BME Students Receive 2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

March 26, 2021

Three students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and four alumni have received 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships that will allow them to pursue graduate studies in the biomedical field.

Christian Jennings, is a second-year graduate student working with Assistant Professor Sapun Parekh. He's developing novel optical instrumentation to measure the mechanical and biochemical properties of individual breast cancer cells. Jennings plans to use these measurements to identify cellular characteristics that confer chemotherapeutic susceptibility. He is also a fellow in the BME Department’s Imaging Science and Informatics Program.

Katherine O’Connor will graduate in 2021 with a B.S. in biomedical engineering. She worked with Associate Professor Lydia Contreras in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. O’Connor’s wet lab and computational modeling research focused on the regulatory role of RNA in the cell, particularly in the context of diseases.

Ajay Thatte will graduate with a B.S. in biomedical engineering in 2021 and worked in Associate Professor Jeanne Stachowiak’s lab with Dr. Wade Zeno, a postdoctoral fellow at the time and now an Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California. Thatte’s work demonstrated that intrinsically disordered proteins play a crucial role in sensing and driving membrane curvature.

Brandon Bakka, a graduate student working with Jeanne Stachowiak, received an honorable mention.

Texas BME alumni who received fellowships include Manhwal Harb (William Marsh Rice University), Mayna Nguyen (Vanderbilt University), Susana Simmonds (University of Washington), and Keiran Smith (University of Colorado at Boulder).

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program helps ensure the quality, vitality, and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce of the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students pursuing full-time research-based master's and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipiend of $34,000, plus a $12,000 educational allowance for tuition and fees.