The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Rising Researcher

Rising Above

Students pursue new learning experiences, stretch their abilities, and contribute to the campus and the larger community

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

At UMass Amherst, opportunities abound for students to pursue new learning experiences, stretch their abilities, and contribute to the campus and the larger community. This semester we celebrate students who have worked alongside internationally known UMass faculty to research star formation, drug delivery, the safety of automated vehicles, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. They have launched businesses, promoted music, written trailblazing algorithms, and more.

 

 

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.”

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.

Kate Mallory '21Kate 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.

Joshua McGee '21Joshua 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.

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.”

Shannon Silva '21Shannon 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.”

Zoe Stinson '21Zoe 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.”

Renos Zabounidis '22Renos 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.”

 

 

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