UA Students Earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships
The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines.

University Communications
May 1, 2019

Twenty-five University of Arizona students and graduates were recently awarded National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, one of the most prestigious graduate fellowships in the nation.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, or NSF GRFP, recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.

Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees to be paid to the institution. They also gain opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

"This is an extremely competitive fellowship, and we are proud to see so many of our students receive the support of the National Science Foundation,” said Andrew Carnie, dean of the UA Graduate College. "Receiving the award is a recognition of these students' intellect, their dedication to their discipline and their commitment to the well-being of society at large."

Some of the current UA students who were awarded the GRF include the following:

Rachael Amaro

Astronomy and astrophysics graduate student Rachael Amaro studies supernovae in the hours after explosion. She focuses on specific types of supernovae that were used to discover that the universe's expansion is speeding up rather than slowing down, and are still used today to try to precisely measure the rate of this acceleration. Astronomers have now reached a point where the errors in this measurement come from the uncertainty in how these supernovae explode, which is known as the Progenitor Problem. She plans to use the NSF GRFP to study the physics behind the explosions and hopefully solve the mystery.

Jane Bright

Jane Bright's research uses numerical relativity simulations to study black hole systems. She is particularly interested in the emerging field of multi-messenger astronomy, which is centered around systems that can be observed both in light and in gravitational waves. As a UA graduate student majoring in astronomy and astrophysics, her research will focus on supermassive black hole binaries that will further theoretical understanding of these extreme systems and inform future observations in both gravitational wave and electromagnetic signals.

Aaron Byrd

Aaron Byrd's research focuses on investigating how cells can degrade aggregates and return to health. Cells must maintain proper levels of all the proteins within them by making new ones and degrading the old ones that have been worn out. If not properly disposed of, these proteins can potentially wreak havoc on the cells by accumulating and forming large structures called aggregates. The presence of aggregates is a feature of many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Byrd is pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology at the UA.

Alison Elder

Alison Elder plans to use the NSF GRFP to pursue a Ph.D. in geography at the UA. Her proposed research examines the effects of environmental change and development processes on livelihoods in the developing world, with a special focus on water resource issues in arid lands.

Austin Frisbey

Austin Frisbey plans to continue his work investigating a molecular mechanism that is involved in allowing plants to respond to an uneven distribution of soil nitrogen. His research could lead to engineering new breeds of crop plants that require less fertilizer to grow, thereby reducing nitrogen pollution from agriculture and increasing profits for farmers. At the UA, Frisbey is pursuing a doctoral degree in molecular and cellular biology with a minor in plant science.

Annalise Gardella

Annalise Gardella is graduating from the UA with a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies. Her research focuses on gender social movements in El Salvador, particularly examining the relationship between violence and visibility in El Salvador's LGBT movement. She plans to attend the University of Oregon to pursue a Ph.D. in anthropology.

Maggie Kautz

Maggie Kautz is an undergraduate at the UA majoring in optical sciences and engineering with minors in government and public policy and mathematics. During her time as a Wildcat, she helped with the optomechanical alignment of the MagAO-X astronomical coronagraph, which will be used to directly image exoplanets. Her future goals include pursuing a Ph.D. in optical sciences at the UA.

Ryan Keenan

Ryan Keenan's research involves using radio telescopes to measure the distribution of molecular gas – the stuff from which stars are formed – in the universe. This will give insights into how galaxies formed and evolved. He plans to use his NSF award to work on projects to measure the signals from this gas using novel detectors and observing techniques, and to develop software to help predict and analyze the results of the observations. Keenan is a UA graduate student majoring in astronomy and astrophysics.

Konner Kirwan

As an undergraduate, Konner Kirwan's work has centered on understanding how neural stem and progenitors cells, or NSPCs, change over time. Maintaining this population of cells is critical for a healthy brain during aging. Following his graduation from the UA, where he majored in neuroscience and cognitive science and molecular and cellular biology with a subplan in neurobiology and a minor in biochemistry, Kirwan hopes to attend Columbia University to obtain a Ph.D. in neurobiology and behavior.

Adriana Macieira Mitchell

Adriana Macieira Mitchell plans to use her NSF award to fund her research studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in pursuit of dual master's and doctoral degrees in aerospace and astronautical engineering. During her undergraduate work at the UA, she majored in optical sciences and engineering, with minors in mathematics and planetary sciences. At MIT, she hopes to design aerospace engineering applications to solve planetary science questions.

Angela Rivera

Angela Rivera is graduating from the UA with double majors in biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology with a minor in business administration. She plans to use the NSF fellowship to pursue a graduate degree in pharmacology at Duke University. Rivera's current research deals with trying to kill pathogenic bacteria using toxic metals such as copper.

Blake Steiner

Blake Steiner's graduate research at the UA will look at how woody plant encroachment changes the component carbon fluxes of an ecosystem, thus changing its productivity for range management. Steiner is majoring in natural resources with a minor in watershed management and ecohydrology.

Max von Hippel

Max von Hippel will graduate from the UA in May with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a minor in computer science. He plans to pursue a doctoral degree at Northeastern University, where his research will focus on utilizing formal methods to answer security questions about cyber, as well as cyber-physical, systems. He is especially interested in machine learning and cyber-physical systems such as autonomous aircraft.

Also receiving fellowships were: Gisselle Gonzalez, Charles Bradley, Greg Chism, Raphael Hviding, Massimo Pascale, Mariana Rodriguez-McGofflin, Stacy Suarez Cham, Dieu My Thanh Nguyen, Jenny Krantz Calahan, Caitlin Howard, Elizabeth Casavant and Christopher Tang.

The majority of this year's awardees participated in the Application Support services provided by the UA Graduate College. For more information on the support available for students applying for fellowships, visit:


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