Seven Named 2018 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows

Seven graduate students have been awarded 2018 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellowships.

Seven graduate students have been awarded 2018 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellowships. The program offers University of Illinois graduate students at the M.A., M.S., or Ph.D. level the opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary research at the institute. The 2018 honorees: Evan Center, psychology; Maximillian Egan, psychology; Hyukjin Jang, bioengineering; Edward Jira, chemical engineering; Hailey Knox, chemistry; Yayao Ma, biomedical imaging; and Ghazal Naseri Kouzehgarani, neuroscience and statistics.

The 2018 Beckman Institute Graduate Fellows:

Evan Center is a Ph.D. student in psychology with a focus on cognitive neuroscience. During his fellowship, Center will research neural predictive processes via a project titled “Complex Prediction in the Absence of Attention: Examining the Brain’s Implicit Ability to Recognize Qualitative Differences in Real Scenes.” The project will take advantage of the N300 and visual mismatch negativity (vMMN) event-related potential (ERP) components to assess whether high-level neural predictions occur even when attention is focused elsewhere.  Center will work with psychology professors Diane Beck and Kara Federmeier. Beck is a member of the Mechanisms of Cognitive Control Group, and Federmeier is a member of the Illinois Language and Literacy Initiative.

Maximillian Egan is working toward his Ph.D. in psychology, with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience. His research proposal aims to identify distinct functional connectome network configurations that are of behavioral and cognitive relevance through the use of state of the art multimodal recording equipment combined with holistic multivariate analysis. Egan will work with Sepideh Sadaghiani, an assistant professor of psychology and member of the Mechanisms of Cognitive Control Group, and Sanmi Koyejo, a professor of computer science and member of the Intelligence, Learning, and Plasticity Group.

Hyukjin Jang is working toward his Ph.D. in bioengineering. His project, “Microfluidic Platforms for Studying Biomolecular Reactions Using Fourier Transform-Infrared (FT-IR) Imaging and Spectroscopy,” will try to develop experimental techniques to reveal molecular details of biomolecular events and also validate computational models of such fast events. An interdisciplinary research approach will allow the study of protein folding mechanisms and bioenergetics reactions, which will fill in critical gaps in fundamental knowledge of such processes that will help combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cardiomyopathy. Jang will be supervised by Rohit Bhargava, a professor of bioengineering and member of the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group, and Paul Kenis, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a member of the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems Group. Additionally Martin Gruebele, a professor of chemistry and member of the Nanoelectronics and Nanomaterials Group, and Robert Gennis, a professor emeritus of biochemistry, will provide guidance for the research.

Edward Jira is working toward his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The main goal of his research is to design and build an instrument for automated synthesis of organic molecules (known as a “Molecule Maker”). Following design and fabrication, he will then directly use the instrument for synthesis of conjugated oligomers for single molecule conductance studies. The long-term vision of this project is to transition the device into an open shared-resource user facility in Beckman that will be available to users across campus. Jira will work with Charles Schroeder, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and member of the Computational Molecular Science Group; Jeff Moore, a professor of chemistry and member of the Autonomous Materials Systems Group; and Martin Burke, a professor of chemistry.

Hailey Knox is working toward her Ph.D. in chemistry. The goal of her project, “Development of Photoacoustic Probes for Non-invasive Imaging of Prostate Cancer,” is to develop small-molecule probes for early diagnosis of prostate cancer, to evaluate the diagnostic power of probes in preclinical animal models, and to employ hypoxia imaging to predict treatment response and outlook. Knox will work with Jefferson Chan, an assistant professor of chemistry, in collaboration with Wawrzyniec Dobrucki, an assistant professor of bioengineering. Both are members of the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group.

Yayao Ma is working toward an M.S. degree in biomedical imaging in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  Her research aims to develop a neuron-resolution compressed ultrafast microscopy system capable of transient live cell imaging, as well as fabricate artificial neurons capable of chemical communication with organic neurons. The research will promote interdisciplinary work among fields such as biomedical imaging, nanomaterials, neuroscience, and clinical sciences. Ma will work with Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering and member of the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems Group, and Liang Gao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and member of the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group.

Ghazal Naseri Kouzehgarani is working toward a Ph.D. in neuroscience and an M.S. in statistics. Her project, “Advanced Technological Imaging to Investigate Morphological and Coupling Heterogeneity of Astrocytes in Hippocampal Dentate Gyrus,” will utilize emerging technology of real-time imaging, expertise in established tracing techniques, and a new high resolution 2-photo Bruker imaging setup. Combined with existing expertise in astrocyte electrophysiology and coupling, the project aims to advance knowledge of the role of astrocytic networks in regulating neuronal circuitry important in learning and memory. Naseri Kouzehgarani will work with members of the Cellular and Molecular Foundations of Intelligent Behavior Group: Martha Gillette, a professor of cell and developmental biology, and Daniel Llano, an associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology; and with Gabriel Popescu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and member of the Bioimaging Science and Technology Group.