2010 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows Chosen

The Beckman Institute is pleased to announce the Beckman Graduate Fellows for 2010 are Wylie Ahmed, Chao Ma, Jihye Seong, Wladimir Benalcazar, and Mallory Stites. These five graduate students from the University of Illinois have been selected based on the quality of their proposed work, the likelihood that the work would lead to important new results in their field, and the relevance of the proposed project to existing Beckman Institute research.

The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology is pleased to announce the Beckman Graduate Fellows for 2010. Five graduate students from the University of Illinois have been selected as 2010 Beckman Graduate Fellows based on the quality of their proposed work, the likelihood that the work would lead to important new results in their field, and the relevance of the proposed project to existing Beckman Institute research. The Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows program provides an excellent opportunity for young scholars who are engaged in thesis research at the M.A., M.S., or Ph.D. level at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The 2010 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows are listed below, along with brief descriptions of their research.

Wylie Ahmed:
Wylie is a Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering, whose research involves cell mechanics and high resolution imaging techniques. His research project focuses on the connection between mechanical tension in neuronal axons and synaptic plasticity, with the goal of understanding the mechanism(s) underlying that connection and neurotransmission. Wylie is collaborating with Beckman faculty members Taher Saif and Jonathan Sweedler in this project, which seeks to contribute foundational work to the emerging field of neuromechanics.

Chao Ma:
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering at Tsinghua University (Beijing, China), Chao is now working on his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research efforts with Beckman faculty members Zhi-Pei Liang and Brad Sutton have led to work on a mobile nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) system with full spectroscopy capability. The goal of this interdisciplinary research project is to develop, for the first time, a mobile NMR spectroscopic system with full spectroscopy capability that will enable new applications, such as on-site detection of toxic materials and detection of bacteria and biomarkers for point-of-care diagnosis, that are not possible with conventional NMR systems.

Jihye Seong:
Jihye is a native of Korea who earned a master’s degree in pharmaceutical science and is working on her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Illinois. Working with Beckman faculty members Yingxiao Wang and Ning Wang, Jihye’s research focuses on the effects of mechanical stimulation on cellular function. Her project will seek to understand how mechanical force is converted into biochemical signals – a process known as mechanotransduction – toward a systematic understanding of cellular function, especially as it relates to the development of diseases such as cancer.

Wladimir Benalcazar:
Wladimir has been a research associate in Beckman faculty member Stephen Boppart’s Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory while working toward a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. In addition to working with Boppart, Wladimir has collaborations with Beckman faculty members Scott Carney, Martin Gruebele, and Yingxiao Wang toward development of a nonlinear microscopy technique for the spatial-spectral inspection of biological specimens. The microscope uses endogenous vibrational contrast to provide high chemical selectivity without the use of exogenous markers, a biochemical imaging technique Wladimir will use for a systematic study of tumor development.

Mallory Stites:
A graduate of Truman State University in Missouri, Mallory is working on a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology at Illinois. Mallory investigates the basic neurological and behavioral processes involved in reading comprehension, especially as it applies to how the brain handles misspellings. In collaborations with Beckman faculty members Kiel Christianson (eye-tracking) and Kara Federmeier (event-related brain potentials), Mallory will use these measurement techniques to understand the processes involved in reading errors, testing the effects of letter transpositions across morpheme boundaries. Mallory plans to expand her research to continue a collaboration with Beckman faculty member Liz Stine-Morrow to study how misspellings affect reading behavior in older adults.

The Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows each receive an 11-month, 50 percent appointment commensurate with the pay rate of the graduate student's home department. Funds will also be provided to each Fellow to attend one national meeting to present the results of her/his research.