College of Science Excellence in Undergraduate Research Awards - Spring 2023

May 4, 2023
Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award recipients.

This spring, departments in the College of Science nominated students for the Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award. These students are leaders in the UArizona science community and are partaking in cutting-edge research. Students were recognized at a College of Science awards banquet on May 4, 2023.

Here is the full list of spring 2023 award recipients. More information about each awardee can be found below.

Department Award Winner
Astronomy Ritvik Basant
Chemistry & Biochemistry Hillary Schiff
Computer Science Aditya Banerjee
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Anish Raju
Geosciences Danielle Schwartz
Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences Stella Heflin
Mathematics Vivian Nguyen
Molecular & Cellular Biology Eric Lu
Neuroscience & Cognitive Science Cecilia Roessle
Physics Yash Chandak
Psychology Kashvi Mullick
Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences Allison Staib
Ritvik Basant, Astronomy

Faculty Mentor: Jeremy Dietrich

Research: Amongst numerous research efforts, Ritvik's most recent project involved analyzing the characteristics of a different exoplanetary system “SPECULOOS-2,” which has a cool host star that is red in color, and two known low-mass planets. Somewhat surprisingly, running the DYNAMITE code on this system uncovered a third candidate planet that was situated in that system’s habitable zone, and likely formed there as well. This is an interesting result because we think that Earth formed in its habitable zone, yet to date few other exoplanets out of thousands that are now known had this attribute in common with our own planet. Ritvik rushed to augment the DYNAMITE code one more time to include the time-evolution of the habitable zone boundaries.

Hillary Schiff, Chemistry & Biochemistry

Faculty Mentor: Scott Boitano

Research: Hillary's research focuses on potential asthma treatments. Specifically, she tests candidate drug compounds in cells and mouse models to determine their effectiveness in controlling asthmatic responses. She has worked and thrived in the Boitano laboratory for over three years. Her research contributions are quite noteworthy and have resulted in two significant publications, one of which she is primary author. She has two more manuscripts in preparation.

Aditya Banerjee, Computer Science

Faculty Mentor: Adarsh Pyarelal

Research: Aditya joined the DARPA-funded ToMCAT project (Theory of Mind-based Cognitive Architecture for Teams) and began making useful contributions almost immediately. Adi’s main contribution to ToMCAT was the development of a procedural content generation library for Minecraft that integrates high-level and low-level spatial representations, which has led to a AAAI Symposium paper and a chapter in a Springer LNCS volume. In addition, he has developed a number of other tools for facilitating data collection in our experiments.

Anish Raju, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Faculty Mentor: Timothy Bolger

Research: Anish has established computational pipelines to compare gene expression patterns between artificial organoids and patient samples. He has applied this analysis primarily to heart failure, but in theory it can be applied to a large number of different diseases. This work could potentially be a nice advance in the ability to identify different pathways or sets of genes that are affected in these diseases and how they can be manipulated in organoid models.

Danielle Schwartz, Geosciences

Faculty Mentor: Diane Thompson 

Research: At the Biosphere 2, Danielle has been responsible for the weekly collection and analysis of water samples from the Biosphere 2 Ocean and Biosphere 2 Mangrove ecosystems, as well as our experimental raceway systems. Each Friday, she helps with the daily maintenance of the coral raceway systems—providing another set of eyes and ears to detect issues with the life support systems, cleaning the tank, and performing spot checks the salinity and pH of the system. She also collects surface water samples from each system to measure turbidity and nitrate, phosphate, silicate, and iron concentrations, as well as alkalinity, pH and Eh.

Stella Heflin, Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Brittany Ciancarelli

Research: Stella quickly showed her dedication and drive as she connected with research group members, and they began showing her more complex coding techniques in Python. She took what she learned and combined that with her own independent practice, and soon thereafter began creating plots of atmospheric variables and contributing to the group’s research on the detection of atmospheric rivers by precipitation and reanalysis products. In addition, she gained experience presenting in front of the team of graduate students and communicating her own research progress. She also effectively contributed to, thus became a co-author in, a paper that was published in 2020 in a high ranked journal in our field: the Journal of Geophysical Research. The paper was titled “Global Intercomparison of Atmospheric Rivers Precipitation in Remote Sensing and Reanalysis Products”.

Vivian Nguyen, Mathematics

Faculty Mentor: Tim Secomb

Research: Among many research projects, Vivian most recently conducted a for-credit project "Theoretical Modeling of Tumor Angiogenesis." She aims to identify the impaired mechanism(s) that lead to the pathological vascular structure in the early stages of tumor growth. Vivian will simulate the conditions of the tumor microenvironment by increasing the release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) within an expanding spherical volume. The goal of this study is to propose mechanism-targeted interventions that can potentially restore the vascular structure in tumors and improve current cancer therapies. This project has significant potential for the development of novel cancer therapies.

Eric Lu, Molecular & Cellular Biology

Faculty Mentor: Guang Yao

Research: In one of his research projects, Eric combined mathematical modeling and machine learning to study cellular quiescence heterogeneity. Previously, the research lab has shown that the Rb-E2F pathway functions as a bistable gene switch, converting graded and transient growth signals into an all-or-none E2F activity that controls the transition between two distinct cell fates: cell proliferation and quiescence. We have also shown that the activation threshold of the Rb- E2F switch regulates quiescence depth. Eric wanted to systematically identify and examine the robust features controlling quiescence depth.

Cecilia Roessle, Neuroscience & Cognitive Science

Faculty Mentor: Martha Bhattacharya

Research: Among numerous research projects, Cecilia learned how to dissect out the diaphragms and leg muscles of mice. She then learned how to do confocal imaging of synapses and post-processing of her images in our microscopy core facility. Interestingly, while the lab had previously only examined homozygous mutants of our gene of interest, Cece picked up on a subtler version of our phenotype (presynaptic swellings) that existed in heterozygotes as well. She was able to quantify this result and then presented this at an undergraduate biology research conference on our campus.

Yash Chandak, Physics

Faculty Mentor: Weigang Wang

Research: In one project, Yash worked with a graduate student in a project involving of Heusler materials. The goal of the project was to experiment with a new method to fabricate high quality magnetic tunnel junction with CoFeAl. Due to many unknown factors of the new material, we didn’t know the best test configuration in the beginning. Yash spent a lot time with the graduate student but no matter what they tried the tunneling magnetoresistance ( TMR) was always lower than our expectation. Eventually they were able to figure it was due to the incomplete alignment of the two ferromagnetic electrodes because of the special magnetic anisotropy of CoFeAl. Yash contributed significantly during this process and he was able to measure some of the most challenging samples – the antiparallel states only exist in the window of a few Gausses, instead of hundreds of Gauss in our regular samples.

Kashvi Mullick, Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Matthias Mehl 

Research: Kashvi’s work in the Naturalistic Observation of Social Interactions (NOSI) Lab has focused on a large NIH-funded project within which we use the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), a mobile sensing device that samples ambient sound bites, to study adolescents’ readjustment after a suicide attempt. Kashvi has brought to this project a distinct aptitude for research evidenced by the thought-provoking questions they ask and by their ability to complete tasks with impressive attention to detail and efficiency. Kashvi also has brought to the project a willingness to be vulnerable about their own experiences with mental health that allows them to make contributions that would otherwise not be possible.

Allison Staib, Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Mary Alt

Research: In the lab, Allison realized that there was a potential problem with some of the previous research methodology (i.e., lack of face validity) and created a survey to ensure that the metrics she will use in her analyses are sound. While previous researchers have used lab-based experiments where they can easily control each type of bias, Allison is using real words. She realized that this means that she has to group biases into those that tend to go together and have sets of biases v. words that do not follow a clear pattern. This will allow her to determine which bias group children are using and if there are children whose learning is relatively random, and thus, primed for improvement.