Texas Tech University

Graduate Students Awarded National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship

Amanda Bowman

April 1, 2021

Administration Building

Four winners and three honorable mentions are students from Texas Tech University.

Four graduate students from Texas Tech University were awarded fellowships from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP) while three others were named honorable mentions.

According to the NSF's website, the GRFP recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported STEM disciplines who pursue research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support with an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000 to the institution.

"These are the most prestigious fellowships awarded in basic science and engineering in the U.S.," said Mark Sheridan, dean of the Graduate School at Texas Tech. "The award is a tremendous honor that recognizes the academic accomplishments of these students as well as their promise as researchers."

The recipients of the GRFP fellowship and their research foci are as follows:

Juan Dominguez, chemistry

  • The main focus of Dominguez's research efforts is the direct, time-dependent simulation of chemical reactions. In that approach, a reaction is simulated in the same way the process evolves in "real life." He advocates a generalized quantum/classical (Q/C) approach to ab initio molecular mechanics, where molecular degrees of freedom and/or molecular regions are distributed into Q/C treatments.

Tara Durboraw, ecology

  • Durboraw's research will investigate the impacts of disturbance-produced openings on natural establishment of whitebark pine, a keystone species of high-elevation forest communities throughout western North America. Whitebark pine is currently facing sharp population decline across its range as it faces numerous novel threats. Durboraw seeks to better understand the relationship between natural whitebark pine regeneration process and these novel threats to inform future restoration efforts.

Emily Fischer, geology – igneous petrology

  • Fischer's research is titled "Petrogenesis of magnetite-rich layers and pipes in the Bushveld Complex, South Africa." The Bushveld Complex is the largest layered mafic intrusion in the world, hosting the world's largest platinum reserves and other economically significant elements, including titanium, phosphorous and chromium. Even though the complex is well studied, there is no consensus about how these magnetite-rich layers form in the Upper Zone. Fischer's goal is to obtain new data during field mapping this summer and propose a new model for the genesis of the layers.

Abby Rutrough, ecology

  • Rutrough's research makes a novel contribution by combining ecology, sociology and economics in spatial models that predict where and why bats are heavily hunted around the world. Her work helps identify regions with high levels of bat hunting, identifies the human pressures driving hunting within these regions and allows for tailored interventions to reduce both the human threat to bat conservation and the risk of viral disease spillover. She designed elements of this study to create opportunities for undergraduate students and has mentored 28 Texas Tech students so far.

Those who were listed as honorable mentions and their research foci are:

Aaron Carman, electrical and electronic engineering

  • Carman's specific research focus is microwave radar technologies and their biomedical applications. His proposed research would ultimately yield a noninvasive method of measuring the motion of each chamber of the heart using microwave radar as well as a method of improving the resolution of future radar systems without having to increase the size.

McKinlee Salazar, microbial biology

  • Salazar is working on a multi-omics project investigating insect-bacteria symbiosis by using Next Generation Sequencing and bioinformatics to analyze data from the genome (DNA), transcriptome (RNA) and metabolome (metabolites) of a biological system. The insect-bacteria symbiosis involves an insect called a membracid. The membracid is an obligate phloem feeder, meaning its diet is basically sugar water from plants and is very low in nutrients. This low-nutrient diet is compensated by bacteria within the membracid's specialized organ called the bacteriome. These bacteria produce the essential amino acids the membracid needs to survive.

Emmali Tsai, ecology

  • Tsai's research focuses on Weddell seal diving behavior. More specifically, she is developing modern computational methods for recovering historic (1970s-1980s) Weddell seal dive records from Kooyman-Billups Time Depth Recorders. With these records, Tsai plans to conduct a longitudinal study on Weddell seal dive behavior to determine how behavior may have changed due to environmental variation within McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.