NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Honorable Mentions for ChBE Students

University of Maryland Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) senior Sudabeh (Sudi) Jawahery has been awarded a 2014 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Two other ChBE students, senior Lauren Dorsey and graduate student Svetlana Ikonomova, received Honorable Mentions.

The NSF's Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to ensure the diversity and quantity of the nation’s scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by supporting  outstanding graduate students attending accredited U.S. colleges or universities. NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are among the most prestigious and selective in the country, and Honorable Mentions are considered an achievement in their own right. In 2014, the NSF received over 14,000 fellowship applications. Only 2000 were awarded.

Jawahery has been a member of Fischell Department of Bioengineering Assistant Professor Silvina Matysiak’s Biomolecular Modeling Group since April 2011, where she uses molecular modeling techniques to study neurodegenerative disorders. Currently, she is studying the toxicity of the huntingtin protein, which forms aggregates (large clusters) that, in the pathology Huntington's disease, interfere with neuron function. Her work is focused on discovering potentially toxic interactions of the mutant segment between the huntingtin protein and the lipid bilayers in cell membranes, which could play a role in mediating aggregate formation. This fall, Jawahery will join the doctoral program in chemical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jawahery will receive of three years of financial support, which may be used over a five-year period. For each year of support, the NSF provides an annual stipend of $32,000 to the fellow and an annual $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to his or her degree-granting institution.

Ikonomova, advised by Assistant Professor Amy Karlsson, received an Honorable Mention for her work in developing a diagnostic array that can detect and identify different species of fungal pathogens, particularly Candida albicans, the cause of common health complaints including vaginal yeast infections and diaper rash. In immunocompromised patients, however, it is difficult to treat and even fatal. Ikonomova uses single-chain variable antibody fragments, which she engineers for improved affinity, to try to capture Candida fungal cells.

Dorsey, a member of Assistant Professor Ganesh Sriram’s Metabolic Engineering Laboratory, uses metabolic flux analysis and isotopic labeling experiments to track how and where nitrogen, a key nutrient, is metabolized in plants. The subject of her studies is poplar, a tree being considered for use as a renewable biofuel crop. What she learns could explain how plant metabolism can be optimized to produce products such as biofuel precursors, and how their growth can be increased in nitrogen-deficient conditions. For the past year she and ChBE graduate student Xiaofeng Zhang have been examining evidence that a light-capturing protein, not poplar’s bark storage protein, is responsible for storing nitrogen at the suspension cell level. This fall, Dorsey will begin doctoral studies in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Delaware, where she hopes to continue her work.

NSF Honorable Mentions are granted to meritorious applicants who do not receive fellowship awards as an acknowledgement of significant national academic achievement. Recipients of Honorable Mentions are granted access to TeraGrid, the NSF's open scientific discovery supercomputing infrastructure. TeraGrid provides 2.5 petaflops of computing capability, over 50 petabytes of online and archival data storage, and other online tools to researchers throughout the country.

To learn more about the NSF Graduate Fellowship Research Program, please visit www.nsfgrfp.org.

Published April 16, 2014