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Eight Students Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Eight UT students have been selected to be a part of the 2020 National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

The students receiving fellowships are:

Luke Blentlinger of Signal Mountain, Tennessee—Geography. Blentlinger’s project will focus on using evidence preserved in lake sediments to reconstruct past environmental conditions in tropical savanna ecosystems. He will use various lines of evidence to determine how climate, fire, and humans have influenced savanna vegetation in Central America over the past several thousand years.

Brittany N. Zepernick of Knoxville, Tennessee—Microbiology. Zepernick’s research project will focus on various causes that contribute to harmful algal blooms (HABs) in freshwater systems. She will use a variety of laboratory and field assays to study the annual rise and fall of HAB species, and discern the effects of these blooms on potential competitors.

Morgan Fleming of Clinton, Tennessee—Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Fleming will be researching thermal physiology in ectotherms. She will focus on the vulnerability of tropical and temperate species in an effort to better predict their response to climate change.

Katie McCullough of Ringgold, Georgia—Microbiology. McCullough’s research will explore how ocean microbes cope with reactive oxygen stress and nutrient limitation. She will fuse mathematics and microbiology to understand how some marine phytoplankton become reliant on others in their microscopic communities to survive environmental threats.

Zachary Jerome of Knoxville, Tennessee—­Civil Engineering. Jerome’s research focuses on transportation design policy. He will work to improve traffic signal and network optimization in connected vehicle environments, evaluating the potential of autonomous vehicles to improve transportation safety, and understanding the implications of mixed traffic environments with autonomous and conventional vehicles.

Yaw Mensah of Antioch, Tennessee—Electrical Engineering. Mensah’s research explores silicon-germanium heterojunction bipolar transistor (SiGe HBT) technology. SiGe It is very useful in high-speed applications and is expected to play a major role in the twenty-first century communication infrastructure.

Alec Yen of Tullahoma, Tennessee—Electrical Engineering. Yen’s research focuses on terahertz integrated circuits. Terahertz frequencies have applications in biomedical diagnostics and high-speed communication, and Yen will attempt to leverage device physics, circuit theory, and electromagnetics to reduce the cost and size of these systems.

Spencer McDonald of Knoxville, Tennessee—Aerospace Engineering. McDonald’s research will investigate autonomous and secure aerial platforms using adaptation and machine-learning, in collaboration with Aurora Flight Sciences and Boeing.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, GRFP has a history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success academically and professionally.

Since 1952, NSF has funded close to 50,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. Currently, forty-two Fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rising seniors intending to apply for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship should contact UT’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at onsf@utk.edu. Graduate students are encouraged to work with their departmental supervisors and the Graduate School.