Eleven students have been selected to receive 2022 Beckman Institute fellowships and awards. The awards, which fund interdisciplinary research that takes place over the summer, will be celebrated at a virtual gathering on Friday, July 29, 2022.
Read on to learn about the awards and honorees, and stay tuned for updates about their summer projects!
Beckman Institute Undergraduate Fellowships
The Beckman Institute Undergraduate Fellows Program provides undergraduate students with a $3,000 award to pursue interdisciplinary research at the Beckman Institute during the summer. Entering its seventh year, the program is supported by funding from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.
William Dai is a rising junior studying molecular and cellular biology. He will collaborate with Dan Llano, an associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology, to study the location and function of neurons in the lateral cortex of the inferior colliculus, a key part our brain’s auditory pathway that helps us make sense of the sounds we hear. This study will be the first to characterize neurons in the inferior colliculus that release somatostatin, a neuropeptide that produces hormones; developing a deeper understanding of how somatostatin is distributed in this region can help researchers assess its role in stress and neurological disorders.
Emma Ibanez expects to graduate in December 2022, earning a B.S. in molecular and cellular biology and a minor in chemistry. She’ll collaborate with Justin Rhodes, a professor of psychology, to engineer the first transgenic anemonefish. Anemonefish are born exclusively as males, but possess the unique ability to undergo a complete male-to-female sex transition when required for reproduction; the genetic modification techniques pioneered by this study will deepen researchers’ understanding of the biological processes in the brain that facilitate male-to-female sex transition.
Sarika Kumar is a rising junior studying molecular and cellular biology. She’ll collaborate with Benjamin Auerbach, an assistant professor of molecular and integrative physiology, to study the molecular mechanisms that drive Fragile X syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition that is linked to both autism spectrum disorder and extreme sensitivity to sound. By examining the biological processes in the brain that directly impact sound sensitivity, the team will build the necessary knowledgebase to help alleviate these symptoms in patients.
Nikita Lukhanin is a rising senior studying mechanical engineering with a minor in physics. He’ll collaborate with Joaquin Rodríguez-López, an associate professor of chemistry, to make a special type of microscopy called scanning electrochemical microscopy, or SECM, more accessible to a wide range of interdisciplinary researchers. SECM is an invaluable tool for collecting nano-scale topographies of chemical systems like solar cells, batteries, and cancer cells, but its high cost creates barriers to accessibility; Lukhanin will develop an inexpensive, easy-to-use compliant mechanism-based actuator to help increase the accessibility of SECM systems to non-specialists and create opportunities for interdisciplinary research.
Anh Nguyen expects to graduate in December 2022, earning a B.S. in chemical and biomolecular engineering and a minor in computational science and engineering. She will collaborate with Diwakar Shukla, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to improve accuracy and precision in molecular dynamics simulations of lipid-protein interactions. Molecular dynamics models that simulate membrane proteins often incorporate just one or very few lipid species in the bilayer membrane construction; this work will illustrate the impact of individual lipid species on membrane protein functions, helping to better explain and interpret their contributions in complex membrane mixtures.
2022 Carle Neuroscience Institute Undergraduate Research Award
The Carle Neuroscience Institute Undergraduate Research Award offers collaborative summer research projects in magnetic resonance neuroimaging. Research will take place at the Beckman Institute and the Carle Neuroscience Institute.
Dajana Duci is a rising senior studying psychology with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience. This year, she conducted research in the Attention and Perception Lab alongside Diane Beck, a professor of psychology and the lab’s principal investigator, learning to monitor and analyze electrical activity in the brain using a technique called electroencephalography, or EEG. Working alongside imaging researchers at the Beckman Institute and physicians at the Carle Neuroscience Institute will support Duci's pursuit of a career in neuroscience by providing insights into the applications of magnetic resonance neuroimaging technology for real-world patient care.
2022 Erik Haferkamp Memorial Award for Undergraduate Research
The Erik Haferkamp Memorial Award for Undergraduate Research allows a promising undergraduate neuroscientist to pursue research at the Beckman Institute during the summer. The $3,000 award is supported by friends and family in memory of Erik Haferkamp.
Kaitlyn Ortgiesen is a rising senior studying molecular and cellular biology with a minor in history. She will collaborate with Dan Llano on a project that uses high-resolution ultrasound microscopy to understand and combat Alzheimer’s disease. Often, individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s experience complications related to blood flow in the brain that can cause atrophy; by visualizing the brain's smallest blood vessels and microvasculature, Ortgiesen will add valuable information to a growing knowledgebase about the disease.
2022 Thomas and Margaret Huang Award for Graduate Research
The Thomas and Margaret Huang Award for Graduate Research supports graduate students studying human-computer intelligent interaction. The $3,500 award is supported by the Huang Fund.
Yudu Li is a Ph.D. candidate studying electrical and computer engineering. He will collaborate with Zhi-Pei Liang, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop a deep-learning-based method for constrained image reconstruction to enable ultrafast magnetic resonance imaging. Constrained image reconstruction is invaluable to biomedical imaging applications like MRI, as it reduces the data and scan time required to generate a usable image; Li’s project integrates traditional model-based and modern deep learning-based reconstruction strategies to create a novel, AI-based image reconstruction framework.
Jilai Cui is pursuing a Ph.D. in the Neuroscience Program. He will collaborate with Martha Gillette, the director of The Neuroscience Program and an Alumni Professor of cell and developmental biology, and Rhanor Gillette, a professor emeritus of molecular and integrative physiology, to demonstrate how the brain’s glymphatic system, which clears metabolic waste during sleep, is impacted by neurodegenerative impairments. They’ll build and implement an interactive modeling tool to simulate the glymphatic system and measure its efficiency under normal and impaired conditions; designed for researchers and educators, the tool will enable new insights into the effects of neurodegenerative diseases on the glymphatic system.
2022 Nadine Barrie Smith Memorial Fellowship
The Nadine Barrie Smith Memorial Fund supports female engineering graduate students who are conducting research in the general field of medical imaging at the Beckman Institute.
Simran Singh is pursuing her Ph.D. in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior. She will collaborate with Daniel J. Miller, an assistant professor of evolution, ecology, and behavior, to identify non-invasive biomarkers of auditory fields within the mammalian cerebral cortex. Existing magnetic resonance imaging parcellation methods rely upon approximations to qualitative histological atlases; Singh will use deep learning to produce a quantitative histological microstructural fingerprint to mark each region of auditory cortex.
Qian Jiang is a Ph.D. candidate studying electrical and computer engineering. She will collaborate with Minh N. Do, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop efficient active and contrasting learning algorithms for 3D cell segmentation on microscopy images. This work, which uses the state-of-the-art imaging facilities in the Beckman Institute’s Microscopy Suite, will help mitigate the limitations in data annotations that result from traditional supervised learning methods. Jiang’s additional collaborators will potentially include Stephen Boppart of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering, Gabriel Popescu, also of electrical and computer engineering, and Rohit Bhargava, the Founder Professor of Engineering and the Director of the Cancer Center at Illinois.