The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Rising Researcher

Passionate Pursuit

Undergraduates recognized for notable research and scholarly achievements
  • Rising Researchers stand on a stairway in the Chancellor's house

Rising Researchers are undergraduate students with significant accomplish-ments from, and enthusiasm for, their work at UMass Amherst.

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.

Among 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.

All eight students, along with the fall 2015 Rising Researchers, were honored for their achievements at a spring reception hosted by the Chancellor and Mrs. Subbaswamy.

Karen J. Hayes ’85