BME graduate student awarded NSF Fellowship; 4 Honorable Mentions

Congratulations to BME student, Ben Spearman, who was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship! These fellowships recognize and support exceptional graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees at accredited US institutions. For the 2016 competition, NSF received close to 17,000 applications and made 2,000 award offers.

Ben Spearman joined the biomedical engineering department at UF as a Ph.D. student in 2014 after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering from Auburn University. He joined Dr. Christine Schmidt’s lab where he is investigating the use of natural hydrogel scaffolds such as hyaluronic acid to aid in peripheral nerve repair and regeneration. His research proposal is focused on developing a tissue-engineered, regenerative peripheral nerve interface. Current peripheral nerve interfaces are plagued by problems such as immune response and a lack of signal specificity. Integrating electrodes into a tissue engineered scaffold may help alleviate these issues by allowing for a more natural integration of electrodes into the peripheral nerve.

NSF awardees receive five years of support, which includes a stipend of $34,000 as well as a cost-of-education allowance of $12,000. The total value of each award exceeds $130,000. Also, awardees are eligible to receive support for international research experiences. The selection was based on demonstrated potential to contribute to strengthening the vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.

The NSF accords Honorable Mention to meritorious applicants who do not receive Fellowship awards. BME students, Eric Fuller, Olivia Lanier, Michaela Mertz and Zachary Quicksall, received Honorable Mentions. This is considered a significant national academic achievement.

Eric Fuller, a graduate of the Brigham Young University department of chemical engineering, is a first year Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at UF. As a graduate assistant for Dr. Rinaldi, Eric investigates magnetic nanoparticle-based therapies for cancer treatment.

Olivia Lanier, a graduate of Ohio University department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is a first year Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at UF. As a graduate assistant for Dr. Peter McFetridge and Dr. Jon Dobson, she is working on developing a remotely activated magnetic nanoparticle-based delivery platform capable of triggering the release of multiple and varying doses of a complex protein matrix derived from human placental tissues.

Michaela Mertz graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in biomedical engineering in 2015 then joined the department of biomedical engineering at UF as a Ph.D. student in Dr. Christine Schmidt’s lab. For her graduate work, she is focused on developing biomaterials and therapeutic strategies for spinal cord injury repair.

Zachary Quicksall, a fourth-year undergraduate student in the department of biomedical engineering at UF, conducts research in Dr. Parisa Rashidi’s lab and is applying machine learning techniques to detect drug diversion within hospitals. The end goal of this work is to develop a system that facilitates early detection of medication diversion to protect the health of both patients and staff and, if needed, allow for timely intervention.