Six BME students earn NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and 1 Honorable Mention

Congratulations to BME’s six outstanding students who have been selected for the 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), which recognizes exceptional students who are pursuing full-time research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We are so proud of our students being honored with this prestigious award! 

Leilani Astrab

Leilani graduated from UF in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, during her time at UF, she worked in the Supramolecular Biomaterials and Biotherapeutics Lab led by Dr. Greg Hudalla. Her undergraduate research focused on developing and characterizing synthetic protein mimetics of extracellular matrix components for therapeutic applications. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia Biomedical Engineering program in Dr. Steven Caliari’s Lab where she is investigating fibroblast-macrophage crosstalk in the context of fibrotic wound healing.

Max Diaz

Max worked in Dr. Ruogu Fang’s lab developing a method for diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease using fundus eye images and support vector machine learning. His current work with Dr. Jennifer Nichols is focused on finding ways to create subject-specific musculoskeletal computer models of the upper limb using computational and experimental approaches.



Joseph Ficarrotta

Joseph Ficarrotta received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with a minor in physics from UF in 2020. During his time at UF, he worked with Dr. Jon Dobson on the development of polymer-based microparticles that contain magnetic nanoparticles for the triggered release of growth factors by an externally applied magnetic field. Ficarrotta is currently a first-year Ph.D. student in Dr. Jason Papin’s lab at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on investigating the changes in bacterial metabolism associated with the development of antibiotic resistance.

Aria Henderson

Aria R. Henderson graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at UF in 2019, specializing in biomaterials and tissue engineering. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University’s Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering. Working with Dr. Esak (Isaac) Lee (primary advisor) and Dr. Nozomi Nishimura (key collaborator), her research project focuses on creating biomimetic in vitro microfluidic devices to study drainage mechanisms in the lymphatics of the brain (glymphatics) and skin.

As an undergraduate BME student at UF, Henderson worked with Dr. Christine E. Schmidt. Her research focus was on the electrical stimulation of adipose-derived stem/stromal cells and subsequent secretome characterization. This work was towards the ultimate goal of promoting vascularization and neuroregeneration via an injectable hydrogel following spinal cord injury. (Photo credit: Robyn Wishna)

Angela Jimenez

Angela conducted research in Dr. Carlos Rinaldi-Ramos’ lab. Angela’s primary research focus is on drug delivery using magnetically controlled nanocarriers loaded with chemotherapeutic to better understand drug loading and release for breast cancer applications. Angela is currently a Ph.D. student studying biomedical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Dr. Krishnendu Roy’s lab. Her research focus is on mesenchymal stromal cells due to their ability to modulate the immune system, reduce inflammatory states, and promote tissue repair. Specifically, her research aims to discover critical quality attributes during the cell therapy manufacturing process that would be best predictive of the cells therapeutic function towards treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Yan Carlos Pacheco

Yan Carlos Pacheco is a fifth-year transfer undergraduate biomedical engineering student in Dr. Kyle Allen’s lab. His primary research has focused on advancing knee histology techniques through the development of automated tissue segmentation and analysis. Yan will begin his Ph.D. this upcoming fall in Biomedical Engineering.



Honorable Mention:

Ryan Clark

Ryan’s research is focused on developing enzyme-based approaches to cancer therapy using the co-assembly tags based on charge complementarity (CATCH) system designed by the Hudalla lab.