College of Science students and alumni receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Author: Cliff Djajapranata

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced the winners of the 2017 Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). Overall, 15 Notre Dame students, affiliates, and alumni won the prestigious award. Among this decorated cohort are five current College of Science undergraduate and graduate students and four alumni.

The fellowship was designed to recognize and support outstanding graduate students for three years of study in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) who are pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in the United States.

Current Students

Bradley Bowles

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Senior Bradley Bowles is a biology major in the College of Science. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Bowles will pursue a graduate degree in clinical and translational science. He hopes to “take basic research in regenerative medicine or stem cell biology and translate this into new therapies.”

“Studying biology gives me a chance to do incredibly cool things—for  example, most of my undergraduate research has focused on growing blood vessels in tiny, silicone-based ‘microfluidic devices’ that almost resemble computer chips,” Bowles said. “The best part about studying things like this is that I can apply this work to curing diseases and helping other people. In short, biology lets me do the science that I love while having the fulfillment of knowing that my work could benefit those in need.”

Bowles will graduate this May with a degree in biological sciences. He plans on continuing his studies at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Salvatore Curasi

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Salvatore Curasi is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Biological Sciences. His research focuses on the impacts of climate change on vegetation and carbon cycling in Arctic tundra ecosystems.

“I love that my field of study combines many different lines of inquiry. The scientific questions I'm investigating give me the opportunity to carry out field work in tundra, do remote sensing work, and work with mathematical models,” Curasi said. “I also love that my field of study is applicable to big questions related to global climate change policy and the future of the earth system.”

Curasi received his undergraduate degree in political science and geography in 2015 from Colgate University.

James Hentig

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First-year Ph.D. student James Hentig conducts research in David Hyde’s lab on neuroregeneration following traumatic brain injuries. Using zebrafish, which have remarkable regenerative capabilities, Hentig hopes to develop a traumatic brain injury model and see how and if the brain of a zebrafish regenerates following blunt force trauma.

“I love neuroscience because the brain is the center of individual existence,” Hentig said. “Furthering our knowledge and working towards regenerative therapies for individuals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases provides hope for not only the individual, but also for the families watching their loved ones slip in and out day by day.

Hentig graduated with a biology degree with honors from Western Michigan University in 2016.

Sreeraahul Kancherla

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Sreeraahul Kancherla is a double major in economics and mathematics. While unsure of his specific research focuses in graduate school, he plans to concentrate on econometrics, labor economics, and public economics. Within these fields, he has broad interests in education, social insurance, welfare, and healthcare.

“I love that the tools of economics have a tremendous capacity to rigorously understand and evaluate important issues, thus allowing us to improve our institutions and policies,” Kancherla said. “Economics allows us to objectively separate the helpful initiatives from the harmful, the efficient from the wasteful, and the effective from the ill-designed.”

 Kancherla is looking to pursue a graduate degree in economics at UC Berkeley in pursuit of a Ph.D. following his graduation this May.

Sasha Padilla

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As a first-year graduate student in the lab of Bradley Smith in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Sasha Padilla works on developing fluorescent molecular probes using synthavidin technology. Such work helps in the technique of precise tumor removal without the damaging of surrounding tissues.

“I love that the STEM field has an amazing sense of community, which enables constant exchanging of new ideas,” Padilla said. “The Smith group is a unique research lab which works at an interface between synthetic chemistry, biochemistry, and biophysics. This collaborative setting is a great way to learn new concepts from many different perspectives.”

Padilla graduated with a bachelor of science in biochemistry from State University of New York at Oswego in May 2016.


William McCormack

William McCormack is a first-year physics graduate student at UC Berkeley. He does research in experimental high energy particle physics

“I love how it addresses fundamental questions about the composition of the universe. Our understanding of physics is incomplete, and if we discover a new particle or some unexpected physics, it would fundamentally alter decades-old paradigms,” McCormack said.  “And from a strictly experimental point of view, it's still baffling to me that we can smash protons together at extremely high energies and accurately study the resulting debris.”

McCormack graduated summa cum laude from Notre Dame in 2015 with a degree in physics and mathematics.

Colleen Riordan

A first-year analytical chemistry graduate student at the University of Michigan, Colleen Riordan conducts research with nanodiscs, which are used to analyze membrane proteins while preserving protein structure and activity. “ I'm developing a microfluidic device that can be used to reduce Nanodisc assembly time and reagent consumption as well as an improved method for optimizing membrane protein incorporation from cell lysate into nanodiscs,” Riordan said.

“I love that chemistry applies to so many fields of study, from cell biology and environmental sciences to art history and archaeology,” Riordan said. “Chemistry explains the basic building blocks that make up the entire world, and I think that taking these basics and trying to put them together in a way that solves a much bigger puzzle is the most interesting aspect of my research.”

Riordan graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in biochemistry and was a part of the Glynn Family Honors Program.

Zoe Volenec

Zoe Volenec is a first-year graduate student in Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. While Volenec has spent most of her first year teaching and taking courses, she is hoping to get started on research this summer by applying modern portfolio theory to conservation decisions. “I'm interested in how to best make those decisions of what land should be protected based on forecasts of future habitat quality under climate change and human land use pressures, using financial investment theory about diversifying investments to maximize return for a given level of risk,” Volenec said.

“I love studying conservation biology because it encapsulates the interface between man and nature-- how the decisions we make affect the environment and how human activity can best coexist with the environment,” Volenec said.

Volenec graduated from Notre Dame in 2016 with degrees in both environmental science and economics and was also a part of the Glynn Family Honors Program.

Jordan Lewis

Jordan Lewis completed the University’s Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) in 2016. The SROP is an intensive research program for undergraduates looking to pursue research and acquire professional development. The program is hosted by the Graduate School and works with the Office of Grants and Fellowships.

Lewis received his undergraduate degree from Winthrop University in 2016 and is working to acquire a Ph.D. in life sciences disease ecology from Winthrop University.

Honorable Mention

Current Students

Clayton Becker—Senior, Biological Sciences

Brooke Chambers—Graduate Student, Biological Sciences

Joseph Chambers—Graduate Student, Biological Sciences

Sophia Chau—Senior, Biological Sciences

Mauna Dasari—Graduate Student, Biological Sciences

Brooke Weaver—Graduate Student, Biological Sciences


Samantha Piekos—Class of 2015, Biological Sciences

Andrew Piper—Class of 2015, Physics

Alexa Rakoski—Class of 2015, Physics