In both the fall and spring of each academic year, Research Next selects a small group of undergraduate students from across UMass Amherst to receive the Rising Research Award, recognizing students for their ambitious, creative, and impactful research. This spring, eight students, all members of the class of 2020, were selected, six of whom are members of the Commonwealth Honors College.
Taylor Cassidy ’20, Classics, CHC
Taylor is completing an Honors thesis that investigates the presence of “nonstandard language use,” including gendered language, kinship language, and other socially-stratified language types, such as that used by enslaved peoples in Greek and Latin comedies. By analyzing the stylistic variations in language found within these texts, Taylor hopes to find linguistic evidence for “ventriloquism” of these oppressed groups, with the goal of providing insight into how the voices of oppressed groups may have been represented in ancient societies. Taylor is also a recipient of the William F. Bulger Classics Award for outstanding achievement among classics majors and the Joseph and Elizabeth Rountree Scholarship for academic merit.
William Johnson ’20, Biology, CHC
In the two years that he has been a member of Professor Craig Martin’s lab, William has made significant contributions with his independent and joint research on transcription by T7 RNA polymerase. These investigations have applications extending to RNA therapeutics, RNA nanotechnology, and basic molecular biology, and William hopes that his work will “push the boundaries of nucleic acid research.” William received an Honors Research Grant to fund his work, and he co-authored a peer-reviewed manuscript published in the reputable Nucleic Acids Research journal. William also spent two summers as an intern with New England Biolabs where he conducted research involving microbiome sequencing.
Colin Lemire ’20, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, CHC
Since his sophomore year, Colin has been conducting independent research in Assistant Professor Sibongile Mafu’s lab pertaining to the biosynthesis of natural products such as plants and fungi. Colin’s work seeks to enhance our understanding of the metabolic pathways of natural, bioactive compounds in order to enable future research into the function and potential pharmaceutical applications of these compounds. Colin was awarded an Honors Research Grant as well as numerous 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, and a UMass Life Sciences Junior Fellow award. Colin also participated in the Sophomores Serve program where he was given the opportunity to combine his interests in research and public policy, collaborating with peers to create a research-guided policy proposal for alleviating food insecurity among children in Massachusetts.
Joseph McGaunn ’20, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology & Psychology, CHC
Joseph has contributed to Associate Professor Alexander Suvorov’s lab through his involvement in five research projects, with his work centered on investigating the role of molecular mechanisms in mediating interactions between an individual’s genetics and their environment, in transferring nongenetic information from one generation to the next, and the clinical applications for such mechanisms. Joseph 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. Suvurov added, “Joseph will coauthor four manuscripts that will be published by my lab. He has tremendous promise as a young researcher.”
Jack Merullo ’20, Computer Science, CHC
Jack’s research focuses on applying natural language processing (NLP) to help answer questions pertaining to social issues, information retrieval, and deep learning. With the support of Assistant Professor Mohit Iyyer, Jack is completing an Honors thesis investigating the presence and degree of bias, particularly that which pertains to race, in sports commentary. Jack and one of his peers, Luke Yeh, along with Professor Iyyer, published a peer-reviewed research study at the 2019 conference, Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, and ESPN recently published an article about Jack’s work on their sports and pop culture website, The Undefeated.
Kit Newell ’20, Theater
Kit has performed in multiple theater productions, notably playing the role of Gila in the campus’s 2019 Main Stage production of Wild Thing. In this complex 17th-century Spanish tragedy, Kit was on stage for nearly every moment of the performance embodying the demanding emotional journey of a character who, in our world, might be considered queer or gender nonbinary. “Playing Gila was the biggest challenge of my college career," said Newell. "It was intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding and gave me the opportunity to synthesize knowledge from a range of my classes at UMass.” Harley Erdman, Kit’s advisor and theater department chair, added, “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.”
Madeline Scott ’20, Mechanical Engineering
As a member of Professor Robert Hyers’ lab, Madeline has contributed to two research projects that broaden understanding of new and existing materials and processes for advanced manufacturing. Hyers noted, “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 five months.” Madeline reflected on her involvement in this research,“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.”
Elizabeth Voke ’20 (CHC), Chemical Engineering, CHC
Since 2017, Elizabeth has worked in Professor Sarah Perry’s lab, where she has conducted research investigating the fundamental principles of self-assembly of large polymer systems. Elizabeth’s Honors thesis looks at the encapsulation of proteins into coacervate phases for drug delivery applications, and her work has led to an opportunity to collaborate with a Fortune 500 company headquartered in the United States. Elizabeth has also worked in the Keasling lab at University of California-Berkeley as an Amgen Scholar. Elizabeth explained, “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.”
To learn more, please visit the Rising Researchers website.