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Emory students, recent grads receive National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships
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Five scholars from Emory’s Class of 2022 have received Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation: (left to right) Maggie Weber, Becky Cloud, Jennifer (Yiyang) Zheng, Anna Voss and Greg Kimmerer. Two other recent graduates and 11 PhD students in Laney Graduate School also received awards.

— Tina Chang

The National Science Foundation has awarded coveted Graduate Research Fellowships to five scholars who graduated this year from Emory College of Arts and Sciences and two recent College alumni who have yet to start graduate programs. Eleven PhD students in Emory’s Laney Graduate School also received awards.

The nation’s oldest continuous graduate fellowship of its kind, the NSF award provides a three-year annual stipend of $34,000, along with $12,000 in cost-of-education allowances to the fellows’ graduate institutions and access to programs for professional development and international research.

Emory’s recipients are among are among 2,100 early-career scientists and engineers selected for their high potential in the fields of science, technology and engineering. More than 12,000 applicants were considered.

The Emory College Class of 2022 recipients are Becky Cloud, Greg Kimmerer, Anna Voss, Maggie Weber and Jennifer (Yiyang) Zheng. The two Emory College alumni are Tralucia Powell 18C, a incoming graduate student at the University of Minnesota for clinical and developmental psychology,  and Jocelyn Stanfield 20C, who will return to Emory for graduate study in clinical psychology. Calen MacDonald (cognitive psychology) and Erin Morrow (cognitive neuroscience), both in the Class of 2022, were named as honorable mentions.

Eleven doctoral students in the Laney Graduate School received the NSF fellowship:

  • Yasmine Bassil (neuroscience) 
  • Angele Bruce (chemistry) 
  • S.J. Dillon (anthropology) 
  • Ariel Gale (chemistry) 
  • Ethan Heyboer (chemistry) 
  • Mackenzie Hoogshagen (ecology)
  • Samantha Horwitz (chemistry)  
  • Alessandra Luna (biomedical engineering)
  • Katelyn Oliver (neuroscience) 
  • Kristen Patterson (chemistry) 
  • Katherine Soderberg (psychology)

Learn more about the five Class of 2022 undergraduate recipients:

Becky Cloud

Cloud, a Glenview, Illinois, native, graduated with highest honors with a biology major and quantitative sciences minor.

Having long been interested in the complex relationships of biological organisms, she joined the lab of Emory disease ecologist David Civitello her sophomore year to work with the parasitic worm that develops in snails and infects humans with the tropical disease schistosomiasis.

Paired with graduate mentor Kelsey Shaw, Cloud aimed to quantify the impacts of population size structure of the host snails on transmission of the often-overlooked disease, also known as snail fever. Her honors thesis confirmed that the varying ratios of different-sized snails within a population play a role in the snail-schistosome. The findings may be used to inform parasite control and molluscicide use in endemic areas.

“I developed a particular interest in disease ecology through my courses at Emory in which I was able to explore the topics of biology that interested me most,” Cloud says. “I find particular value in the research conducted by the Civitello lab as it has allowed me to perform basic ecology research with implications for human health at the same time.”

Cloud, who conducted research with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign last summer, will begin her PhD this fall through the university’s program in in ecology, evolution and conservation biology. She plans to continue her previous research there in the mosquito disease system, studying vector mosquito ecology with the goal of informing mosquito control efforts.

Greg Kimmerer

Kimmerer, a Lexington, Kentucky, native and Emory Woodruff Scholar, graduated with a dual degree in biology and applied mathematics and statistics.

A 2021 Goldwater Scholar, Kimmerer began conducting gene regulation research in Emory biologist Leila Rieder’s lab his first year on campus. The research included inserting new DNA sequences into fruit fly embryos, then waiting until the insects grew to conduct heat shock experiments to better understand gene expression at the most basic biological level.

Starting last summer, Kimmerer expanded his interest in understanding cellular reactions by working remotely on a computational model of diabetic kidney disease with Ashlee Ford-Versypt at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The work allowed him to develop several equation models and test which approaches could accurately model the complex effects of chronically high blood sugar levels on kidney cells.

“What excites me about a biophysics approach is that the discoveries you make apply to a broad range of biological phenomenon, not just the specific biological system you’re studying,” Kimmerer says. “Math is a more unifying framework.”

Kimmerer will apply his fellowship in pursuit of a PhD in quantitative and computational biology at Princeton University. He hopes to continue his research into gene regulation from a biophysics perspective.

Anna Voss

Voss, who grew up in Marietta, Georgia, graduated with highest honors in neuroscience and behavioral biology.

A 2021 Goldwater Scholar, Voss has conducted research in neurogenetics since beginning a computational research position in Michael Epstein’s lab while still in high school.

As a first-year Emory student, she became one of the first hires in the lab of Steven Sloan, an assistant professor of human genetics focused on studying the brain’s glia cells in neurodevelopmental disorders. Voss examined whether neurons sent the messages to form a specific type of glia cells known as astrocytes.

Her discovery that a combination of five specific proteins contribute to astrocyte development became her honors thesis — which has been submitted for journal publication with Voss as first author. Understanding how astrocytes develop may prove pivotal in teasing out their role in developmental disorders from autism to schizophrenia.

“In the brain, things don’t happen individually. There are always multiple factors in play,” Voss says. “Moving forward, I’m excited to see more how they interact and what pathways are being activated. We’re just at the first step of this understanding.”

Voss plans a career in understanding glial cells’ impact on psychiatric disorders. She will apply her fellowship in pursuit of a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.

Maggie Weber

Weber, a Chapel Hill, North Carolina, native, graduated with highest honors in biology.

Her interest in inter-species interactions and epigenetics, which examines how behavior and environment can change gene function, led her to the lab of Emory biologist David Civitello.

Weber began her lab work remotely, before returning to campus last summer and working with PhD candidate Lynda Bradley. Her project examined how nutrient pulses such as agricultural runoff could affect snail populations and the parasitic worm known as schistosomes that develops within them.

The experience led to her honors thesis research on the impacts of an invasive plant diet on the snail hosts. Weber’s yearlong study on individual snails showed that a diet of invasive water hyacinth was more damaging for large snails than smaller snails. Snail size and diet is particularly relevant because large and well-fed snails have greater potential to transmit schistosomes to humans. 

“I am especially interested in the role of the environment in host-parasite interactions and disease dynamics,” Weber says. "I think this is really important for our approach to human and environmental health."

Weber will apply her fellowship toward a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University this fall. She plans to continue her research by studying how the environment can affect the co-evolution of host-parasite interactions in large mammals with more complex immune systems.

Jennifer (Yiyang) Zheng

Zheng, who is from Shanghai, China, graduated with highest honors with a dual degree in applied mathematics and statistics and music performance in piano.

She shifted her initial interest in data science to mathematics her sophomore year, when she realized the applications of mixed-precision arithmetic, the standard for accelerating deep learning models. Having played piano for 17 years, she is especially interested in applying concrete mathematics to analyze music and musical characteristics.

As a 2020 summer intern at Brown University’s Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, Zheng used that interest and skill to help develop a modified watermarking scheme on audio data that improved robustness while maintaining the security of the existing algorithms.

She continued that work in her honors thesis, examining how to use mixed-precision arithmetic for improved accuracy and efficiency with ill-conditioned inverse problems. Her adviser was James G. Nagy, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and chair of Emory’s mathematics department.

“Computational math has such a wide range of applications,” Zheng says. “My focus so far has been numerical analysis, but I am interested in looking at optimization, especially as it applies to musical characteristics.”

Zheng will apply her fellowship toward a PhD at Stanford University’s Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, where she is interested in looking at subfields of computational mathematics, including optimization, and their applications toward music.

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