Three UT Students Win Prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

KNOXVILLE — Three graduate students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are recipients of the 2011 National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship.

The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

Frankie Pack, anthropology graduate student, Kemper Talley, a biophysics graduate student, and Samantha Tracht, a mathematics graduate student, are the 2011 recipients. Each will receive $30,000 over the next year along with a $10,500 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees and opportunities for international research and professional development.

Four students received honorable mentions: Jacob Lamanna, a graduate student in mechanical engineering; Sara Kuebbing, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology; Jessica Bryant, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology; and Joshua Birkebak, a graduate student in plant physiology.

Pack came to UT Knoxville from Baylor University where she spent five years working at Baylor’s university museum, the Mayborn Museum Complex. Currently, she is a member of the Department of Anthropology’s molecular anthropology laboratories where she is part of a team combining information from ancient DNA analyses and skeletal analyses to learn about the connections between genotype and phenotype. Her research, conducted with her mentor, Graciela Cabana, an assistant professor in anthropology, will take her to New Mexico and Argentina to look at the impact of genetic research on societal attitudes.

“As a student and researcher, Frankie stands out with her genuine and active curiosity. She operates without a trace of apathy or cynicism, which allows her to fully plunge into every new project with enthusiasm and vigor,” said Cabana.

Talley comes to UT Knoxville from Clemson University. At Clemson, Talley studied protein biophysics, publishing four papers in different peer-reviewed journals. He is a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar; received the Outstanding Senior in Sciences award and the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics award for the best senior in physics at Clemson University; and expects to be graduating summa cum laude from the university. Talley will be part of the inaugural class of the Center for Interdisciplinary and Graduate Research Education (CIRE) at UT Knoxville. His research for the NSF fellowship will possibly involve interdisciplinary work with biophysics and nuclear physics. The current situation in Japan has elevated Talley’s desires to pursue nuclear energy and physics research which expands the understanding of environmental and biological impacts of nuclear power.

“This award certifies what we had already figured out: Kemper is one of the top students that we were recruiting for our first CIRE class and we feel very fortunate to have him committed to our program. He will be a building block for us,” said Lee Riedinger, physics professor and director of CIRE.

Tracht came to UT Knoxville from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She is in the mathematics PhD program and is a Program for Excellence and Equity in Research scholar. She spent the past two summers as a research assistant at Los Alamos National Lab. Tracht specializes in mathematical biology with an interest in infectious disease modeling. Her proposed research for the NSF fellowship is a comprehensive model for raccoon rabies in which she will use optimal control to determine the best placement for oral rabies vaccines. Working with her research mentor, mathematics professor Suzanne Lenhart, her goal is to build a realistic model using USDA data and obtain more accurate economic costs for the bait distribution.

“Samantha is very talented mathematically and has a strong knowledge of biological modeling. She has the determination and the independence to be successful in her PhD research work, and I look forward to working with her,” said Lenhart.

The NSF’s fellowship program aims to help ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the U.S. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

NSF fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.

As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the fellowship has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and “Freakonomics” co-author Steven Levitt.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu)

 

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