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Two Miami students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

04/17/2013

Jillian Epstein, a senior chemical engineering major at Miami University, and Kristyn Shreve, a master's student in environmental science, have been awarded fellowships from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

They are two of 2,000 students nationwide (out of 13,000 who applied) to receive the award which recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in fields within NSF's mission.

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) offers three years of support with a $30,000 annual stipend and a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance.

Jillian Epstein, senior chemical engineering major (photo by Jeff Sabo)
Jillian Epstein, senior chemical engineering major (photo by Jeff Sabo)
Epstein, from Timonium, Md., plans to pursue a doctorate in materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Her GRFP project involves creating a novel continuous-flow water purification device using sand and seeds from the Moringa Oleifera tree, native to parts of Africa and Asia. The Moringa tree, which is sustainable in developing countries, produces seeds that have an anti-bacterial property.

“Jillian has been very focused on using the results of her research to improve the quality of life for people around the world,” said Jason Berberich, assistant professor of chemical and paper engineering. “This passion inspired her to start a student chapter of Engineers without Borders where she has been trying to use her research results to provide clean water for small communities in Ecuador.”

Epstein has been active in undergraduate research at Miami and other institutions. At Miami she conducted research for three years with Marvin Thrash, former faculty member in chemical and paper engineering, on protein immobilization for biosensors and developing a stochastic model to simulate non-ideal protein adsorption behavior.

She also participated in two NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU): one summer at the University of Maryland, College Park, conducting research on photoelectrochemical cells, and one summer at Pennsylvania State University where she did colloidal research.

This year Epstein organized a team of students at Miami to begin implementation of the Moringa water purification project. She has been working on the project in collaboration with researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

As president of the Miami chapter of Engineers Without Borders, she led the assessment, design and implementation phases to install sustainable water systems in Chaguarpamba, Ecuador.

Epstein will continue conducting research this summer at Miami with Berberich.

Kristyn Shreve, first-year master’s degree student in IES

Kristyn Shreve, first year master's degree student in IES (photo by Ben Taylor)
Kristyn Shreve, first year master's degree student in IES (photo by Ben Taylor)
Shreve, a first year master’s degree student in the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES), will begin work this summer on her GRFP/master’s thesis research project. She will examine the relationship between relatedness and behavior in a colony of feral cats under two distinct conditions of food distribution.

Shreve “will conduct behavioral observations to test the overall hypothesis that cats that are more closely related to each other will display more affiliative and less aggressive behavior toward each other,” explained Nancy Solomon, professor of zoology and Shreve’s adviser.

“The significance of her research lies in the combination of two variables: relatedness and food distribution. There have been numerous studies, especially in primates, on the effects of relatedness or food distribution on behavior but, to my knowledge, there is only one study in which both variables were examined.”

In addition to expanding on her master’s thesis research, one novel aspect of Shreve's proposed doctoral research is her plan to survey attitudes of people from urban and rural environments toward feral cats. She plans to use data from the survey as well as results from her research to create a management plan for controlling the populations of feral cats, according to Solomon.

Shreve graduated from Kent State University in 2012 with a double major in zoology and geology.

The purpose of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is to help ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States.

Four Miami graduate students received NSF GRFP Honorable Mentions (out of 1,809 Honorable Mention recipients):

• Aimee Belanger, master’s degree student in psychology
• Courtney Clark, master’s degree student in zoology
• Kelly Galloway, doctoral student in chemistry education research
• Tyler Hoskins, doctoral student in ecology, evolution and environmental biology

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