UCF has a lot to brag about this morning after eight students were notified they earned graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

The fellowships are highly competitive and recognize outstanding graduate students and their demonstrated potential “for significant achievements in science and engineering.” More than 16,000 students nationwide applied for the fellowships. Only 2,000 students were selected.

Winners get three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period in the amount of $34,000 each year. The universities where students are completing their studies also get $12,000 to cover the cost of tuition and other fees. It is expected the students will earn a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering. Fellows also have opportunities for international research collaborations through the Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide initiative and professional career development with federal internships provided through the Graduate Research Internship Program.

Most of UCF’s recipients are The Burnett Honors College students or graduates:

Chris Clukay has earned degrees in multicultural humanities and chemistry from UCF and is pursuing a master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Florida. While at UCF he was part of the Nanophotonic Materials Group in the College of Optics & Photonics as well as technical director for the cultural research group Chinavine with which he traveled to China for research. Clukay received a Beckman Fellowship for work he completed during the summers of 2010 and 2011. Clukay is part of a team conducting a study looking at how the stresses of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo affect the regulation of genes for pregnant women and their children through a process called epigenetics. The work is an attempt to highlight the hidden, and possibly heritable, effects of the continuing 20-year war in the region as well as bring more attention to it. The team is working with the HEAL Africa Hospital. Clukay hopes to become a college professor, but he first plans to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Imad Hanhan will graduate in May with a degree in mechanical engineering and is pursuing graduate studies in aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University. While at UCF he conducted research in aerospace structures and materials, investigating advanced techniques in damage detection. Hanhan conducted research at the Canadian Light Source and Purdue. He is part of the Raghavan Research Group led by UCF associate professor Seetha Raghavan. Hanhan’s graduate studies will focus on micromechanics of high-performing aerospace materials. The Florida resident aspires to become a college professor.

Zachary Loparo is a mechanical engineering student working in assistant professor Subith Vasu’s lab. His work focuses on developing a mid-infrared LED-based sensor to make simultaneous measurements of multiple gaseous species in different environments. Loparo has already conducted research at the National Transportation Center at the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee where he worked on a sensor to detect carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in engine exhaust. Laparo is part of UCF’s ICubed project, which the NSF funds. ICubed (Innovation through Institutional Integration) is a partnership between the College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Arts and Humanities, College of Education, and the College of Sciences. The goal is to ensure broader impact of NSF-funded projects through coordination and integration of the education and research activities of these funded projects.

Richard Murdock is a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science with minors in bioengineering and mathematics. He conducted research at UCF for an Honors in the Major thesis and was selected as a 2013 summer intern at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and was a 2014 Amgen Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied nano-biotechnology and biosensor development. As an Astronaut Scholarship recipient for two consecutive years, he represents UCF nationally by meeting with astronauts and speaking to influential STEM education patrons. He volunteers with Junior Achievement, Honors Educational Reach Out Help the Homeless program with IDignity, Achieve a College Education Day, and stays involved in his church. As a member of The Burnett Honors College, he held numerous leadership roles. Most recently, he worked with a team of senior engineering students developing a centrifuge to be used on the International Space Station to conduct scientific studies on interplanetary dust collisions. He is pursing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and is currently weighing his options for the future. He has been admitted to programs at Johns Hopkins, MIT/Harvard and UC Berkeley/UCSF.

Katrina Phillips is pursuing a doctoral degree in conservation biology and works in the Marine Turtle Research Group with biologist Kate Mansfield. While pursuing her master’s degree she focused on a loggerhead sea turtle nesting beach near Naples, FL, where she estimated the survival rate for the females nesting there and used satellite tags to track where they went after nesting. Her Ph.D. research will focus on younger sea turtles of various species that live offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Phillips will look at the turtles’ habitat use, and how their habitats change as they grow.

Angela Rodriguez is pursuing a doctoral degree in environmental engineering at UCF with a focus on water quality. Her graduate program research project will likely focus on drinking-water quality and treatment, and working with coastal water purveyors in Hawaii and Florida to enhance their treatment methods to protect the consuming public from suspected carcinogenic compounds. She plans to research ways to safely reuse residuals generated by seawater desalination. Rodriguez also has served as a Girls EXCELing in Math and Science mentor. GEMS is a program aimed at helping to increase the success of women in STEM majors. Among her career goals is landing a job with a consulting design-engineering firm designing water and wastewater infrastructure.

Jessica Siler earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology with honors in 2014. She is pursuing a doctoral degree in cognitive psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While at UCF she worked with professor Peter Hancock in the Minds in Technology Lab and was a research assistant in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems.  She also spent a year working in the Applied Cognition and Technology lab under associate professors Valerie Sims and Matthew Chin. Her focus was on memory and the Google generation.

Alvaro Velasquez is pursuing a doctoral degree in computer science at UCF. He works in Sumit Kumar Jha’s lab and is the second person in Jha’s lab to earn the fellowship in five years.  His research focus is in the area of verification of computer architectures, computer-aided design, high-performance computing and emerging computing paradigms. He earn a fellowship last year to spend the summer conducting research at the Air Force Research Laboratory and has earned several awards for his research. He would like to eventually become a college professor.