstacles facing first-generation students,” he says. He tried college again later and did well academically, but life—work, family, a mortgage—got in the way.

His third attempt has gone much better. Al expected it would take up to three years to earn his UWW degree, but the pandemic sped up the process. He stepped away from his work as a consultant for car dealerships and completed his course work in 18 months.

His undergraduate studies gave him the opportunity, while researching a paper for a labor history class, to explore the history of his hometown and of the mills where his family worked and his parents met.  “I discovered a story I had no clue existed, which turned out to be a much bigger story than I anticipated when I began writing,” he says.

Al’s paper relates the fascinating tale of labor activism, including a strike and union busting, at the textile mill in Somersville. The small mill was one of many throughout New England that attracted immigrant workers from such disparate places as Canada, Poland, and Portugal. “This was an industry where workers were exploited before we had modern labor laws,” Al says. “People had to fight for their rights. In this place, in this period of time, they did that.”

 

Solomon Siskind '21

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Solomon Siskind

Sport management and sociology

“Research can be tough, but when you love it and it’s meaningful to you and others it doesn’t feel like hard work. I’ve loved every second of it.”

As a Black student-athlete on the UMass Football team, Solomon Siskind was aware that some of his non-white friends and teammates experienced culture shock, microaggressions, depression, and feelings of isolation at UMass Amherst. In his junior year, he gathered and analyzed data confirming and quantifying these problems. That project set the course for his future: “Research will be a big part of my graduate school life and career,” he says. “I want to ensure that student-athletes are getting the most out of their college experiences and that these institutions are creating equitable environments for everybody involved.”

Early in 2020, Solomon and Desiree Oliver ’21, a basketball player on the UMass women’s team, represented UMass Athletics at the Black Student-Athlete Summit in Austin, Texas. At the conference, Solomon says, “I was able to learn from and interact with some of the brightest people in sport and mental health. This summit exposed me to people of color, specifically Black people, in unique roles that I wasn’t accustomed to. The event allowed me to better understand my experience as a Black student-athlete.”

Solomon and Desiree returned to campus charged up to make change at UMass and immediately began work on a research project: “Analysis of the Black Student-Athlete Experience at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).” They created a 47-question survey focused on racial and ethnic differences in attitudes towards support systems and resources at UMass, went through the rigorous UMass IRB (institutional review board) approval process, and sent their survey to 650 UMass student-athletes.

 

Fall 2020 Class

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Michael Cooper '21

Michael Cooper ’21, Operations and information management, pre-medical studies

“A successful researcher has a passion for the field and is dedicated to putting in the time and effort required to connect with the field and make a difference in it.”

Michael Cooper enrolled in pre-med studies at UMass Amherst intent on becoming a doctor. His experience volunteering at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., along with the opportunity to delve into health policy research at UMass opened a different path—he plans to earn an advanced degree in public health or healthcare administration as well as a medical degree and pursue a career as a healthcare administrator.

“I’ve seen that combining a public health skill set with a medical background has the potential to improve and alter healthcare delivery, not just for one patient, but for an entire population,” he says.

Michael began volunteering in the Baystate emergency department during his first year of college. Observing overcrowding, healthcare inequities, and patients with a wide variety of illnesses, he began asking questions about the healthcare system. Motivated to find answers, he went to the UMass Office of Undergraduate Research and Studies seeking the opportunity to collaborate with a faculty member. There he was connected with Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management Kimberley Geissler and became her research assistant.

Alongside Geissler, Michael has worked on research projects related to coordination of care, physician referrals, and access to care, and he has co-authored two published research papers. The first paper investigated the quality of care delivered during postpartum visits, a critical time for women’s health. The research showed that many recommended postpartum services were not provided to patients covered by either Medicaid or private insurance.

The second paper looks at follow-up care after an emergency department visit for mental illness, a significant challenge for coordinating care for vulnerable populations. The research showed that follow-up rates were low and there were increased costs and hospitalization rates associated with follow-up within 30 days.

“In our work together, I have been continually impressed by Michael’s level of knowledge of the US healthcare system and the commitment he shows to improving the health and lives of patients,” says Geissler.

And Michael can see how such research can directly help the Baystate patients he met as a volunteer. “Both studies have immense implications for reforming healthcare policy,” he says. “There is more to practicing medicine than the clinical side.”

 

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Hayley Green '22

Hayley Green ’22, Microbiology, iSTEP German STEM

“Watching how people think is really interesting. Good researchers are open and inquisitive; they learn from experience, and they come up with original questions.”

Hayley Green ’22 purposefully puts herself in situations outside her comfort zone. “That’s what college is all about,” she says. Still a junior, she’s already worked in three UMass Amherst labs and launched a start-up company.

Arriving at UMass with laboratory skills from a technical high school, she immediately became a research assistant in the microbiology lab of Professor Kristen DeAngelis. In addition to her lab duties, she took on an independent research project, measuring extracellular enzyme rates in isolates to see how the enzymatic rates change under increasing temperatures.

Simultaneously, Hayley worked with JengYu Chou ’22 and Anna Maria Miller-Perez ’22 to launch a start-up company, iSpy. “We apply artificial intelligence technology to identify microbes based on microcolony morphology,” she says. The technology is similar to facial recognition software and could be used in laboratories, breweries, or farms to quickly and accurately identify bacteria. In 2019 iSpy’s team of first-year students achieved quite a coup; they advanced to the finals of the Innovation Challenge, the campus’s high-stakes entrepreneurship competition.

Lauding Hayley’s entrepreneurial skills, DeAngelis said, “She has a vision for applying microbiology to solve the biggest problems facing society. She’s a strong critical thinker with a curious intellect.”

In the summer following her first year at UMass Amherst, Hayley began work in both the cell culture lab and the light microscopy lab of the UMass Institute for Applied Life Sciences. She helped develop a mammalian cell library and cryopreservation techniques for the plant culture facility.  In the light microscopy lab, she trained new users, aided in experiments, and maintained the microscopes.

Looking to branch out into interdisciplinary research, Hayley recently started work in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture lab of Assistant Professor Marco Keiluweit. She may eventually use her second major, iSTEP German STEM, to attend a doctoral program in Germany. Whatever graduate degree she pursues, she’s certain it will involve research. “I want to keep pushing the boundaries of my knowledge and skills and research is where I can accomplish that,” she says.

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Kate Mallory '21

Kate Mallory ’21, Physics with a concentration in astronomy, Commonwealth Honors College

“A great scientist has great determination and curiosity.”

Kate Mallory’s UMass Amherst research will contribute to our understanding of the dawn of the universe. “It’s amazing,” she says, “I feel so lucky to be involved in this project.”

Under the mentorship of Professor of Astronomy Daniela Calzetti, Kate researches star formation. She explains her project: “Star formation occurs in galaxies throughout the universe, and the newly formed stars allow us to trace the evolution of galaxies. Most star formation in the young universe, when it was only one to four billion years old, occurred in dusty galaxies. The young stars heat the dust, which shines in the infrared. The goal of this project is to demonstrate that star formation can be traced in dusty systems using simple computer diagnostics to track infrared radiation.”

Kate is now working with Calzetti and a graduate student on a scientific paper on the project. Their findings may be used to analyze images of dusty galaxies that will be taken by the powerful new James Webb Space Telescope, expected to be launched later in 2021. The Webb, successor to the Hubble, will be the world's premier space science observatory, and will probe the structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.

Kate’s interest in astronomy began in seventh grade. During her first year at UMass, she connected with Professor Calzetti, an internationally renowned astronomer soon to be inducted into the prestigious National Academy of Science. The captain of Kate’s club fencing team, also a physics major, urged her to ask Calzetti to be her advisor for her Commonwealth Honors College thesis. “I was a little hesitant,” Kate says. “The more I learn about Professor Calzetti’s work the more I’m blown away, but from the first meeting she was incredibly supportive and enthusiastic.”

“Kate is a promising researcher who is already rising to the challenge of producing innovative science results,” says Calzetti. “She is poised to grow into a full-fledged scientist.”

Kate is undecided about what kind of scientist she will be; she’s considering both astrophysics and geoscience. “Wherever I go I’ll be using what I’ve learned from Professor Calzetti and remembering her passion to always know more,” she says.

 

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Joshua McGee '21

Joshua McGee ’21, Chemical engineering, Commonwealth Honors College

“People tend to think of science as black and white, that the answer is always there, but when you get into the lab that’s not always the case. There are a million different paths you could take.”

Joshua McGee got the idea for what became his Commonwealth Honors College thesis through a conversation with his UMass Amherst roommate. From his roommate, also a chemical engineering major, he became aware of the difficulties of nanoparticle synthesis. “I saw an opportunity to streamline the synthesis of protein nanoparticles by using the transport phenomena present in microfluidics, and as a result, I developed a microfluidic platform that addresses the need for fast, reproducible, and continuous production of protein nanoparticles,” Joshua explains.

What this research will lead to, he says, will be better methods of using protein nanoparticles to deliver drugs that treat cancer and other diseases.

Joshua began his research as an independent project in the summer following his first year at UMass Amherst, while working in the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Sarah Perry. “His proposal had the depth of knowledge and planning of a senior researcher, and saw success very quickly,” says Perry. “He easily grasps difficult technical concepts and understands the connections between big-picture challenges and day-to-day efforts.”

In Perry’s lab Joshua also worked on a collaborative project with a pharmaceutical company to design technology to automate protein crystallography experiments. This work could significantly speed up the drug design process; a paper detailing the technology is under review at a scientific journal.

Joshua has presented his research on protein nanoparticle synthesis at several conferences and has won awards for his work. He also serves as a research assistant in the lab of Professor of Chemical Engineering John Klier, where he is expanding on his research into microfluidic devices.

He plans to earn a doctoral degree in chemical engineering while remembering the lessons he’s learned through his UMass Amherst research: “Communicate openly and honestly with people, take their ideas under consideration, and then voice your own ideas,” he says.

 

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Jaydeep Radadiya

Jaydeep Radadiya ’21, Industrial engineering

“A good researcher needs motivation to be an explorer—you have to stick to something, keep improving, and finish it, don’t leave it.”

Coming from the outskirts of Surat, India, Jaydeep Radadiya is the first in his family, indeed in his community, to attend college. With scholarship support from a UMass Amherst Chancellor’s Award, he’s succeeded in taking what he calls “a massive jump” toward his goals: “I want to make a contribution and I want to see my parents’ smile,” he says.

Jaydeep’s UMass research in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering focuses on the safety of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Specifically, he studies how people interact with such technology as lane-keeping systems and adaptive cruise control. “My goal is to ensure that the interface between the human and the technology is always considered,” he says. “We look at how much trust people have in the system and how they use it in different scenarios.”

Using a driving simulator and studying drivers on the road, Jaydeep has investigated how and why drivers misuse ADAS. For example, drivers may push the wrong buttons to activate or deactivate cruise control. Over-reliance on ADAS is dangerous as well. For instance, when a car emerges from a dark tunnel, the sunlight may reflect from the ADAS cameras, causing the system to malfunction. The driver needs to be aware of this and adjust. ADAS safety research will help automotive companies design better systems and provide better driver instruction.

Jaydeep secured his place in a UMass research lab out of necessity. He recalls: “I didn’t have the option of returning to work in India, so when I learned about summer research assistantships, I sent emails to professors and said, ‘I will work hard and prove my worth to you.’ It was scary, because I had an empty résumé.”

After an interview, Anuj K. Pradhan ’04G, ’09PhD, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, invited Jaydeep to join his research group in the Human Performance Lab. Jaydeep stayed for the next two years. Pradhan says, “Jaydeep surpassed my expectations by displaying a natural intuition and understanding of scientific research. He has undertaken significant efforts and displayed great leadership in examining vehicle automation systems.”

“If my work saves only one life, I’ll have made a contribution,” Jaydeep says. After just three years at UMass Amherst, Jaydeep will complete his bachelor’s degree in May; he’s now weighing job offers from top corporations around the country. He plans to attend graduate school in the future and he and some friends have an automotive-related startup in the works. “Coming to UMass was the best decision of my life,” he says. “There is so much to offer and I’ve done everything that was possible.”

 

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Shannon Silva

Shannon Silva ’21, Biology, Commonwealth Honors College

“There will be many times when your experiment goes wrong. But failure is good. Change your outlook and treat failure as a learning experience.”

In March 2020, when COVID-19 limited the time Shannon Silva could work in a UMass Amherst lab to conduct research on her Commonwealth Honors College thesis, she was understandably frustrated.  “I had to do a 360 and rework the project,” she says. Shannon quickly adapted and figured out how to move her laboratory analyses online. That experience, she says, made her a more resilient and resourceful researcher.

For her thesis project, Shannon investigated whether females exposed to oxybenzone (a chemical used in sunscreen) during pregnancy and lactation develop more tumors. She worked under the direction of Laura Vandenberg, associate dean of undergraduate academic affairs and associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. She learned how to grade tumors from a pathologist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.

Praising Shannon for her detail-oriented approach, Vandenberg says: “Her independent research project touches upon a fundamental question in the field of cancer biology: why does pregnancy convey protection against breast cancer, and do environmental chemicals interfere with this protection?”

Data from Shannon’s project are currently under analysis at the Vandenberg lab. The research has found that oxybenzone exposure in pregnant females promoted earlier tumor development relative to nonpregnant control mice.  The ongoing research could provide further evidence that pregnancy is a vulnerable period of mammary gland development and establish a stronger link between oxybenzone and cancer.

In addition to giving her the opportunity to contribute to two soon-to-be-published research papers from the Vandenberg lab, Shannon says that UMass gave her “more great educational opportunities than I had the capacity to utilize.” As a first-year student, she was part of the Commonwealth Honors College BioTAP living/ learning community. In her sophomore year, she conducted research in Belize through the UMass Tropical Field Biology Program. And in her junior year, she was a junior fellow in the UMass Life Sciences Program. She also benefited from internships and scholarships.

Having graduated from UMass Amherst in February 2021, Shannon is now an intern in the exploratory immunology department of Bristol Myers Squibb in Cambridge and is applying to PhD programs for the fall. Inspired by her UMass experiences, she wants to pursue cancer biology. “I wouldn’t have come as far as I have without Laura Vandenberg as a mentor,” she says. “Her guidance and my work in her lab showed me that research can translate to meaningful change in how we approach human disease.”

 

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Zoe Stinson '21

Zoe Stinson ’21, Music performance and music education

“Research can be like being on a roller coaster: it has its highs and lows. To be successful at it you have to first figure out where to look and then be persistent.”

When she played her first note on the baritone saxophone, in sixth grade, Zoe Stinson felt her glasses vibrate on her face and was intrigued. She got her own baritone sax in eighth grade and practiced and performed until the instrument became part of her identity.  Now, as a music performance and music education major at UMass Amherst, Zoe has made it her mission to champion the often overlooked baritone sax, known more as an auxiliary member of the saxophone family than an instrument to command center stage.

“It’s always held a special place in my heart,” she says. “Your instrument is your vessel of expression. As I became more educated, the colors that the baritone sax produces and its range fascinated me.”

Drawn to UMass Amherst by the friendly vibe of its music program, Zoe has played the soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax in many ensembles, on campus and off. She is a drum major in the UMass Minuteman Marching Band, performs with the Wind Ensemble, and plays with a chamber group. “Any chance to perform, I’m there,” she says.

She stood out in the music department, winning the 2020 UMass Amherst Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition for soloists. Jonathan Hulting-Cohen, assistant professor of saxophone, says, “Zoe is an exceptional saxophonist whose artistry and concern for the field are exemplary.” Zoe has also been named the music department’s Presser Scholar for the 2020-2021 school year.

While preparing for a solo recital she called “Colors: A Showcase of the Baritone Saxophone,” Zoe found herself wishing there were more pieces for her instrument and decided to look for works that might have been buried over time. She started sifting through an index of nearly every piece written for saxophone since its invention in the 1840s.

“My mission is a multipart research plan to explore the colors that the baritone saxophone can produce through my own practice and performance, to build a database of music and links to scores already written for this voice, and to begin a commissioning project for works for the baritone saxophone,” she explains. “The overarching goal of my research is to make music for the solo baritone saxophone more relevant, palatable, and accessible, and through it, show others that this instrument is a valid classical voice.”

Zoe plans to teach music after graduating and to continue her own music education, perhaps with a master’s degree in conducting or performance. “Musicians should never stop learning,” she says. She hopes to perform “Colors” for a live audience after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and will continue to champion her beloved baritone sax. “This will go way beyond my graduation from UMass,” she says. “It could be a life’s work.”

 

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Renos Zabounidis ’22

Renos Zabounidis ’22, Computer science, mathematics, BDIC, Commonwealth Honors College

“It’s one thing to solve a problem and another thing to help someone else figure out how to solve a problem. In math and in research in general, it’s not just about the cold hard numbers, it’s about intuition.”

Having taken advanced classes at UMass Amherst, worked in campus labs, and benefited from summer internships, Renos Zabounidis ’22 has settled on a bold research quest: to fuse principles from cognitive psychology and statistical machine learning to better understand the nature of intelligence.

Renos plans to continue his research into the human side of artificial intelligence as a PhD student and eventually as a university professor. Now in his junior year, he is excelling in three majors: computer science, mathematics, and a Bachelor’s Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC) in computational and cognitive science.

Renos dug into undergraduate research early, working in the Advanced Healthcare and Human Analytics Lab (AHHA) during his first semester at UMass. There, he and another undergraduate created a mobile application for the monitoring and management of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease.

Through that lab work, Renos discovered he was more interested in theoretical than applied research and, after thriving in a master’s level machine learning class, moved on to work in the UMass Information Fusion Lab with Madalina Fiterau assistant professor of computer science. Renos’s work there was unparalleled and speedy. “He is exceptionally gifted, demonstrating enthusiasm about doing research and diligence in completing projects,” Fiterau says.

Last summer, Renos participated in a robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University. There, drawing on his two years of UMass research and advanced courses, he created an algorithm, called “Introspection,” that applies an interdisciplinary approach to imbuing artificial intelligence with more human qualities.

“Humans can’t fully understand what’s in another person’s brain and, furthermore, people change their beliefs over time,” he explains. “In order for AI to be helpful, it has to understand what a person is thinking as well as what they should be thinking and are not. The intent of the algorithm is to make inferences about what humans feel, their confidence level, and what they might do at any given moment.” Renos will continue work on the algorithm this summer.

“This field of research is what I’m passionate about,” he says. “There’s always more to be found.”

 

 

Spring 2020 Class

A revolutionary spirit runs through our veins at UMass Amherst. It inspires us to think in new ways and to challenge convention. This semester we celebrate eight exceptional students with the Rising Researcher award in recognition of their unconventional and inspiring approaches to research, scholarship, and creative activity.

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Taylor Cassidy

Classics major and Commonwealth Honors College Student Taylor Cassidy ’20 has taken on an ambitious honors thesis. She is investigating the existence of non-standard language use—gendered language, kinship language, and other socially-stratified language types including that of slaves—in Greek and Latin comedies to shed light on how the voices of oppressed groups may have been represented in ancient societies. By analyzing linguistic registers (stylistic variations in language) in comedic texts, she seeks to find linguistic evidence for “ventriloquism” of these oppressed groups.

“I’m taking an interdisciplinary approach to my research,” says Cassidy. Utilizing Greek and Latin plays, inscriptions, and prose for reference materials, she is incorporating modern and historical sociolinguistic research to synthesize data and establish whether the case can be made that comedic playwrights were portraying registers of language accurately or, for example, exaggerating particular features of language simply for laughs.

“Taylor has made great progress in the collection of data and development of her own methodology in applying modern theory to dead languages,” says her thesis advisor Simon Oswald. “This approach is still a relative novelty in the field and has huge potential for significant results,” he adds.

Cassidy is the recipient of the William F. Bulger Classics Award for outstanding achievement among classics majors and the Joseph and Elizabeth Rountree Scholarship for academic merit.

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William Johnson

 

Biology major and Commonwealth Honors College student, William Johnson ’20 joined Professor Craig Martin’s lab in 2018 and quickly became an outstanding contributor, conducting both joint and independent research on transcription by T7 RNA polymerase. With applications to RNA therapeutics, RNA nanotechnology, and basic molecular biology, Johnson hopes his discoveries will push the boundaries of nucleic acid research.

Johnson’s efforts garnered him an Honors College Research Grant to fund his investigations, and inclusion as co-author on a peer-reviewed manuscript published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, the premier journal in DNA/RNA/proteins in biology. Johnson has also spent two summers as an intern with New England Biolabs, conducting various aspects of research on a microbiome sequencing project.

“Troubleshooting countless experiments in the Martin lab has shown me why absorbing relevant background literature in depth and having concrete understandings of basic principles underlying biochemistry can make the difference in lab. Learning through undergraduate research, I can clearly see how obtaining higher education in my field is, and will continue to be, invaluable to my goals as a scientist.,” says Johnson.

 

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Colin Lemire

Colin Lemire ’20 has been involved in independent research in Assistant Professor Sibongile Mafu’s lab since the fall semester of his sophomore year. A Commonwealth Honors College student and biochemistry and molecular biology major, Lemire's research focuses on the biosynthesis of natural products (plants and fungi). Given that 25 percent of drugs are derived from natural, bioactive compounds, the goal of Lemire’s research is to better understand their metabolic pathways to enable future research into their function and potential pharmaceutical applications.

“Colin was awarded an Honors College Research Grant that supports his current research on the elucidation of the biosynthetic pathway of chemically distinct terpenes (organic compounds that can form a chemical defense) in fungi. His work involves gene discovery and pathway reconstruction of terpene molecules that have demonstrated activity as antimicrobials,” says Mafu.

Lemire has received a number of other grants and scholarships for his work, including a grant from the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment; an American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Student Chapter Travel Award to present his research at the 2020 ASBMB Annual Meeting; a UMass Life Sciences Junior Fellow award, and acceptance into the Sophomores Serve program.

As part of Sophomores Serve, Lemire was able to combine his interests in research and public policy. He collaborated with peers on a research-guided policy proposal for alleviating food insecurity among children in Massachusetts. “We presented this research to the Massachusetts Senate at the State House, which was undoubtedly the best experience I have had as an undergraduate. My time at UMass has taught me that effective research should incorporate stakeholders inside and outside of the scientific community,” says Lemire.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Joseph McGaunn ’20 has been involved in five research projects in Associate Professor Alexander Suvorov’s lab. McGaunn is investigating the role of molecular mechanisms in mediating interactions between an individual’s genetics and their environment, in transferring non-genetic information from one generation to the next, and the clinical applications for such mechanisms. A double major in biochemistry and molecular biology and psychology, his many investigations as an undergraduate researcher have led to a number of impressive discoveries and outcomes.

“Joseph conducted an experiment in my lab in which he discovered a link between paternal exposure to environmental chemicals and neurodevelopmental outcomes in offspring,” says Suvorov. Working in collaboration with the Pilsner lab, McGaunn identified intergenerational effects of paternal exposure to phthalates, a group of chemicals found in plastic products and cosmetics. He discovered that mice whose fathers were exposed to the phthalate DEHP were more active than controls, but when their fathers were exosed to the phthalates DEHP and DBP simultaneously, mice were slower and had lower average body weights as compared to controls.

McGaunn’s investigations also include experiments to identify a potential link between environmental exposure to toxins and changes in male fertility and epigenetics, and a rigorous bioinformatics analysis to understand how changes in liver RNA might be linked to flame-retardant exposure. He has worked on a meta-analysis of over 600,000 chemical-gene interactions that revealed cellular pathways not previously known to be highly sensitive to chemical exposure.

McGaunn has presented his work at the Northeast Society of Toxicology Regional Chapter annual meeting and the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology, which Suvorov says is the most respected toxicological forum in the world.

“Joseph will coauthor four manuscripts that will be published by my lab. He has tremendous promise as a young researcher,” says Suvorov.

 

Computer science major and Commonwealth Honors College student Jack Merullo ’20 conducts research that applies natural language processing (NLP) to help solve research questions pertaining to social issues, information retrieval, and deep learning.  

For his honors thesis, he worked with Assistant Professor Mohit Iyyer to research the presence and degree of bias in sports commentary. One major contribution of his work is the creation of a large dataset of NFL and NCAA football broadcast transcripts containing comments of players who are tagged by race, allowing analysis of comments for racial bias that was not previously possible. “The data we compiled contains an order of magnitude greater number of games than any previous work on this topic,” says Merullo.

Merullo, along with Iyyer and his computer science lab mate Luke Yeh, published a peer-reviewed study of his research at the 2019 conference Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, and ESPN recently published an article about his work on their sports and pop culture website The Undefeated.

“Being able to publish at a top conference in my field has given me the confidence to pursue graduate school more seriously and has affirmed my passion for research in natural language processing,” says Merullo.

 

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Kit Newell

Theater major Kit Newell ’20 has performed outstanding work as an actor, which is “a creative research achievement of impressive depth and substance,” according to Newell’s advisor Harley Erdman, chair of the department of theater.

An aficionado of heightened language and classic texts, Newell played the leading role of Gila in the campus’s 2019 Main Stage production of Wild Thing. This complex tragedy from 17th century Spain, in which Newell as Gila was on stage almost every moment, charts the demanding emotional journey of a character who, in our world, might be considered queer or gender nonbinary.

“Kit's work in this leading role was skillful and courageous, combining ferocity and tenderness in this vivid depiction of a rebel and outsider. I believe Kit has a great future ahead as a Shakespearean/classic actor,” says Erdman.

“Playing Gila was the biggest challenge of my college career. It was intellectually, emotionally and physically demanding, and gave me the opportunity to synthesize knowledge from a range of my classes at UMass,” says Newell.

Newell credits their involvement in Wild Thing for leading to other creative opportunities, such as the role of Tiresias in the Main Stage production of The Bacchae of Euripides, and work on a feminist reimagining of Hampshire Shakespeare Company’s Taming of the Shrew. “From being part of this production, I am more excited than ever before about pursuing a career in performance,” adds Newell.

 

Mechanical engineering major Madeline Scott ’20 has been working in Professor Robert Hyers’ lab on two research projects that broaden understanding of new and existing materials and processes for advanced manufacturing.

The first project was to re-build and modify an experimental apparatus for electroplating powders to be used in cold spray processes. “Cold spray is a newer repair process for metal components that are exposed to corrosive or high-wear applications. It allows an economical and ecological route of salvaging and repairing damaged parts rather than discarding them,” says Scott.

The second project is a study of the density and viscosity of superheated and undercooled liquid metal samples in levitation through a contactless method. Scott had the opportunity to spend a week conducting some of these experiments at NASA’s George Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While there, she helped prepare samples, observed and directed sample processing, and made adjustments to their electrostatic levitator.

 “Maddy has made significant contributions to other projects as well, including the measurements of properties of superalloys for additive manufacturing for aerospace, and of novel high-entropy alloys that may displace some of these superalloys for cryogenic turbomachinery in rockets. Her work has resulted in significant contributions to two accepted conference papers, with three journal papers and an additional conference paper in preparation, all in 5 months,” says Hyers.

“These projects have helped me in my confidence and ownership of the science and engineering I learned in my coursework. I look forward to continuing to apply the things I have learned in the lab as I go on to pursue my goal of becoming an astronaut,” says Scott.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student and chemical engineering major Elizabeth Voke ’20 has worked in Professor Sarah Perry’s lab since 2017. Her experimental research projects investigate the fundamental principles of self-assembly of large polymer systems.

Voke focuses on complex coacervation, a dense, polymer-rich liquid phase that results from the interaction of oppositely-charged polymers in water. While these types of materials have been used in industry for years, basic understanding of their self-assembly is limited.

“Complex coacervation has a long history of use in food and personal care products, which has been the subject of increasing excitement and research in the areas of encapsulation, drug delivery and stabilization, and underwater adhesion," says Voke.

Her honors thesis research, which looks at the encapsulation of proteins into coacervate phases for drug delivery applications, has landed her an opportunity to collaborate with a Fortune 500 company headquartered in the United States. Voke has also worked in the Keasling lab at UC Berkeley as an Amgen Scholar.

“Research and class studies have intertwined and complemented each other throughout my undergraduate experience. My research projects have fueled an interest in drug delivery and tissue engineering applications. They have taught me to think critically about problems, investigate solutions, and adapt quickly—all skills which have helped me navigate my rigorous curriculum,” says Voke.

Karen J. Hayes '85

Fall 2019 Class

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Fall 2019 Rising Researchers

UMass Amherst continues to attract truly remarkable students. The campus’s varied opportunities allow students to challenge convention, think in new ways, and create change instead of waiting for it. This semester we celebrate six students with the Rising Researcher Award in recognition of their demonstrated ingenuity and impact in their fields of study.

Sociology major and Commonwealth Honors College student, Rachel Bargoot ’19, is a “real star” in both her research activities and undergraduate program according to her advisor Katherine Fabel. Working on a six-person team of graduate students under the direction of sociology Professor Naomi Gerstel, Bargoot is investigating the components that influence family involvement in higher education and the subsequent impact on students.

The institutional portion of her research was to chronicle college personnel’s interactions and relationships with families of students. As she helped interview participants, transcribed, and coded data, she began to develop her own ideas about research on the interpretation and implementation of the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) on a college campus and its effects on the student experience. 

The crux of her analysis lies within these moments of conflict, where she analyzes which strategies university personnel employ to diffuse conflict, especially around employing and explaining FERPA, says Bargoot.

Her thesis argues that parents have come to understand themselves as primary consumers of education. “This issue pertains especially to parents of students who have provided significant financial investment. The consumer culture is reinforced by colleges’ attempts to advertise their programs to families,” says Bargoot. She found that parents and families are beginning to request more information about their students after matriculation, resulting in increased combative interactions between families and college personnel when faced with FERPA constraints. 

"This project and the research that led to it have been the cornerstone of my undergraduate experience at UMass Amherst,” says Bargoot.

“Rachel is interested in going on to study higher education,” says Fabel. “She has incorporated this interest into her entire student pathway, immersing herself in learning more about higher ed as an institution; she is an RA, a sociology peer advisor, and a university hearing board member for the Dean of Students Office. She also did a fascinating presentation on FERPA in my Sociology of Higher Education class (which is quite a feat). Rachel is a passionate student with a real dedication to her research and to better understanding and improving the experience of all college students,” adds Fabel.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student and pre-veterinary sciences major, Morgane Golan ’20, joined Dr. Wei Cui’s lab in 2018, and embraced the freedom to dream bigger. She planned on becoming a clinical veterinarian, but her goals shifted to research when she became a fellow in the Lee Science Impact Program (Lee SIP), a donor-funded program in the College of Natural Sciences designed to expand and broaden participation in undergraduate research.

As a scholar and member of Dr. Cui’s lab, Golan has contributed to a number of research investigations in embryo culture and genotyping, and animal modeling processes. “We study genes that are required for mammalian embryonic development, by regulating or 'knocking out' their function, to evaluate the developmental progress following this sort of mutation,” says Golan.

Golan adjusted to the lab’s pace quickly. “The more time that I spent in the lab, the more I wanted to be there. I love the personal satisfaction and exhilaration that come with fantastic results...This role has imbued me with a sense of confidence and self-awareness. Because of my experience as a young, female research scientist, I have been offered unique opportunities to work with diverse groups and achieve heightened levels of success, ”says Golan.

Her contributions to one particular knockout study of Mediator Complex Subunit 20 (Med20), which plays a role in gene transcription and whose dysregulation has been linked with intellectual disability in humans, resulted in Golan’s co-authorship of a paper in the Journal of Reproduction. Her honors thesis investigates the embryonic role of Replication Factor C1, a subunit factor involved in the catalysis of DNA synthesis that has implications in aging. “It has been determined that cleavage of the subunit adversely affects cellular proliferation, resulting in the phenotypic expression of the genetic disorder Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome,” says Golan. She hopes to publish a paper on her thesis results next spring.

“I love the research that I do in these projects because it bridges the gap between complex scientific theories and real-world implications. This research also presents hope that we might someday be able to minimize the prevalence of these genetic abnormalities and limit their terrible prognoses in human medicine,” says Golan.

 

Jacob Kaplan ’20, a jazz and African American music studies major, added to a tradition of jazz arranging with a string and rhythm section. He wrote an arrangement of a popular jazz ballad that brought together classical string players and jazz players to explore the sound concept behind many great recordings of the past, but bring the sound back into the repertoire of modern day musicians.

Originally written for a smaller quartet or quintet, Kaplan added a four-piece string section with the standard rhythm section to the ballad called “My One and Only Love” by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin and played the melody on the saxophone as a jazz quartet with strings. He worked with both his private lesson teacher and with the string players to figure out how to put the piece together cohesively. After playing it live for a recital in the spring of 2019, Kaplan and his ensemble met this fall to do a more professionally assembled recording session.

 “Jacob has begun to write and arrange jazz small group instrumentals combined with string quartets which are normally seen in classical configurations. Although this has been done in the past, it is still not a common sound. I believe that a student who is exploring unique sounds and unafraid to cross the boundaries of genre should be recognized and encouraged in these endeavors,” says Thomas Giampietro, his ensemble coach and independent study teacher. 

“This project was a challenge as I have never written for strings before” says Kaplan. “The process of figuring out not only how to write for the string players but how to fit everyone's sound together in a cohesive and stylistically appropriate way was difficult and took involvement from the whole ensemble.” Despite the challenge, Kaplan plans to continue similar work. “It could provide a key creative outlet in the future for myself and my colleagues that includes not only jazz-oriented musicians but a multitude of personnel from many different musical backgrounds,” he adds. 

“Jacob has been a model student during his years at UMass and has developed into a natural leader within the jazz student body,” says Giampietro.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Zoe Kearney ’20, astronomy and physics, is a natural at research. Working with her advisor, professor Alexandra Pope, Kearney has been involved in two galaxy formation and evolution projects where she has worked with big data sets, honing her skills in data synthesis and analysis.

Her two projects at UMass Amherst have been examining the relationship between galaxy properties and the environment of dusty star forming galaxies. Both projects have been computationally involved and have focused on imaging, working with large amounts of data, and learning about the importance of research on dusty sources and obscured star formation. Kearney presented the first project at the American Astronomical Society in 2018 and the second will be developed into her honors thesis.

While studying abroad, Zoe worked with a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute sorting through large amounts of data and abstracts for Damped Lyman alpha systems, large densities of neutral hydrogen gas which are visible in quasar spectra. “This required learning about new science and spectral analysis as well as developing new code in Python to redo analysis previously done in IDL. I plan to present this work at the next American Astronomical Society meeting and write a paper upon conclusion of the analysis,” says Kearney.

“Zoe understands the process of analyzing data and then synthesizing the results before taking the next steps. She asks insightful questions, has strong computational skills and a high-level theoretical understanding of the material,” says Pope.

“Seeing how all components fit together, such as the theory, application, and analysis, has taught me early on to always stay curious and persistent when there is a problem to be solved. I continue to be excited and passionate about physics and astronomy and anxiously anticipate the opportunity to expand my research in the years to come,” says Kearney.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Kenneth Lin ’20, astronomy and physics, is also a member of Professor Alexandra Pope’s team. He has been contributing to two groundbreaking projects designed to shed light on the roles of star formation and supermassive black holes as astrophysical processes that drive galaxy evolution. 

His first project aims to reveal the link between supermassive black holes and star formation evolution in distant galaxies with the forthcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. “This work enables the diagnosis of active galactic nuclei at high redshifts where the star formation rate peaks in an era called cosmic noon,” says Lin. 

The second involves developing diagnostic simulations for TolTEC, an imaging polarimeter to be commissioned on the Large Millimeter Telescope in Mexico at the end of 2019. “This project aims to quantify the effects of multiplicity and confusion in the TolTEC beam on the observations to be made with upcoming large sky surveys. With the three-millimeter wavelengths of TolTEC, this study aims to quantify how well galaxy sources can be selected by redshift by spectral energy distributions and constraining the dust emissivity of these sources,” said Lin.

“Kenneth has received multiple awards and recognitions for his scholarly and research accomplishments including a national Goldwater Scholarship and the 2019 William F. Field Alumni Scholars Award. He was also selected for two competitive external summer research internships: the Nakatani Foundation RIES U.S. Fellowship program and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) REU program. For the Nakatani program, he won the best poster presentation prize among the exceptional cohort of fellows and presented his research at a conference in October 2018. He plans to present his research from his CfA Harvard project at the AAS meeting this winter,” says Pope. 

Lin says, “I hope to pursue my interests in astronomical instrumentation, and in particular, optical detectors for next generation space-based observatories. Developing the new technologies in instruments will enable the science to be pushed further, giving us the capabilities to address wide-ranging open questions in astrophysics from galaxy formation and evolution near the beginning of time to the large-scale structure of the universe.”

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Cinzia Presti ’20, a classics and art history major, has a goal: to map and analyze infrastructural elements such as drainage systems, cisterns, and roads of the ancient Roman city of Tharros (Sardinia, Italy). Her research will help shed light on the lives of ancient people and how they may have interacted with city infrastructure and their environment.

Presti's unique method of research combines digital humanities (applying computational tools and methods to humanities disciplines) with traditional archaeological methods. She conducted her own ground survey of Tharros, analyzing drone data of the topography to determine potential paths and volumes of drainage in the excavated and unexcavated portions of the city. “Drainage and access to water can tell a lot about the lives of the people of Tharros. To date, the study of how water entered, circulated and left the city has been understudied,” says Presti.

Expected outcomes of her research include modeling of the cityscape, documenting sources and outflows of water, and reconstructing roofing and the water environment. Her work has garnered much attention, and last summer Presti was invited to join the Tharros Archeological Research Project’s excavations geospatial team led by the University of Cincinnati.

“This type of research has allowed me to take up new opportunities at UMass such as participating in archaeological fieldwork and several digital humanities research projects,” says Presti. “My hopes are to pursue a doctorate in classical art and archaeology, teach at the university level and continue to incorporate innovative technologies into my archaeological research.”

Katherine Kelley '20

Spring 2019 Class

Rebecca Castonguay ’19 knew little about mathematical modeling for disease when she signed on to Professor Hari Balasubramanian’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) team in the summer of 2018. An industrial engineering major, she was recruited by Balasubramanian after he noticed her high academic performance and particularly strong mathematical and programming skills. “Rebecca is the best industrial engineering undergraduate student I have taught in my ten years at UMass Amherst,” says Balasubramanian.

As part of her summer research, and now her honors thesis, Castonguay developed new models to understand the mathematical structures of networks of contacts between people during infectious disease epidemics. “Rebecca developed a new neural network model for estimating degree correlations and is in the process of using that to develop more accurate contact generation algorithms, which are key to improving accuracy of epidemic predictions,” says Castonguay’s thesis advisor Chaitra Gopalappa.  She adds, “This new method has the potential for broad impact for surveillance and control of emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola, SARS, and MERS. Results on test cases are promising.”

“I am fascinated with the mathematical models behind systems and how we can manipulate and create these models to make decisions that will help improve the system as a whole,” says Castonguay. “My ultimate goal is to have a positive impact on those around me and, after this summer of research, I firmly believe that engineering will help me to achieve this goal.”

 

Public health and biochemistry dual- degree student, Aastha Pokharel ’19, joined Professor Laura Vandenberg’s lab as a STEM Ambassador, a program that helps connect underrepresented minority students with research advisors. Under Vandenberg’s direction, Pokharel conducted two independent projects investigating environmental influences on mammary gland function and development.

Pokharel’s first project examined the natural left- right asymmetry of the developing mammary gland. “Aastha’s work demonstrated that the left and right glands have inherent differences – their size and proliferation rates are different. This research is important because there is a left/right bias in breast cancer risk,” says Vandenberg. Pokharel’s results have been published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, with Pokharel as first author.

“My research experience at UMass Amherst has been a transformative experience, to say the least…  [it] has not only expanded my knowledge in the field of environmental health sciences, but, with the completion of every project and every accomplishment along the way, has given me more confidence in my abilities,” says Pokharel.

Her second project, which characterized the effects of environmental history on growth parameters in the mouse mammary gland, also resulted in a journal article with Pokharel as second author. She and Vandenberg are now in the process of converting her thesis into a manuscript for publication this spring.

“My projects have also given me the motivation to continue furthering my education,” says Pokharel. “I am enrolled in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences 4+1 M.S. Environmental Health Sciences program and I will be working toward acquiring a graduate degree in the next year.”

 

Constance Roberts ’19 is a double major in the History of Art and Architecture and German and Scandinavian Studies. Her research concerns neglected female artists, the history of scholarship regarding them, and the contributions of their artwork to depicting and solidifying a national identity. Her investigations focus on Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1933), whose painted gesso panels serve as visual centerpieces in Scottish tearooms. The panels helped shape the interiors of buildings designed by her famous husband, the Art Nouveau architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

“Constance shows a keen sensitivity to how art relates to place,” say her thesis advisor Professor Timothy Rohan. “On another level, she has explored how the murals were shaped by early twentieth-century feminism, the Celtic Revival and Scottish Nationalism. Her thesis challenges modernist definitions of innovation and collaboration and promises to substantially reposition Mackintosh within the history of art,” says Rohan.

Roberts says her thesis is the culmination of many exceptional research experiences at UMass. In 2018, she won a grant from the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College, which allowed her to travel to Scotland to see the murals in January of this year. She also presented a highly original interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este at a graduate research confer and her “Emily Carr’s Zunoqua of the Cat Village and the Moment of Colonization,” was published in the journal Aisthesis.

“Constance consistently challenges traditional intellectual boundaries and engages in independent thinking, informed by broad cultural and historical understanding. She has made and will continue to make significant contributions to the field when she pursues a PhD in Art History towards a curatorial or academic career,” notes Rohan.

 

Allyson Rosati ’19, a double major in Spanish and biochemistry and molecular biology, joined Richard Pilsner’s environmental health sciences lab in the fall of her sophomore year where she quickly demonstrated her research independence. Her first assignment was to assist graduate students in research relating exposure to endocrine disrupting environmental contaminants, specifically phthalates and phenols, to mitochondrial DNA biomarkers and to oxidative stress.

“This introduction to research led me to two poster presentations, one co-authored paper published in the journal Environmental Research, and priceless bench work experience,” says Rosati.

For her Commonwealth Honors College thesis, Rosati is working on a new collaborative project from the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility in the Environment (LIFE) Study, a prospective cohort study by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The project investigates the associations of sperm mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn) on couples’ ability to become pregnant, as measured by time-to-pregnancy (TTP).

“An enormous amount of work was needed to begin our study,” says Pilsner. “Allyson spent the next year generating data for sperm mtDNAcn, while learning to use statistical programming languages to run her own analyses.  Her results revealed that sperm mtDNAcn was associated with a two-fold longer TTP, suggesting the utility of sperm mtDNAcn as a biomarker to predict couples’ ability to become pregnant. She will present her results at the Society for the Study of Reproduction’s Annual meeting and will graduate with two first-authored and one co-authored manuscripts. This is a truly remarkable feat for an undergraduate,” adds Pilsner.

 

Theater major Garrett Sager ’19, produced, directed and performed in QUEER & NOW, a two-year-long theatrical project with specific iterations structured as evenings of vignettes that provide potential futures for identity, gender, sexuality, community, and kinship. His Honors thesis centers on drag and lip syncing as modes of radical celebration and liberation for queer people and communities.

QUEER & NOW has had three major iterations, all selling to sold-out crowds and garnering rave reviews. Faculty members have noted that QUEER & NOW is “a show with heart and style, with long-term potential,” “exuberant and ground-breaking” and “a beautiful and life-affirming dance party...exquisite.” Students have noted the impact of the QUEER & NOW series as well, emphasizing its “message of unapologetic pride and radical inclusivity” that is able to “transport its audiences to a parallel dimension…fierce, riotous, and energetic.”

Sager took the latest version of QUEER & NOW to the New York Professional Outreach Program space in Manhattan this past March, “a considerable producorial undertaking” says Harley Erdman, Sager’s advisor and Honors thesis chair. “He is now writing a sophisticated academic paper as his honors research thesis, using QUEER & NOW as an example of how to queer gender and rethink our relationship to our environment. I have been supervising honors theses regularly for 25 years, and Garrett's thesis, augmented by his independent projects last year, constitute the single finest honors thesis that I have supervised in my UMass career,” says Erdman.

 

Microbiology major Olivia Venezia ’19 always imagined becoming a doctor prior to attending UMass Amherst. Her undergraduate research experiences working in Professor Alicia Timme-Laragy’s Environmental Health Sciences lab changed that.

“Over the past four years I have become passionate about a career in research,” says Venezia.

Venezia investigates how embryonic exposures to toxicants affect pancreas development. As a senior thesis project she is independently investigating the role of cell transcription factors PPAR (Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors) in altered pancreatic development. Impaired regulation of this transcription factor, essential for fat regulation, may contribute to the toxic effects of these compounds in the pancreas.

Among her many accomplishments is a nationally competitive Pfizer Undergraduate Travel Award to attend and present her research at the national Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting, in Baltimore in March 2019. At the conference, she received an award for her work from the Molecular & Systems Biology Specialty Section.  Venezia is also a co-author on two published manuscripts and three others that will be submitted for publication over the next year.

“Olivia is a fantastic representation of undergraduate research at UMass on both the regional and national stage. Her quiet, unassuming leadership in the lab over the past few years will be greatly missed when she graduates,” says Timme-Laragy.

“I hope that working in research will provide me with continued learning experiences in a field that I love,” says Venezia. “I am sure that the skills I have gained at UMass, and in the Timme-Laragy lab, will guide my future success.”

All six Rising Researchers are students in the Commonwealth Honors College.

Karen J. Hayes '85

Fall 2018 Class

Hands-on research is a hallmark of undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We honor eight students from across campus with the Rising Researcher Award in recognition of their demonstrated leadership and impact in their chosen field of study.

For Commonwealth Honors College student Bianca Edozie ’19, the opportunity to work in Professor Jenny Ross’ lab helped “ignite a passion for research I never knew I had.” A double major in chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biology, Edozie works on projects that explore various behavioral aspects of microtubules—stiff, structural elements found in animal cells. Microtubules help form the spindle apparatus during cell division and can act as an intra-cellular transport system, among other things.

Her current project centers on creating “tactoids”, biologically relevant microtubule organizations that act as model mitotic spindles in the lab. The model allows Edozie and other researchers to explore the effects of proteins and enzymes on mitotic spindle organization. She recently published a paper with Ross that is now under review at Soft Matter.

“Bianca is a brilliant student and one of the hardest working people I have ever met,” says Ross. Ross notes that Edozie represented UMass at a Research Experience for Undergraduates, which took place at Brandeis University. “She took new data, and performed incredibly difficult dynamics experiments that will continue this year as part of her honors thesis. This work will likely result in a second manuscript. I see no end to her possible future leadership in whatever field she continues,” says Ross.

In addition to her myriad technical skills, Edozie says she has learned independence in the lab setting, troubleshooting, and how to be confident. “My project has been more than just the research itself, but more specifically, what the research required me to learn as an aspiring scientist. I’ve acquired a wealth of knowledge, both new and supplemental to my education in the classroom,” says Edozie. She plans to attend graduate school in the fall.

Commonwealth Honors College student Nicholas Fragola ’19 entered UMass Amherst as a pre-med student. Currently a biochemistry and molecular biology and psychology double major, his experience as a research assistant in Professor Julian Tyson’s lab quickly changed the course of his academic career. “It really shifted my career goals, giving me a taste for the world of research and for trying to make a difference on a much larger scale,” says Fragola.

The challenge Tyson set before Fragola (part of Tyson’s collaboration with Chemists Without Borders) was to help find a way to measure arsenic that is cheap, simple to use, and can quickly provide accurate, reliable results. Arsenic in rice is a widespread problem that affects large populations around the world.

“We have adapted a kit that measures arsenic in water to detect inorganic arsenic levels in rice. We have shown that the method works in the presence of rice starch, and we are currently validating the procedure using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, a leading method in analytical chemistry,” says Fragola. Fragola will eventually help train scientists who will implement the use of his field test kit in Bangladesh, a country with a great need for the technology.

“Nick’s work is described in an ACS Symposium series book chapter "Mobilizing Chemistry Expertise to Solve Humanitarian Problems" of which he is a co-author,” says Tyson. “His performance and accomplishments are just outstanding.”

Fragola is appreciative of the opportunity he’s been given to make a legitimate contribution to science. “I now desire to make research my career,” he says.

Taylor Guertin ’19, a biochemistry and molecular biology major and Commonwealth Honors College student, was determined to become an MD when she entered college. “If you told me that senior year I would spend 30 hours a week in lab working on my own research project (and enjoying it), I would have thought you were insane,” says Guertin. Her initial interest in research was sparked after attending a research experiences seminar given by Kimberly Tremblay, a faculty member in Veterinary and Animals Sciences. 

Her first two years in the Tremblay lab were spent assisting a PhD student investigating the role of Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) signaling in liver development. Their work resulted in co-authorship of a high-impact paper in Hepatology, the premier publication in the field of liver disease.

“During this time I was able to learn many different histological and molecular techniques that have helped to foster my own research project. My honors college thesis is focused on investigating the role that retinoic acid (RA) signaling plays in early liver development in mice embryos,” says Guertin.

“Taylor operates more like a mid-level PhD student than an undergraduate. She is capable of all the complicated embryological and molecular techniques needed to set up and perform her proposed experiments. I am confident that her current work will result in a first-author manuscript,” says Tremblay.

Guertin notes that her research experience has been extremely influential in the scholarships and awards that she has received. “These scholarships have made it possible for me to spend time in lab instead of working, allowing me to pursue my passion for research and driving me toward a career path where I can be successful,” she says. Guertin will apply to MD/PhD programs for admission in 2020.

 

For many patients suffering from blood disorders and cancer, hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation offers the best chance of survival; however, this therapy is limited due to a chronic shortage of HSCs. Under the tutelage of Assistant Professor Jungwoo Lee, Jun-Goo Kwak ’19, chemical engineering, has worked on a number of biomedical engineering projects that focus on bone marrow to develop new cell biomanufacturing solutions with the goal of making cell-based therapies more widely available.

“My research experience has centered on the development of an artificial bone marrow niche to promote HSC expansion outside of the body. We have recently developed a bone-marrow mimicking polymer scaffold that promotes the expansion of blood cells, and facilitates their retrieval by using a unique temperature switch within the polymer backbone. We are preparing to submit this research to Small where I am first author,” says Kwak.

In addition to using biomaterials to maximize the potential of blood cell-based therapeutics, Kwak has studied the evolution of disseminated tumor cells using similar artificial polymer constructs. Metastasis is the leading cause of death for nearly all cancers, but not all circulating tumor cells immediately proliferate, especially within the bone marrow, notes Kwak. Understanding how these disseminated tumor cells are influenced by their microenvironment and which conditions are favorable to promote the formation of secondary tumors is necessary to develop new therapeutic strategies to prevent or delay metastasis. His research in this area resulted in a paper accepted by Nature Biomedical Engineering with Kwak as second author.

“Jun-Goo Kwak is an amazing individual in our community who carries great potential to become a leader in the field of bioengineering and medicine,” says Lee.

 

Mark Leon-Duque ’19, chemistry, transferred to UMass Amherst as a second-year student interested in getting a medical degree. A sophomore seminar class offered at that time introduced Leon-Duque to research projects underway on campus. “I promptly contacted Dr. Mingxu You (chemistry) asking to shadow his lab members and by the spring semester, I was working on a project, handling the experimental portions and some of the analysis,” says Leon-Duque.

In the first two years of his time at the You lab, Leon-Duque worked closely with research fellow Aruni P.K.K. Karunanayake Mudiyanselag. Together they developed a new RNA-based imaging system for detecting small RNA molecules within live cells. “Our efforts and the resulting manuscript was published in The Journal of The American Chemical Society. I tested a few of our designs independently that earned me my name as third co-author on the publication. Currently, I am working independently on expanding this imaging system to apply to other small molecules,” says Leon-Duque.

“Publishing my first paper with Aruni and all the other contributors gave me such an exhilarated rush, a true sense of accomplishment,” says Leon-Duque.  “The project also taught me things that are completely out of the scope of the typical chemistry undergrad curriculum. I know that I want to do research, whether it will be in academia or in industry remains to be revealed. Nevertheless, I feel my sense of purpose and I will tread this path will diligence and my best effort,” he notes.

“Mark has demonstrated great potential to be an independent scientist. He can learn new techniques and knowledge very quickly and his results are repeatable and trustable,” says You.

 

What makes some people better learners than others? Commonwealth Honors College student Aazam Najeebi ’19 intends to find out. The psychological and brain sciences major has been working in Professor Rebecca Spencer’s lab on a project using MRI to understand how sleep changes memory representations and how this changes with aging. He became interested in what was unique about those participants who learn more quickly than others, young or old.

“This project has a lot of technology to learn, data to manage and background science to learn. Aazam began ‘hanging around’ the lab more than required and truly immersed himself in learning. He caught on to complicated analysis streams for the MR data. Not only did he learn the scripts we use, but he developed his own as he followed his curiosities,” says Spencer. 

“My project, as well as the MRI-SRT project that I have worked on for the past 8 months, has had a profound impact on my education at UMass, ignited my passion for neuroscience, and inspired me to pursue a PhD in neuroscience with the eventual goal of becoming a neuropathologist. Before I joined the Spencer lab and began working on this project I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated,” says Najeebi.

In just over a year of working in the lab, Najeebi has presented his research at a half-dozen research symposia and conferences. He’s also been a Summer Research Intensive Program Mentor, mentoring three high-school students by helping them to build scientific skills such as lab research techniques, hypothesis testing and formulation, and presentation skills.

“Through the elucidation of the structures essential for superior motor learning and consolidation, we can paint a picture of what truly makes people better learners than others. Once identified, these structures could be targeted with specialized neurocognitive optimization therapies designed to exercise the brain to stimulate neuroplasticity mechanisms. This could one day lead to enhancements in the motor learning ability of those who are either average or below average learners,” says Najeebi.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Olivia Ringham ’19, biology, has worked on a variety of projects as a member of Assistant Professor Mark S. Miller’s Muscle Biology Lab. From the start, Ringham dove into research experiences that have fed her “inclination for scientific inquiry.”

For Ringham’s first project, she investigated the rate of torque development (RTD) of skeletal muscle and how it is affected by variables such as age, sex and calcium sensitivity. From a clinical standpoint, examining factors that influence RTD can be beneficial in helping design interventions to improve physical functionality.

Recently, she began working on a project investigating the effects of the influenza virus on skeletal muscle function in older mice. “The significance of this investigation lies in the fact that elderly populations affected by the flu experience decreased functionality of skeletal muscle post-infection. Determining the molecular mechanisms behind this could shed light on clinical interventions to help elderly recover from the flu without prolonged muscle pain and potential loss of physical independence. I have since adopted this as my honors thesis project,” says Ringham.

“I started working with Olivia when she approached me to join my laboratory as a freshman, which is an uncommon occurrence as few students are interested in diving into detailed research projects so early in their academic careers,” says Miller. “She has done exceedingly well on the projects she has worked on. Due to her excellent work with lipid droplets, she is a co-author on a manuscript recently accepted for publication in the well-respected Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences,” Miller adds.

Last summer, Ringham attended a research program at Tufts University School of Medicine, where she excelled and achieved first prize in the summer research symposium poster competition. “I do not believe I could have achieved this without the unparalleled guidance, support, education, and training that I received from joining the Muscle Biology lab. I can assert with confidence and gratitude that the impact of my research experience at UMass is invaluable,” says Ringham.

 

Sean Sanford ’19 is a scenic design student pursuing dual degrees in theater and psychology. A person with many interests, Sanford was able to blend his love of theater with his interests in art and science to create “important art, to entertain, and to encourage others to grow, ask questions, and to become researchers themselves.” He is also one of the youngest undergraduate students asked to design a mainstage production at UMass Amherst.

“Sean demonstrated such work ethic and artistic vision in my introductory Set Design class that I took a chance and assigned him to design the set for theater’s "Infants of the Spring",” says Anya Klepikov, assistant professor of theater. “Faced with the challenge of the unfamiliar world of the Harlem Renaissance, Sean did exhaustive and thoughtful research and designed and re-designed until the professional director of the show was satisfied with the gorgeous and compelling material world he had created. Sean impressed us all by conquering new technical and artistic challenges on a tight timeline, under the pressure of a world premiere, but with characteristically good humor and a dogged determination to live up to the responsibility,” says Klepikov.

Sanford was asked to design a second time for the theater department. He is currently working on "Wild Thing", the first-ever English translation of Luis Vélez de Guevara's "La Serena de la Vera". In addition, Sanford spent his summer as a Scenic Painting and Props intern at the renowned Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Connecticut.

“Finding scenic design at UMass has really changed my course in life. It is the perfect blend of all my strengths and everything I love,” says Sanford. “It requires intelligence in literature, through reading, understanding, analyzing, and researching text; a knowledge of history in contextualizing and researching historical significance, as well as period information; an aptitude for science through understanding materials' capabilities, limits, and opportunities. It challenges me like nothing else I have ever done. It allows me to have an impact on the world around me in a concrete way. Scenic design is what I am meant to be doing, has ignited my education, and has lit the path to my future,” says Sanford.

All eight students will be honored for their achievements at a Chancellor's reception in April.

Karen J. Hayes '85

Spring 2018 Class

UMass Amherst students are not ones to shy away from a challenge. We honor six undergraduates this semester with the Rising Researcher award for their impressive achievements in key areas of science and art that are making a difference in our world.

Senior microbiology major William “Bill” Eagen, a Commonwealth Honors College student, has devoted his time at UMass to tuberculosis (TB) research. TB remains a devastating infectious disease, killing more than a million people worldwide every year. The causative agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is a bacterial cell known for its notoriously thick and impermeable cell wall, which protects the interior structures of the cell from attack. Eagen and fellow students discovered that a defect in the production of glycolipid, a protein unique to Mycobacterium, made the cell highly vulnerable to antibiotics and to attack by the human immune system.

Eagen designed and executed a series of labor-intensive experiments and uncovered copper as one specific agent to which the glycolipid-defective mutant had become hypersensitive. His discovery indicates that a glycolipid-targeted chemotherapy might create synergy with existing antibiotics, a possible step toward treatment.

Eagen’s advisor, Assistant Professor Yasu Morita, says, “Bill’s study was just published in Microbiology Letters, a prestigious journal of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies. His dedication to research was the driving force of this exciting discovery.”

 

 

Annette Wysocki, associate dean for research in the School of Nursing, has high praise for senior Daniel Kiely. “Daniel has an unrelenting passion and enthusiasm for research. His academic acumen and analytical abilities set him apart from other undergraduate students,” says Wysocki.

 

Kiely and Wysocki collaborated on a study analyzing funding data for nursing research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Kiely’s work revealed, among other trends, that funding to nursing schools and colleges was on the decline. Funding to nursing schools as a percent of the total NIH budget had declined from 1992 to 2016 while funding by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) peaked in 2005 and has since gradually declined. He also found that funding pressure on these federal agencies has increased as the number of research and clinical doctoral programs grew from 57 to 437 from 1992 to 2016.

Kiely was invited to present his findings at a poster session at the 2017 American Academy of Nursing meeting in Washington, D.C., before the nation’s most prestigious and highly acclaimed body of nursing scholars, clinicians, and policy experts. “He was the only undergraduate in the nation invited to present,” says Wysocki. Kiely plans to pursue his master’s in public health degree as the next step in his research career trajectory.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Charlotte LaPlante, a senior and dual degree major in English and biology, joined Assistant Professor Laura Vandenberg’s lab in 2015. Vandenberg investigates ways in which exposures to estrogenic chemicals may contribute to diseases, including cancer. 

LaPlante’s independent work on the effects of estrogenic chemical exposure reveals these chemicals can alter the form and structure of lactating mouse mammary glands and that mouse pups exposed to these chemicals have disrupted development and are less likely to initiate nursing. The mothers also alter their behaviors to account for these changes in mammary gland function. This work was the basis of two published manuscripts in top-rated scientific journals with LaPlante as first author.

LaPlante’s latest research addresses a fundamental question in the field of cancer biology: why does pregnancy convey protection against breast cancer? LaPlante investigated whether environmental chemicals that bind to estrogen receptors could block or enhance the protective effects of pregnancy. Her study revealed unique effects of two different estrogenic compounds. The first of these studies was submitted to the Journal of the Endocrine Society. “I cannot stress enough what an accomplishment it is for an undergraduate to be an author on a published manuscript, but Charlotte’s contributions and her first-author status on four manuscripts are truly remarkable and unprecedented,” says Vandenberg.  

 

Senior Abdul Mughis is a first-generation immigrant from Pakistan whose older brother also attended UMass Amherst. A chemical engineering major working in Professor Wei Fan’s porous materials research group, Mughis has been investigating the development of zeolites (solid materials that have an open, cage-like structure good for trapping other molecules) for air pollution control.

“I have been interested in this field since freshman year,” says Mughis. His main goal is to find a cheaper organic structure-directing agent, which is used to guide the formation of particular types of pores and channels during the synthesis of a type of zeolite called CHA. “This zeolite can be used as an efficient catalyst for methanol to olefin conversion reaction and catalytic reduction of nitrogen oxide compounds. I have been successful in synthesizing CHA zeolite with our proposed structure-directing agent,” says Mughis.

According to Fan, Mughis’s work was recently published in the Angewandte Chemie international edition, one of the best journals in the field of chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering. “As the second author on the publication, he has significantly contributed to the work by running the designed experiments and providing key ideas for the synthesis. His research is under submission to another high-impact journal, and we are also filing a patent on the work,” notes Fan.

 

In her time at UMass Amherst, Junior Tatiana Rodriguez, a theater and English dual major, has written a play performed at the Five-College WORD Festival, written another performed in the theater department’s mainstage season, stage-managed several mainstage productions, and codirected an independent student production. “The quality of her work across these areas marks Tatiana as a well-rounded theater artist with durable promise. As a playwright and her mentor, I am particularly impressed with Tatiana’s achievements as a writer,” says Kim Euell, playwright-in-residence in the UMass Department of Theater.

Rodriguez’s play The Difference, selected in 2017 for the WORD Festival, received the James Baldwin Award, as well as the unanimous praise of the selection committee. A timely and insightful play exploring generational issues of cultural assimilation through the lens of Puerto Rican identity, The Difference “elicited visceral reactions from audience members who recognized themselves in Tatiana’s skillfully rendered dialogue,” says Euell.

This year, Rodriguez’s play Unconditional was the first student work accepted by the Department of Theater for Play Lab, a new play development residency traditionally reserved for professionals. “Aside from being beautifully written,” says Euell, “Unconditional courageously tackles a relevant subject that doesn’t get enough attention: the aftermath of rape and abuse on college campuses. Tatiana is an ambitious, promising artist.”

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Colleen Sands, a senior majoring in kinesiology, has an impressive resume of academic, athletic, and research achievements. A Division 1 athlete, Sands captains the UMass cross country and track & field programs while consistently achieving Dean’s List rankings for exceptional academic performance. Her athletic accomplishments have been recognized by the Ken O’Brien Scholarship award for outstanding athletic and academic performance.

Sands’s research on the role of wearable technologies for public health outcomes has received high praise from her mentor Professor of Kinesiology and Associate Dean of Research Catrine Tudor-Locke. “Colleen demonstrates a strong ability to think critically about research questions and the implications for clinical practice and public health,” says Tudor-Locke.

Sands, who received the Priscilla Clarkson Undergraduate Award from the American College of Sports Medicine, has been presenting as first author on her research nationally and internationally. She presented at the 2017 New England American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Regional Conference, and this year, she will present at the ACSM 2018 annual meeting. Sands has also submitted a first-author abstract to the 2018 International Society for Physical Activity and Health Congress in London, England.

“It has always been very clear that Colleen conducts herself with great integrity, holds herself to a very high standard, and strives to achieve her best in all situations,” says Tudor-Locke. “She is in an excellent position to excel in her future studies and research endeavors.”

Karen J. Hayes ’85

 

Fall 2017 Class

As the commonwealth’s flagship public research university, UMass Amherst provides a unique opportunity for students to conduct hands-on research early in their academic careers. This semester, we honor six undergraduates with the Rising Researcher award for their highly ambitious pursuit of research and scholarly activity.

Journalism major Bryan Bowman ’18 holds the distinction of being the first undergraduate student to have a byline in The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community. His interest in learning about the relationship between the press and the exploitative and brutal penal and labor practices that built the modern South and its economic, political, and social systems spurred an ambitious research project launched with support from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ LeBovidge Undergraduate Research Award.

His original research was documented in the article "Exploiting Black Labor After the Abolition of Slavery" co-authored with his advisor, journalism professor Kathy Roberts Forde. The article was published in the February 6, 2017 edition of The Conversation as part of its Black History Month series, and was republished by U.S. News & World Report, the Associated Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, and other news outlets. The article also led to an interview segment with Roberts Forde (“Exploitation of Black Labor after Slavery”) on the syndicated radio program Top of Mind with Julie Rose, which aired February 27, 2017, also part of Black History Month.

Building on these results, Bowman’s second project focused on finding a meaningful case study to demonstrate how the press and convict labor interacted in a community across time. He and Roberts Forde presented a preliminary paper based on this research at the Media & Civil Rights History Symposium at the University of South Carolina in March. They are preparing to submit their paper to the peer-reviewed journal Journalism History in December.

“Bryan’s deep curiosity, dogged research, strong writing, and commitment to the highest professional standards of both journalistic and historical work have made him an exceptional research partner. I’m very proud of all that he has accomplished in our work together,” says Roberts Forde.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Shelby Cox ’18 is a linguistics and mathematics double major who has a track record of winning awards that reflect her superb academic performance and leadership abilities in the field of mathematics and statistics. Along with establishing and serving as President of the UMass chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, Cox has received two Outstanding Academic Achievement Awards from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics as well as the 2017 William F. Field Alumni Scholar Award, which recognizes and honors third-year students for their academic achievements.

Cox’s research accomplishments began when she participated in a summer 2016 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF/REU) at the University of Maryland.  The project concerned calculating the Euler characteristic of geometric objects, known as Hilbert schemes, which are mathematical structures in algebraic geometry that occur under symmetry. The Euler characteristic is a rough measure of the topology, or shape, of an object. The heart of Cox’s achievement was to reduce these calculations to previous known calculations that are more mathematically manageable. Cox and her collaborator gave a talk and also presented a poster on their work in January 2017 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings –the largest gathering of mathematicians in the United States and the largest annual meeting of mathematicians in the world.

According to Associate Professor Eric Sommers, her advisor and teacher, “Shelby’s superb performance in research and departmental coursework, as well as her role in establishing and leading the UMass chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, makes her deserving of the Rising Researcher award.”

 

Mechanical engineering major Jamar Hawkins ’18 has a strong interest in biomechanics and bioengineering. A hard-working and highly motivated student, Hawkins has been a member of Assistant Professor Yubing Sun’s research group since Sun started his lab in 2016. “The lab conducts research in the field of mechanobiology and mechanotransduction, which is the transfer of a mechanical signal or load to a cellular response,” says Hawkins.

Hawkins specifically works on modeling the physical effects of the extracellular matrix (ECM) on cells using microfluidic devices and automated pneumatic regulators. He initially worked on an automated pressure-based cell-stretching device that could emulate the changing conditions of the ECM to allow the study of cellular behavior in an environment that is more similar to it.

“Jamar has made tremendous contributions to the equipment setup and assay development in the lab as well as made significant progress on his project of making a programmable, local cell stretching device to study how mechanical forces regulate cell behaviors,” says Sun. Hawkins is co-author of a book chapter in Methods in Molecular Biology (Springer, 2017) based on his work in developing cell force sensors. Another manuscript based on his current work is in preparation, says Sun.

“Jamar will pursue a doctoral degree after graduation with me. I am delighted that I will have such a talented student,” says Sun.

 

Chemical engineering major and Commonwealth Honors College student Brandon Johnston ’18, is conducting experimental research investigating the basic principles of self-assembly in charged polymer systems. His efforts have enhanced the field’s understanding of the ways in which polymer architecture can be used to drive self-assembly. Self-assembly can be harnessed to expand the use of a dense, polymer-rich liquid phase called coacervate, which is used in polymer-based materials applications ranging from sensors to catalysis to medicine.

While these types of materials have been commonly used in the food, cosmetics, and fragrance industries for years, a basic understanding of their self-assembly is still limited. Johnston has been working in collaboration with polymer science and engineering professor Todd Emrick and his group to synthesize a portfolio of highly controlled “comb” polymers with different chemical compositions. Johnston then utilizes these materials to investigate the effects of polymer architecture composition on complex coacervation.

This past spring, Johnston compiled the results of his studies on polymer architecture as the lead author on a peer-reviewed manuscript that was recently published in Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry and has two other manuscripts in the works. Johnston has been honored with three separate Commonwealth Honors College Research Assistant Fellowships, as well as an Honors Research Grant to support his thesis research this year.

Johnston’s research advisor, Assistant Professor Sarah Perry, says “Brandon’s leadership in my research group has been a critical asset over the past three years. He is by far the strongest undergraduate researcher of the more than forty students that I have had the pleasure of working with.”

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Xin Liu ’18, Information and Computer Sciences, has all the qualities of an exceptional researcher, according to his advisor College of Information and Computer Sciences Assistant Professor Sunghoon Ivan Lee. With his exceptional technical skills, interdisciplinary research spirit, and innovative ingenuity, Lee believes Liu will “outperform in his future academic career.”

Liu works in Lee’s Advanced Human Health Analytics Lab on projects focusing on developing wearable sensors and data analytics methodologies to understand the health conditions associated with neurological disorders. Under Lee’s direction, Liu investigates how to optimize specific algorithms that are relevant for understanding and quantifying hand use using data obtained from wearable sensors.

In one particular study, Liu aims to quantify the amount of fine-grained hand use in stroke survivors in ambulatory settings. This study would allow physicians to get a more objective understanding of patients’ neurological conditions by remotely monitoring the real impact of rehabilitation in their daily living. Liu’s research has led to a number of exciting outcomes, including first authorship of a conference proceeding of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering/Association for Computing Machinery (IEEE/ACM) Connected Health Conference 2017, and a first-authored journal paper submitted to the IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics this past October. Liu was also one of a handful of people to receive an NSF travel grant to attend the IEEE/ACM conference.

“Mr. Liu showed great responsibility and independence by initiating, managing and leading the project on his own,” says Lee. “His work created the perfect basis for finishing the project with exceptional success.”

 

Kaitlyn McGarvey ’18 is a senior Commonwealth Honors College student in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences. As a second-year student, McGarvey gained acceptance to Tufts Veterinary School through a highly competitive early acceptance program.

For the past two years, McGarvey has been working in Professor Rafael Fissore’s lab investigating the molecular mechanisms of calcium (Ca2+) homeostasis in female reproductive cells (oocytes) with the ultimate goal of overcoming infertility. Ca2+ release is induced by fertilization and is required for the initiation of embryo development in all animals including humans.

McGarvey focused on clarifying the role of a novel plasma membrane Ca2+ channel on embryo development that has been found in mouse oocytes and eggs. As Fissore’s group raced to be the first to publish on this channel, McGarvey stepped up to collect data for publication. Her efforts paid off. She became co-author of a peer-reviewed manuscript on the subject for the journal Scientific Reports, 2016.  Scientific Reports is one of the umbrella journals of Nature, which is among the most respected scientific journals in the literature.

McGarvey is now focusing on continuing this research, the results of which will provide insights into the mechanisms of action of this channel and unearth possible treatments for infertility and/or targets for contraceptive methods, a topic she feels passionate about.

“Kaitlyn was the first student I ever had who was ready for experimental work after just a few weeks of general training. Remarkably, she managed to produce exciting results despite a heavy credit load and having two jobs to gain animal handling experience, which is a major requirement for admission to veterinary schools,” says Fissore.

All six students will be honored for their achievements at a spring reception with the chancellor.

Karen J. Hayes '85

Spring 2017 Class

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Spring 2017 Rising Researchers

UMass Amherst provides undergraduate students with many opportunities to conduct research with impact. Six seniors whose research accomplishments are inspiring and notable were honored this spring with the Rising Researcher award.

 

Maria Bastos-Stanek ’17, a double major in the history of art and architecture and women, gender, sexuality studies, is an exceptional scholar, gifted researcher, and activist for social justice. Art history faculty characterize her as a tremendous intellect committed to independent thought. Bastos-Stanek completed an independent study with Professor Nancy Noble, history of art and architecture, on artist Paul Cadmus, which resulted in an extensively researched, finely nuanced interpretation of a Cadmus painting situated within the context of New York’s early-20th-century gay and transgender subcultures. According to Noble, it is a highly original, publishable paper, which Bastos-Stanek presented at graduate and undergraduate conferences. The project motivated Bastos-Stanek to complete an honors thesis on David Wojnarowicz under the direction of Karen Kurczynski, assistant professor of art history and architecture.

“Maria is writing an excellent senior thesis on art and the AIDS crisis, focusing on the controversial 1989 exhibition Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing and the art of David Wojnarowicz. She rejects earlier emotion-laden strategies used to define the artist and his works and critically engages with his art in compelling new ways. She is also completing archival research on a level that is extremely unusual for an undergraduate in her field,” says Noble.

On campus, Bastos-Stanek is an arts activist who takes significant initiative in engaging public audiences through exhibitions and museum publications. She conceived, researched, planned, and executed the December 1, 2015, Day With(out) Art event: she curated a one-day exhibition at the university’s Greenbaum Gallery that featured HIV/AIDS-related artworks and organized students to be on hand throughout the day to distribute HIV/AIDS informational materials.

“Maria is an exceptional scholar, intensely motivated, committed to achieve social justice by deconstructing and disarming ignorance of and prejudice against gender, sexuality, illness, and difference,” says Noble.

 

Microbiology major and Commonwealth Honors College student Vincent Giacalone ’17 is a walking advertisement for the quality and reach of a UMass Amherst education, says Professor Wilmore Webley. As Giacalone’s research advisor, Webley has seen him take advantage of the many research opportunities available to undergraduates.

“Vincent entered his first year as a member of the biological sciences Talent Advancement Program (BioTAP). He’s been doing research in my lab since fall 2014,” says Webley. Since that time, Giacalone has won two Commonwealth Honors College grants to support his research on infections that cause asthma in children, a translational research collaboration with Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“Vincent has made significant contributions to this area of research, demonstrating for the first time, that in addition to certain bacteria that infect the airways, at least two viruses are involved in asthma initiation and exacerbation,” says Webley. Giacalone’s abstract on this work has been accepted for presentation to the American Society for Microbiology annual general meeting to be held in New Orleans this June and a manuscript for publication is also being prepared. Giacalone will also present his work at this year’s Massachusetts statewide Undergraduate Research Conference.

In addition to working in Webley’s lab where he mentors other undergraduate students and serving as a resident assistant for the campus’s Residential Life office, Vincent completed a summer internship at Merck Research Laboratories, studying lipids involved in inflammation with one of Merck’s top scientists.

“Vincent has learned an incredible tool kit of cutting-edge research protocols and procedures. He demonstrates critical thinking, independence, and enthusiasm for research. He’s a very intuitive researcher,” says Webley. Vincent has been accepted into the PhD program at Emory University.

 

Ashley Kaiser ’17 is a star, “at the top of her class” according to Professor Christos Dimitrakopoulos. The chemical engineering major, competitive gymnast, and Commonwealth Honors College student has been heavily involved in research in Dimitrakopoulos’s graphene lab since her first year on campus. She has also claimed top spot in the two chemical engineering classes he teaches.

“Ashley is a seasoned team player and possesses a corporate-like demeanor of responsibility and accountability, uncharacteristic of her age. She has done summer internships at the 3M Research and Development Laboratory and at MIT. Her focus is razor sharp, her intellect superior, her determination unflappable, and her drive relentless. She is also always willing to help and is the first to volunteer for the task at hand,” says Dimitrakopoulos.

Kaiser is currently working on her Commonwealth Honors College thesis project, “Low-Temperature Graphene Growth by Plasma-Enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition,” which Dimitrakopoulos believes has the potential for high impact. Her work in the graphene lab has already spawned a number of posters, conference presentations, and coauthored papers.

While she is leading her personal project, Kaiser is an invaluable member of the broader graphene team, says Dimitrakopoulos. “She has voluntarily undertaken the role of the record keeper, the person that organizes the data and writes 40–50-page progress reports to facilitate the team’s understanding of the experimental data, and the strategic planning of future experiments. She is a skilled scientific report writer. It is no surprise that she has been accepted to all graduate programs she applied for, including MIT,” says Dimitrakopoulos.

 

Saba Karimeddiny ’17, physics major and Commonwealth Honors College student, was determined to conducting research early on in his academic career. He made an appointment with Professor Jonathan Machta during his first semester to discuss the possibilities of working in Machta’s group.

“I had planned to explain to him how I only take juniors and seniors in my group but something impressed me about his maturity and eagerness to do research, so I decided to take a chance with Saba. It was a great decision,” says Machta.

According to Machta, Karimeddiny has been working on an interdisciplinary project with mathematical ecologists from the University of California–Davis. “Saba’s project has involved exploring the connections between systems of coupled nonlinear oscillators, traditionally used to study spatially extended oscillating populations, and the Ising model, an important theoretical model in physics,” says Machta.

Specifically, Karimeddiny conducted simulations of both coupled oscillators and the Ising model, demonstrating that there is a correspondence between these two superficially different systems.  The result was a paper coauthored by Karimeddiny published in the European Physical Journal B. The manuscript of a second paper on the subject, authored by Karimeddiny, is sitting on Machta’s desk.  A third project on an Ising model with a time-dependent, stochastic field will become Karimeddiny’s senior thesis. “I am confident it will also lead to a peer-reviewed publication,” says Machta.

Karimeddiny has given several talks about his work at undergraduate research conferences. He also presented at the American Physical Society Meeting this March. “This is the first time I have sent an undergraduate to this meeting,” says Machta.

 

Johanna L’Heureux ’17, a biochemistry and molecular biology major and Commonwealth Honors College student, joined Professor Dong Wang’s lab as part of the inaugural Faculty First-Year Research Experience program cohort. Wang says he had always envisioned hosting undergraduate students early in their UMass careers to foster an experience in which they would identify the research group as their “academic family” and the lab as a natural destination for research and study.

L’Heureux has been working with Wang on problems in plant biology, specifically investigations into the interactions between legume hosts and the soil bacteria rhizobia, which fix nitrogen after becoming established inside the legume root nodules. The phenomenon is of intense interest to both basic science and sustainability, says Wang, but most of the host mechanisms required to establish this symbiosis are yet unknown.

“Johanna has been working to identify novel host genes required for the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis. The approach follows a tried-and-proved method for many genetic investigations; it involves mutagenizing a population of plants at random, identifying mutants failing to establish a functional symbiosis, defining the defects in this mutant, and, finally, discovering the genetic basis of the mutation. The corresponding gene, by definition, is crucial for the symbiosis to succeed. This whole procedure is typically a PhD project,” says Wang.

Because L’Heureux started research at such an early stage, Wang says she was able to discover a good number of putative mutants and to accomplish many steps of this genetic “saga.”

Among her many honors and awards, L’Heureux has received summer research fellowships from the Noble Foundation and from the American Society for Plant Biologists (ASPB), and has presented her work at the 2017 ASPB annual conference in Hawaii.

 

Psychology major and Commonwealth Honors College student Helen Root ’17 is also a success of the UMass First-Year Research Experience. Her work conducting sleep research in Professor Rebecca Spencer’s Cognition and Action (COGNAC) lab coalesced with Root’s interest in a career working with autistic children, particularly since sleep difficulties are common in that population.

Root first worked on the Preschool Nap Study, where she accompanied COGNAC staff to area preschools to test children on memory tasks before and after a nap in order to understand whether memories are consolidated over sleep in young children. According to Spencer, motivating preschoolers to attend to stimuli, encouraging sleep on nap-promotion days, and managing the vast amount of research data are challenging, but Root excelled at this work.

“It is cumbersome to work with the actigraphy files (data which allows researchers to measure movement and sleep in a population), but Helen has the technical skills to score these records and manage the data. Impressively, her work on this project earned her authorship on a publication in Sleep Health (the peer-reviewed journal of the National Sleep Foundation),” says Spencer. Root also presented aspects of her work at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

In her sophomore year, Root began working with graduate student Amanda Cremone on a project investigating disrupted sleep in children with ADHD, furthering her knowledge of sleep research while allowing her to pursue her interests in developmentally vulnerable populations. While studying abroad, she designed an independent honors thesis titled “The Effect of Sleep Extension on Sleep Physiology and Behavior.” Once completed, the data from her thesis project will be used as a control group for a future study on the effects of sleep extension in children with ADHD in the hopes that it could become an intervention in this population.

“Helen’s work in the lab her first two years was just a stepping stone to this even more remarkable thesis project,” says Spencer.  “She has produced important findings that will have an impact on the field.”

 

Karen J. Hayes, '85

Fall 2016 Class

Every few years an undergraduate researcher comes through Alejandro Briseño’s laboratory with extraordinary talent. Such scientists, says the polymer science and engineering professor, are in the top one percent of the research population. According to Briseño, Victor Champagne ’17, a mechanical engineering and Commonwealth Honors College student from Dudley, Massachusetts, is one of those researchers. Champagne and five of his peers are being honored by the campus as 2016-2017 UMass Amherst Rising Researchers.

“Victor is a brilliant engineer. We need to support young talent like this, as they will be the future generation of outstanding scientists that will change our world through their scientific and engineering contributions,” says Briseño.

Champagne’s extraordinary abilities are evident from his research accomplishments in the development of high-performance, organic, single-crystalline nanostructures for use in electronic devices. His research centers on the investigation of single-crystal organic nanopillars for applications in energy harvesting/storage, sensors, and antibacterial surfaces.

“As a result of his research on antibacterial coatings, we have prepared a manuscript for publication of his work and our collaborators on campus. Victor also received an invitation to present his work at the Council on Undergraduate Research in Washington, D.C.,” notes Briseño. Champagne is also a recipient of the Jack Welch Scholarship at UMass. Welch scholars are chosen for their academics, leadership, and social responsibility.

 

John (“Jack”) Duff ’18, is pursuing innovative research at the intersection of linguistics, classics and psychology. The triple major and Commonwealth Honors College student is conducting a linguistic analysis of Horace's poetry to find out how ancient Romans attributed text to different speakers without modern punctuation. His project is tackling important questions about how ancient readers understood their texts.

“This project combines some of the best research methods of its allied disciplines,” says Brian Breed, professor and chair of the classics department. According to Breed, Duff utilized the quantitative and technologically enabled methods that are well tried in linguistics and the close reading and attention to the nuanced demands of genre and characterization that are foundational for criticism of Latin literary texts.

“Jack has demonstrated his mastery of the different tools required, including the Natural Language Toolkit software and a high level of proficiency with Latin, as well as related issues such as genre and literary theory,” adds Breed. Duff’s current research expands his initial work to take modern experimental psycholinguistic theories of narrative into account, work he plans on continuing as his honors thesis.

Breed believes Duff’s research shows high promise. “Jack has demonstrated creativity by identifying a problem and a method for tackling it. There is potential for publishable work to emerge from it,” says Breed. To that end, Duff presented his findings this spring at an undergraduate research conference organized by the University of New Hampshire classics department and at an international undergraduate research conference convened by Department of Linguistics students at the University of Toronto.

 

Commonwealth Honors College student Robert Johnston ’17, a double major in physics and chemical engineering from Pepperell, Massachusetts, spends his time working on experimental nuclear physics. He’s currently investigating ways to measure how much a sub-atomic particle, called the “pion,” stretches when you apply an electric field to it. The experiment, says Rory Miskimen, professor of physics and Johnston’s research advisor, will help us understand the fundamental symmetries of nature that are responsible for the presence of complex nuclei in the universe.

Johnston has been leading the effort to design and construct relatively small prototype multi-wire proportional chamber (MWPC) detectors, which range in size from 10 to 20 inches. He’s been working on the mechanical design and the construction of the electronics used to read small electrical currents caused by the passage of subatomic particles on the detector.

"Our detector electronics utilize a 'trans-impedance' amplifier circuit. It was Bobby’s job to design the printed circuit board (PCB) used to carry the electronic components, to install the components on the PCB, and then to test the assembled electronics. He is now finalizing our electronics design, and is getting the final CAD files ready for PCB manufacturing and assembly,” says Miskimen.

Although Johnston had limited electronics experience when he began his research, Miskimen notes he was able to quickly pick up those skills by interacting with other students and by teaching himself. “Bobby’s a fast learner and one of the strongest students I’ve had in my lab. His level of expertise and accomplishment are unparalleled for an undergraduate, at a level usually seen in master’s-level electrical engineers and PhD-level physicists working in national laboratories,” says Miskimen.

 

Randa Kallin ’17, environmental science and Commonwealth Honors College student from Hudson, Massachusetts, has worked in Professor Rick Peltier’s aerosol lab for the past two years. Driven by her innate curiosity, dedication to hard work, and her outstanding intellect, Kallin has had a big impact on the work the lab does on exposing conditions in our world that have public health implications.

Kallin played an integral role in collecting and analyzing data for the lab’s recent high-impact paper on face mask safety, work that was covered by the New York Times, National Public Radio, and other high-profile media outlets. “This work was highly dependent on the quality of the primary data we collected—most of which was collected by Randa. Her dedication to research and commitment to seeking scientific truth, especially to problems that have global health relevance, are clearly evident in her work,” says Peltier.

Kallin is currently executing a complex field research project that examines occupational exposures to kitchen pollutants. The idea for the study, which compares mobile food vendors to traditional commercial kitchens in an attempt to characterize the potential public health hazards, was entirely Kallin’s.

“This hypothesis-driven study requires long hours, engineering and refinement of sample collection approaches, full comprehension of complex analytical laboratory chemistry techniques, and the ability to adapt to changing requirements necessary in real-world sampling environments—all skill sets to which Randa excels. While the project is just getting off the ground, her preparedness rivals that of any graduate student, or even postdocs, in planning for contingencies, coordination and consideration with our study partners, preparation and design of equipment, and rapid quick-look analysis of data she collected. She continues to impress me,” says Peltier.

 

As a member of the Physical Activity and Health Laboratory since his sophomore year, kinesiology major and Commonwealth Honors College student Greg Petrucci 17 from Norwood, Massachusetts, has demonstrated research capabilities and experiences that according to his advisors, Patty Freedson and John Sirard, are “unmatched at the undergraduate level.” Petrucci is interested in developing more accurate measurement techniques to better understand the dose-response relationship between physical activity and health.

Petrucci has shown an extremely high aptitude for working on studies that validate and assess wearable computers and mobile sensors for health, a movement termed “The Quantified Self.”

One of his projects examines the ability of a consumer activity tracker, the Misfit Shine, to detect changes in habitual physical activity. The project is novel, says Sirard, in that it is the first study to provide empirical evidence suggesting the sensitivity of a consumer activity tracker to detect change.

Petrucci is interested in the utility of wearable devices in medicine and behavioral interventions as well. To this end, he was selected as the one undergraduate researcher to present his work at the October 2016 grand opening of the campus’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). He will also present new data from his studies at the 2017 American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.

“Greg is one of the best undergraduate students I have supervised in my 35 years at UMass,” says Freedson, professor and former chair of the kinesiology department. “I anticipate that he will embark on a successful research career in physical activity health, becoming a leader in the art and science of discovery to advance our field in the coming years.”

 

Sarah Welch '17 is conducting research on race, space, and resource accessibility in the UMass Amherst Libraries for her honors thesis using a participatory design ethnography framework. The anthropology major and Commonwealth Honors College student from Westford Massachusetts, explores the historical and contemporary literature on libraries as a site of community-building and social change.

Having conducted archival and ethnographic research in the university library as a junior, Welch is now launching a yearlong project that combines anthropological research methods and environmental design. She plans to conduct interviews and participant observation with student users of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Her efforts will engage both students and librarians in developing design and policy recommendations informed by her research findings.

Welch presented her initial work to the UMass Amherst librarians in May 2016, which was positively received, says Krista Harper, associate professor of anthropology and Welch’s thesis advisor.  “I am confident that Sarah’s research will be intellectually rigorous and original,” says Harper.

Welch recently edited a special issue on "Library Transformations" for the national undergraduate anthropology journal, AnthroZine. In the special issue, Welch contributed an introduction with UMass librarians and Harper as coauthors, an original article on her own research, and she also took on the task of collating and editing her peers' undergraduate research reports as contributions to the special issue.

“Sarah is a brilliant and motivated student,” says Harper. “She is absolutely dedicated to using her skills to make UMass Amherst a better higher education institution.”

Karen J. Hayes '85

 

Spring 2016 Class

UMass Amherst continues to be a destination of choice for truly exceptional undergraduate students. The campus’s varied opportunities for research, scholarship, and creative activity are part of the attraction: it’s a place where academic passions and interests can thrive.

A number of these students are selected each semester through a competitive nomination process to receive the UMass Amherst Rising Researcher award in recognition of their scholarly achievements and their related impact on their chosen fields. The following students are the spring 2016 Rising Researchers.

 

Junior Stephanie Chan and senior Timothy Marple, both political science, are being recognized for their significant contributions to political science research. Chan and Marple received praise from their advisors for their ability to design, analyze, and administer political science research tools. “Tim has acquired quite the reputation around the department for his research chops,” says Marple’s faculty advisor Jesse Rhodes. According to Chan’s advisors Meredith Rolfe and Kevin Young, Chan has made significant contributions to multiple research projects within the department, several of which have earned her coauthorship credit.

Timothy Marple '16Among their most notable accomplishments, Chan and Marple are coauthors with Professor Rolfe on the research paper “Defining Democracy: Public Understandings of ‘Democracy’” which examines the everyday ways in which Americans understand and use the term “democracy.” This research has been the subject of several academic conference papers and presentations, including the Midwest Political Science Association conference, considered one of the top conferences in the discipline. “Tim is quite possibly the single most outstanding student I have encountered during my time at UMass, with tremendous intellectual ambition, great curiosity, and remarkable energy,” says Rhodes. “Stephanie’s contributions are of such high quality that I have added her as a coauthor on a chapter to appear in the Oxford Handbook of Political Networks,” says Rolfe.

 

Applied mathematics and electrical engineering major Gabriela Calinao Correa is being recognized for her dedicated pursuit of research with meaningful, tangible, and publishable results. Her senior honors thesis led to the development of a new computational model for heat transfer between 2-D van der Waals materials (such as graphene) blanketing 3-D substrates used in the semiconductor industry to build nanoelectronic devices. She gave a talk on this research at the fall 2015 Materials Research Society meeting in Boston, Massachusetts—a rare opportunity for an undergraduate researcher.

A veteran of four National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REUs), Correa worked on one REU project to understand and track how energy from computations dissipate into heat at the atomic scale. Part of a larger project in the UMass Amherst Nanoelectronics Theory and Simulation Laboratory, her work is being deployed by the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke, Massachusetts. “Gabriela has quickly risen to the challenge and is making progress [on the MGHPCC project] which I fully expect will lead to significant publications in the future, adding to her already-rich curriculum vitae,” says faculty advisor Zlatan Aksamija.

 

Senior Gregory Forbes has an advanced appreciation for materials science. A passionate and dedicated researcher, Forbes designed and fabricated an electrochemical cell for the controlled anodization of high-purity metallic sheets. As a result of this work, he was accepted into the Northwestern University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center’s Research Experience for Undergraduates, perhaps the most prestigious of all materials-based REU programs in the country. Forbes has also traveled to Kenya with Engineers Without Borders to help install a water purification system, and he actively participates in the local Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. “Greg Forbes embodies everything you could ask for in an undergraduate researcher,” says faculty advisor Stephen Nonnenmann. “Beyond his obvious merit in the classroom, Greg possesses the drive and vision of an advanced scholar.”

 

Haydee Jacobs, a senior undergraduate major in Public Health Sciences, has a strong desire to understand the chemistry behind the toxicological effects and environmental fate of toxicants. Her independent research has examined how embryonic exposure to chemicals found in plastics called phthalates impacts endocrine pancreas development. Her work suggests that early-in-life exposure alters the structure of the pancreas and its ability to regulate glucose homeostasis, which may underlie future susceptibility to diabetes. Jacobs has presented her work at national conferences, winning awards and top honors in her division. “Ms. Jacobs’s academic performance is outstanding. She is one of the most productive undergraduates I have known,” says faculty advisor Alicia Timme-Laragy. “She has applied to the Master’s in Public Health program at UMass and plans to continue her research in my laboratory. I am excited to see what else she will accomplish in the coming years,” adds Timme-Laragy.

 

Senior Samuel Kamlarz, microbiology and biochemistry and molecular biology, is being recognized for his intelligent, creative, and dedicated work toward solving problems in the life sciences. For two consecutive summers, Kamlarz worked on cancer research projects as part of Tufts Medical Center’s Building Diversity in Biomedical Sciences program, where his efforts netted him an honorable mention at the program’s summer 2014 research symposium.  

Closer to home, his keen observations in the campus’s Klingbeil DNA Replication Laboratory resulted in uncovering a key link between mitochondrial DNA replication and differentiation of life-cycle stages in a parasite studied by the group. This discovery led to an entirely new and exciting area of research for the lab and has initiated several key collaborations. Kamlarz has presented his research at the 2015 annual international Molecular Parasitology Meeting, as well as at the first annual Pioneer Valley Microbiology Symposium, where he was the only undergraduate student selected to give a talk. Kamlarz has also been instrumental in his contributions to two manuscripts, which are being prepared for publication. “Sam has been a member of my lab for several years now, and I consider him a key member of my team contributing not just experimentally, but also intellectually. His passion for science is clear, and his dedication to research is unmatched by his peers,” says faculty advisor Michele Klingbeil.

 

Junior chemical engineering major Natalie Mako conducts interdisciplinary work in atomic force microscopy of hydrogels and biofilms. According to faculty advisor Jessica Schiffman, her consistency and precision in conducting the literature searches, bench science, and data analysis related to her research has resulted in a number of opportunities for Mako to present her research, including most recently at the regional American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting. Mako has begun translating her data into a peer-reviewed manuscript that will be submitted to ACS Nano, a high-impact journal in the field. “Natalie Mako is an incredibly well-rounded, humble superstar,” says Schiffman. “She is a member of Commonwealth Honors College, recipient of the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship for academic achievement, she received the Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award, and she is a competitive member of the UMass Division 1 track and cross-country teams,” adds Schiffman.

 

Senior Michael Ng is being recognized for his distinguished achievements and research skills dedicated to applied research in automotive technology and sustainable green research. The mechanical engineering major’s achievements include conducting research on a novel automotive semiactive damping system as a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates candidate at Virginia Tech’s Center for Tire Research. Ng is coauthor of a technical paper on performance measurements of vehicle anti-lock braking systems, which was presented at the 2015 Society of Automotive Engineers conference. For his senior honors thesis, he is conducting research on the technical and economic feasibility of using wind-energy-produced ammonia as a storable clean fuel to replace gasoline in internal combustion engines. According to his faculty advisor Jon McGowan, Ng’s creative ability on this project demonstrates that he is already an outstanding scientific researcher. “In my 45-plus years as a professor in mechanical engineering, I would rate Mr. Ng as one, if not the best, outstanding undergraduate student I have supervised, taught, or know at UMass Amherst,” says McGowan.

Karen J. Hayes ’85

More Information

Questions about the Rising Researcher student award program?
Contact Marzena Burnham 

 

Related Links: 

Commonwealth Honors College

Office of Undergraduate Research and Studies