Student Spotlight

JANUARY 2018

Sophie Scott, Plymouth State University

Sophie Scott Student Spotlight Photo

“NH EPSCoR truly helped me to identify my interests and discover my passions. The NEST project in particular really shaped who I am as a scientist and what I want to pursue.”

Sophie Scott

When Sophie Scott joined the NH EPSCoR Safe Beaches and Shellfish project as a Master’s student at Plymouth State University in 2014, she was dreaming up an aquaculture collective with her cousins and looking for the right opportunity to go back to school.

The project was the first major undertaking of the newly-formed New England Sustainability Consortium, or NEST, a collaboration that pulls together scientists from many different disciplines throughout New England to solve sustainability challenges.

In keeping with NEST’s larger focus on bridging the gap between science and environmental policy, the Safe Beaches project addressed water quality issues surrounding shellfish beds and recreational beaches in the Gulf of Maine.

For Sophie, the project’s research focus felt close to home. “When I found out there was a need for folks on the beach side of things, I was happy to oblige because I spent most of my childhood exploring the beaches of Maine,” she says. “I come from a family of fishermen in Penobscot Bay, so I was excited to be part of a project that was not only so in line with my academic interests, but also felt close to my heart.”

Sophie’s work ended up focusing on an underrepresented population of beachgoers who are more susceptible to poor water quality than average – surfers. Her research was the first of its kind to look specifically at this unique group through the lens of water quality.

To better understand what surfers know about water quality and its risks, Sophie and her team surveyed almost 300 surfers at 12 beaches on the New Hampshire and southern Maine coast. They also conducted 20 in-depth interviews with other important members of the surfing community.

The major theme that emerged from her analysis was that surfers hold a wealth of ‘local ecological knowledge’, or LEK, where their sport is concerned. While LEK may not be something that can be collected in a sample bottle and analyzed in a lab, it can fill in data gaps and become a valuable resource to coastal managers.

Sophie presented her work at numerous conferences and produced two scientific papers – one currently in press at the Journal of Ocean and Coastal Management. She and her team even hand-delivered a one-page fact sheet to surf shops up and down the coast and presented their work to a group of more than 80 surfers at a local event. “For me, the most meaningful part of communicating our research was when we brought our findings back to the stakeholders who made it possible,” she says.

Sophie says that connections she made while part of the NEST project have been invaluable in the pursuit of her goals. “NH EPSCoR truly helped me to identify my interests and discover my passions. The NEST project in particular really shaped who I am as a scientist and what I want to pursue.”

Source:  Rita Belair and Michelle Gregoire, New Hampshire EPSCoR



SEPTEMBER 2017

Derrick Platero, New Mexico State University

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New Mexico EPSCoR STEM Advancement Program Participant

The New Mexico Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NM EPSCoR) funds cutting-edge,  groundbreaking  research  across  the  state, but  our  passion  is  in  providing  access  to  that research  for  students  in  primarily  undergraduate institutions  through  our  STEM  Advancement Program  (STEMAP).  Each  spring,  we  select  10  to 12  undergraduate students  to  assist  our  research faculty  and  graduate  students  over  8  weeks  in the summer.  Their  participation  also  includes workshops  on  research  ethics,  presentation  skills, and data management, plus support for conference participation and extended research experiences in the following academic year.

STEMAP supports students of all backgrounds, like Derrick Platero. Derrick is 34 years old, Navajo, and a first-generation college student, but he didn’t consider college until 13 years after his high school graduation when his fast-food management career stalled.

After enrolling at San Juan College, Derrick heard about STEMAP through a presentation by NM EPSCOR Diversity Coordinator Chelsea Chee during a local meeting of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). Chelsea talked about the numerous benefits of STEMAP, including a stipend, support for travel, and most importantly, mentorship and a sense of community.

Derrick applied for STEMAP in summer 2016, and participated in uranium contamination research at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NM Tech) in Socorro with Brianne Willis, a STEMAP student from Eastern New Mexico University. Together they worked with NM EPSCoR scientists to examine how uranium from abandoned uranium mines on Native American land is transported through water, dust and air. For Derrick, STEMAP opened doors to science he never considered, including the pursuit of a graduate degree.

Derrick received his Associates Degree in Biology at San Juan College, and transferred to New Mexico State University (NMSU) to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Geological Sciences with a minor in Physics. His poster on his STEMAP research won the first place undergraduate award at the National AISES Conference, which opened even more doors for his future.

“Coming from a small community college and getting first place at an AISES conference was kinda mind blowing!”

Derrick Platero

Derrick still keeps in touch with the EPSCoR research scientists at he worked with at NM Tech, as well as Chelsea and Brianne. He intends to pursue a graduate degree either at NMSU or the University of Arizona, possibly to become a professor.

Source:  New Mexico EPSCoR

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JUNE 2017

Suresh Damodaran, South Dakota State University - Brookings, South Dakota

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Doctoral canidate Suresh Damodaran is working in the Subramanian lab at South Dakota State University (SDSU) to identify how nodules develop in roots of leguminous plants such as soybeans. Nodules develop on soybean roots as a result of symbiosis with rhizobium bacteria found in the soil. The plant allows these bacteria to enter into nodules and convert atmospheric nitrogen into a plant-usable nitrogen source. The biggest advantage of this biological process is that it helps the farmers by reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers and also reducing pollution by reducing the excess fertilizer run-off.

“It is interesting to study how the interaction between bacteria and plant leads to the development of an organ in the plant," Damodaran said.

The Subramanian lab is specifically focused on understanding the role of a vital plant hormone called auxin and how it influences the development of these nodules in soybean. The lab has previously identified that hypersensitivity to auxin reduces the number of nodules indicating that plants need to maintain appropriate levels of auxin for proper nodule formation and function. Damodaran’s research in the Subramanian lab has demonstrated that auxin, a vital plant horomone, locally produced at the site of nodule formation is likely to be crucial for proper nodule development. This knowledge is expected to optimize nodule formation and increase sustainable nitrogen supply in crops.

“Suresh is very bright, enthusiastic and self-driven and has been a pleasure to work with. His experiments have demonstrated a key role for local auxin regulation during soybean nodule formation. Suresh has trained several undergraduates in plant biology research and has been actively involved in general lab upkeep,” said mentor Sen Subramanian.

Damodaran holds a master’s degree in plant science and is currently pursing his doctorate in plant molecular biology at SDSU. He has received multiple awards for his research and presentations at various universities and conferences across the U.S. and is a contributor in four published journal articles which include:

  • Nizampatnam, N.R., Schreier,S.J., Damodaran, S., Adhikari, S. and Subramanian, S. The Plant journal: for cell and molecular biology, 84, 140-153.
  • Quantitative Amplification of Cleaved Ends (qACE) to assay miRNA-directed target cleavage [v1; ref status: approved with reservations 1, http://f1000r.es/4bx] F1000Research 2014, 3:240.
  • A Tiered Barcode Authentication Tool to Differentiate Medicinal Cassia Species in India. Purushothaman N., Newmaster SG., Ragupathy S., Stalin N., Suresh D., Arunraj DR., Gnanasekaran G., Vassou SL., Narasimhan D., Parani M. Genetics and molecular research. 2014, 13(2):2959-2968
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MAY 2017

Anika Rowe, West Virginia University -- Morgantown, WV

Student Spotlight May2017

Ms. Anika Rowe, pictured left, is a rising senior at West Virginia University, where she is majoring in chemistry.  Anika is specifically interested in astrochemistry research, a discipline of science described by the American Chemical Society as one that encompasses chemistry, planetary, science, chemical biology, physics, astronomy, and computational science (source).  

Anika's research is supported by the National Science Foundation's EPSCoR Track 1 award.  Presently, she is searching the Green Bank Telescope data for Fast Radio Bursts, which are presumably extragalactic, very energetic bursts of unknown origins. This involves a great deal of data analysis on the cluster, programming, and inspection of search output. Although little has been found so far, the project remains in its early stages.

Anika is also a a member of the West Virginia Science Public Outreach Team (SPOT) where she serves as a presenter and, in fact, began research in astronomy due to her involvement with SPOT.  She also serves as a Pulsar Search Collaboratory undergraduate mentor.

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Anika, pictured middle, along with other students attend an observer training session at the Green Bank Telescope Observatory. 

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APRIL 2017

Katie Yocham, Boise State University -- Boise, ID

Student Spotlight April

Source: Boise State University Photographic Services 

Bridging the divide between materials science and tissue regeneration is one of the goals for the Advanced Nanomaterials and Manufacturing laboratory (ANML) led by Assistant Professor, David Estrada, at Boise State University. Undergraduate Katie Yocham is part of Estrada’s team using graphene foam (GF) to develop three-dimensional scaffolding systems that mimic the native cellular microenvironment in musculoskeletal tissues. These scaffolds show promise in the regeneration of multiple tissues, including articular cartilage. Cartilage is a prime target for tissue engineering as it is an avascular, aneural, and alymphatic tissue with limited regenerative capabilities after damage from injury or degenerative disease. Specifically, articular cartilage provides lubrication and shock absorption between the bones that are located in joints, and its degeneration causes joint pain, stiffness, and a loss of mobility. 

Earlier this year, the team was able support myogenesis on a GF scaffold and the work was published in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering. The most challenging aspect of cartilage tissue engineering lies in matching the mechanical strength of the engineered tissue to the native tissue. GF was chosen as the scaffold material due to its exceptional mechanical properties. Working closely with the Biomolecular Research Center at Boise State, Katie measured the mechanical properties of bare GF and the resulting extra cellular matrix-coated GF – tissue composites (GF-TCs). “To our knowledge, Katie is the first to perform these measurements for graphene – soft tissue composites,” says Estrada. “These findings provide new insight into GF as a bioscaffold for growth and differentiation of functional cartilage tissue, and are expected to further the development of multifunctional 3-dimensional bioscaffolds for musculoskeletal tissue engineering."

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Katie presented her research in a poster at the 15th Annual Idaho INBRE Research Conference August 1-3, 2016, receiving Faculty Choice—First Place recognition for her work.

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MARCH 2017

Charlotte Quigley, University of Maine -- Orono, ME

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Charlotte Quigley, pictured left, is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maine studying Marine Biology. Her research focuses on alaria (a type of sea vegetable) and how changing water temperatures affect its growth. By studying and testing its genetic structure, Charlotte hopes to supply a sustainable, temperature tolerant crop for Maine’s aquaculture future.

2016 Charlotte Quigley SEANET Spotlight from Maine EPSCoR on Vimeo.

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FEBRUARY 2017

Tracie Curry, University of Alaksa-Fairbanks -- Fairbanks, AK

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UAF Natural Resources Management Ph.D. student Tracie Curry pictured inside Decision Theater North, UAF’s new visualization facility.

As Tracie Curry sees it, she’s just traded one desert for another.

I have a love of desert landscapes, definitely,” said the Los Angeles native. “Something about the Arctic being another kind of a desert – I just kind of wanted to be up there.”

That being said, Curry took a circuitous route to UAF, where she’s now a Ph.D. student in Natural Resources and Sustainability (and a fellow in the Resilience and Adaptation Program) focused on using visual tools to help communicate complex concepts. First came an undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, then three years in Washington D.C. as a financial analyst for a real estate advisory firm. But it wasn’t Curry’s element: “I just really hated being inside all the time, and in front of a computer, and in front of spreadsheets.”

So she enrolled in a Master’s program in landscape architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where an instructor’s offhand remark about the prospect of an ice-free Arctic sparked an interest in the changing North and its peoples that motivates Curry to this day. “I think it’s a really interesting place to be involved if you want to have an impact,” Curry said. “We have this long view that things will be drastically different in the Arctic in 20, 50 years, and that in my mind is enough time to do something.”

Since enrolling at UAF in 2014, Curry has been studying ways in which communication and collaboration can bolster the ability of communities to adapt to climate change. She’s focusing particularly on coastal communities on the North Slope, and looking at ways that visual elements can improve interactions between researchers, agencies and residents.

“If you live in the Arctic and you’re explaining your observations of change, it’s difficult for somebody who is not from that area to really understand the magnitude of change, and the effect that it’s having on you and your culture, but I think that there are some ways to do that visually to give people a better sense of what people are talking about.”

Within that broad topic, Curry is involved in multiple research projects. One is studying the human dimensions and cumulative effects of road development, including examining how communities, agencies, industry and academics interact to impact local adaptation. In another project, she interviewed residents of the North Slope village of Wainwright to record their own observations of change, part of an international project researching adaptation to climate change in coastal communities. She also interned with Wainwright through the Resilience and Adaptation Program, where she created a database of existing research information about the village to serve as a resource for the community and for future research. 

The first of these projects is giving Curry a chance to flex her visualization skills, because she’s also working on an Alaska Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) award to translate the research into an interactive narrative, consisting of maps, infographics, animations, photo collage and narration. The idea is to frame the visual elements in an immersive multi-screen environment – in this case, the new Decision Theater North facility on the UAF West Ridge – to help audiences better grasp concepts like the magnitude and scale of change, to aid in their decision-making, and to expose them to a holistic, social-ecological systems approach to resource management. 

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JANUARY 2017

Juganta Roy, Jackson State University -- Jackson, MS

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Juganta Roy is a doctoral student under the direction of Dr. Glake Hill in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Jackson State University. His areas of research largely focus on molecular dynamics simulation of polymeric materials, electronic structure calculation of metal-oxide surface and metal/ligands interfaces, quantum chemical calculations, quantitative structure–property relationship (QSPR) analysis, and design of photovoltaic devices. Roy has a special interest in the understanding of the nanomaterials phenomena from a theoretical perspective and in close collaboration with experimentalist. His current project, Molecular Dynamics Simulation Study of Polymers and Bio-polymers, focuses on the designing of new dyes for the dye-sensitized solar cell based on QSPR and first principle approach.

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DECEMBER 2016

Bridget Kimsey, Community College of Vermont

CCV undergrad student Bridget Kimsey recently attended NIH's week fir Native American students thanks to support she received from Vermont INBRE.  Bridget is also the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship for Native American students from Vermont EPSCoR.

Below, Bridget shares some of her thoughts on the experience:
This past July, the National Institutes of Health held its annual NIH Visit Week for Native American students. The week is a summer enrichment program designed to expose First Nation students to the NIH biomedical research, and healthcare careers.  To attend, Native students throughout the country are nominated and apply for the program. Welcomed are rising high school seniors, students enrolled in Tribal colleges, and undergraduate college students at all levels. Nine students were chosen for this year.

I feel thankful to have been accepted and through the generous support of Vermont Genetics Network, I received the funding to go. It was a full, stimulating, educational, and rewarding week.

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Pictured from L-R, former secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development Patricia Moulton presents CCV undergraduate Bridget Kimsey with the VT EPSCoR Native American Scholarship Award.  Bridget is one of nine students nationally to attend the 2016 National Institutes of Health annual NIH Visit Week for Native American students.

I am a registered member of the federally recognized tribe- Delaware Tribe of Indians. My Lenape (Delaware) father was a scientist for Johns Hopkins University. While completing my first degree at NYU in New York City, I lived within the American Indian Community House for 6 years. Elders there nudged me over time into what has become my current field. I am a complementary alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner. Working inside the field since 1998, I began working primarily on medical cases within a team approach starting in 2008. I am also a 2016 recipient of a VT-EPSCoR Native American Scholarship that was awarded in August 2016.

For me, the NIH, allopathic collaboration, and working with Native colleagues is a good match. All of the modalities I work in are based in the basic Native principle that a good medicine practitioner does not use intuition, but cultivates the ability to listen deeply, and focus on effective proven methodologies. I am uncomfortable with what I see happening in the current CAM community. I am more comfortable working inside of the allopathic and STEM community, as they closely resemble what I see in traditional teachings of Lenape, Lakota, and Mohawk tribes. 

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FALL 2016

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Casey Massena, University of Montana -- Missoula, MT

 A chemistry doctoral student at the University of Montana recently helped develop a new type of molecule, and his work was the cover story for a top scientific journal.

Casey Massena of Santa Cruz, California, works in the UM lab of Assistant Professor Orion Berryman. Massena’s work was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, which has a global readership.

"I like building molecules because it’s a long and challenging process with exciting moments of inspiration," Massena said.  "Many of us in our lab have gone to bed thinking about molecules and woken up realizing we’d dreamt about them.  As one of our collaborators in Germany describes it, what we do is the perfect balance between logic and art.”

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SUMMER 2016

Selena Lorrey, ​Bowdoin College -- Brunswick, Maine

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IDeA-funded Bowdoin College student, Ms. Selena Lorrey, is pictured here during her visit to Washington, D.C. in June as a part of the NAIPI/VSA-sponsored "Take Your IDeA Science to Capitol Hill" day.

Conducting research at Bowdoin's McBride Lab, Selena is a part of a team that studies the organism Candida albicans, a fungus typically found in humans.  Candida albicans can cause afflictions ranging from minor to severe bloodstream infections and even death in immunocompromised individuals.  Recent medical advances, such as the development of aggressive chemotherapies, as well as novel organ transplantations, have resulted in an increased number of immunocompromised patients that are more susceptible to candidiasis, which is an in infection of Candida albicans that results in high mortality rates of up to 40 percent.  In addition, these infections result in an estimated $1 billion in Medicare costs each year.  Studying the mechanisms by which this fungus infects humans is important due to an increase in the susceptible patient population as well as the increasing resistance of Candida albicans to antifungal drugs.  

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