NSF selects 18 UW-Madison students for competitive graduate research award

by Alissa Ewer
April 4, 2017


Photo by University Communications/Jeff Miller

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been a part of graduate student Taylor Keding’s life as long as he can remember.  His childhood favorite, Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS, featured the NSF as a major funder in its opening credits, instilling early recognition in Keding of the value of public funding for science education.

Fast-forward twenty years and Keding, now a UW-Madison graduate student in neuroscience, finds his own research about to be funded by the NSF.  He is one of sixteen UW-Madison doctoral students just announced as recipients of the nationally competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).  Additionally, two UW-Madison undergraduates have been selected, with twenty-one more students receiving honorable mention.

“This award will allow me to continue my research in child development and make a lasting impact on my community, especially to children suffering hardship,” says Keding.  His work examines how early life adversity affects children’s brain development and cognitive-emotional control, and how artificial intelligence, like machine learning, could help address mental illness.

Liz Laudadio, graduate student in chemistry and fellow GRFP awardee, recognizes the value of the persistence she gained through seeking this award.  She applied for the fellowship for three consecutive years, and sees her success this year as evidence of her growth as a scientist. 

As part of the Hamers research group, Laudadio’s work examines how nanoparticles are transformed by environmental and biological systems.  Her NSF-funded proposal leads her research group toward a new technique for understanding how aqueous settings affect nanomaterials. 

Laudadio’s faculty advisor, Professor Robert J. Hamers, credits the GRFP with recognizing the important intellectual contributions of student researchers.  According to Hamers, the program empowers fellows to develop and implement research projects of their own, building independence among the next generation responsible for advancing science.

“The GRFP program is looking not just for great scientists, but for great scientists who will be the scientific leaders and communicators of the future,” states Hamers.  “Liz had a strong track record going back through undergraduate days of working with the public and translating science into understandable terms that she has carried forth into her graduate research.”

The fellowship program, which provides three years of financial support for graduate study, aims to keep the nation a global leader in advancing science and engineering research and innovation, according to the NSF.  Recipients receive a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 education allowance from NSF, plus the UW-Madison Graduate School contributes toward fringe benefits.

In total, the NSF named 2,000 students as recipients of this year’s GRFP awards, selected through peer review process from over 13,000 applicants. 

“The NSF-Graduate Research Fellows Program is a highly competitive award that draws from student talent across the nation,” states Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus.  “The program leads to great outcomes.  Awardees not only benefit from the financial support of the fellowship, but also have the long-term benefit of becoming more competitive for future funding and gaining access to opportunities for research collaboration and professional development through NSF programs.  We congratulate these students on their achievement.”

The eighteen UW-Madison awardees are:

Bayleigh Benner, Ph.D. student, Microbiology

Brian Carrick, Ph.D. student, Biochemistry

Alexandra DiNicola, Ph.D. student, Botany

Leah Escalante, Ph.D. student, Genetics

Christine Isabella, Ph.D. student, Biochemistry

Taylor Keding, Ph.D. student, Neuroscience

Jesse Kidd, Ph.D. student, Chemistry

Samantha Knott, Ph.D. student, Chemistry

Elizabeth Laudadio, Ph.D. student, Chemistry

Nicole Piscopo, Ph.D. student, Biomedical Engineering

Paige Piszel, Ph.D. student, Chemistry

Kyle Robinson, Ph.D. student, Biochemistry

Taylor Scott, Ph.D. student, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Matthew Styles, Ph.D. student, Chemistry

Edwin Suarez-Zayas, Ph.D. student, Neuroscience

Daniel Vigil, B.S. student, Chemical Engineering

Thejas Wesley, B.S. student, Chemical Engineering

Randee Young, Ph.D. student, Genetics

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