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8 honored in NSF Grad Research Fellow search

Published: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:04

    Four Aggies received 2010 Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation and four more received honorable mentions in the renowned academic competition – the most USU students and alums ever to receive the honor in one year.

    USU's 2010 NSF Graduate Research Fellows are undergraduate Melissa Jackson (geology), who graduates in May and will pursue graduate studies at Aberystwyth University in Wales; USU graduate students Nathan Carruth (physics) and Joanna Hsu (ecology) and 2007 USU graduate Jan Marie Andersen (physics), who is currently pursuing graduate studies at Boston University.

    Receiving honorable mentions are USU graduate students Eric Addison (physics) and Ephraim Hanks (mathematics and statistics), as well as 2009 USU graduates Camila Coria (civil engineering), who is a graduate student at University of California-Berkeley, and Bradley Hintze (biochemistry), who is pursuing graduate studies at Duke University.

    "NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are the nation's most prestigious graduate awards in science and engineering," said USU President Stan Albrecht. "The fact that eight Aggies are among this year's honorees is a solid testament to the outstanding quality of our university's academic and research programs, as well as the high caliber of our students and faculty."

    NSF GRFP recipients receive a three-year annual stipend of $30,000, along with a $10,500 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees, a one-time $1,000 international travel allowance and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. or foreign institution of graduate education they choose.


Jan Marie Andersen, Physics

    Following graduation from USU with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics, Andersen headed to the University of Copenhagen on a Fulbright U.S. Student Scholarship to study stellar evolution and the early universe at Denmark's Niels Bohr Institute.

    Now at BU, Andersen is investigating low-mass stars called M-dwarfs that, from Earth, are barely perceptible to the naked eye. Her research affords her opportunities to study data collected from the world's great observatories, including the Nordic Optical Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in Spain's Canary Islands and Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

    "Many astronomers filter out M-dwarfs as unwanted interference in their searches for larger, brighter celestial objects," said Andersen, who was named 2007 College of Science Undergraduate Researcher of the Year. "But our studies of M-dwarfs could yield important clues about the early universe. One astronomer's trash is another astronomer's treasure."


Nathan Carruth, Physics

    The third time's a charm for Carruth, who has received two previous honorable mentions from the NSF graduate program. And "time" is exactly what Carruth, who earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from USU in 2007 and will soon complete a master's degree in physics, is studying with faculty mentor Charles Torre.

    "Among the questions we're asking is ‘Is it possible for time to be discrete; is it necessarily continuous?'" Carruth said.

    Tackling these questions is related to a central problem in theoretical physics that has puzzled theorists for decades: how to unify quantum mechanics with general relativity. So Carruth and Torre are considering these questions in a two-dimensional universe, in which there's only one spatial dimension rather than three.

    "By simplifying our project, we're able to consider questions of time independent of a quantum gravity theory that doesn't yet exist," says Carruth, whose current efforts focus on the mathematical foundations needed to construct models of quantum time in a two-dimensional situation.

    In "earthly" time, Carruth will soon choose between offers of continued graduate study at University of California-Santa Barbara, University of California-Berkeley and England's Cambridge University.


Joanna Hsu, Ecology

    In the future, expect more drenching storms, scorching droughts and changes in average annual rainfall levels. Climate change, Hsu says, is not just about increasing temperatures, it is also drastically altering precipitation patterns.

    "I'm interested in how these changes in precipitation will impact primary production, the biomass plants produce through photosynthesis," she said.

    A Quinney Fellow in the College of Natural Resources, Hsu began graduate studies in USU's Ecology Center and Department of Wildland Resources in 2008 after completing a bachelor's degree in biology at Johns Hopkins University. Working with faculty mentor Peter Adler, she uses long-term data sets collected from a variety of ecosystems to characterize the relationship between precipitation and primary production.

    "Primary production – how much green stuff plants are making – sets the amount of energy available for all organisms in an ecosystem," Hsu says. "It's also an important component of the global carbon cycle. Changes in precipitation patterns across the globe will impact primary production. The goal of my research is to find out just how large that impact will be."


Melissa Jackson, Geology

    Prehistoric Barrier Canyon Style (BCS) rock art is indigenous to the American Southwest's Colorado Plateau. Mysterious human, animal and spirit figures, painted and carved, grace the sunset-warm colors of the region's rock faces, cave walls and overhangs. Scientists ponder when and by whom they were created.

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