2021 NSF Graduate Research Fellows Advance the Frontiers of Discovery

Twenty-one Northeastern University students and alumni have earned the 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) in recognition of their potential to make significant contributions to research, teaching and industrial applications in science, mathematics and engineering.

Sixteen of the honorees completed or are about to complete their undergraduate studies at Northeastern–a testament to the university’s commitment to undergraduate research, which is a core component of our distinctive experience-centered learning model and a key factor in preparing students for success in research-based master’s and doctoral programs.

As noted in their profiles below, many of this year’s GRFP recipients previously earned awards from Northeastern’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships to provide academic and financial supportfor their research ventures; now, they each stand to receive up to $138,000 in combined tuition and stipend funding from the NSF.

The number of students selected for this award, as well as the breadth of disciplines they represent, underscore the scope and vitality of Northeastern’s research enterprise. Northeastern is designated a “highest research activity” (“R-1”) university by the Carnegie Classification and has seen a 275% increase in external research funding since 2006.

We invite you to learn more about the pioneering research and future plans of our NSF Graduate Research Fellowship winners.

This is a breaking news story; information about award recipients will be updated as it becomes available.

Ilayda AlkislarIlayda Alkislar COS’20
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Summer 2019
Ilayda’s project aims to characterize a novel mechanosensory neuron in the skin to advance our understanding of touch perception encoding. Revealing the mechanisms and circuits that allow us to perceive touch will serve as the foundation for the development of complex neuromorphic tactile sensor arrays with potential applications in neuroprosthetics and robotics.


Riley Bannon COS’19
Riley is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University.

Kenneth Theo CarrKenneth (Theo) Carr COS’20
Theo is a first-year PhD student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (“MIT-WHOI”) Joint Program, in the physical oceanography department. In his research he is trying to identify and understand sources of predictability for the ocean and atmosphere, on timescales of several weeks to several months (with the ultimate goal of improving precipitation forecasts). To do this, he hopes to use machine learning tools to extract physically meaningful patterns from both observations and climate model simulations. He is also interested more broadly in combining physics-based models with data-driven approaches, and in “physics-informed machine learning.”

Michael EckMichael Eck PhD’24
In 2020 Michael entered the PhD program in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University, where he is advised by Dr. Amy Mueller in the Environmental Sensors Lab. His current research aims to develop truly low-cost water quality sensors that use machine learning techniques to extract accurate readings from arrays of simple, inexpensive, and imperfect chemical sensors. 



Jennifer GarlandJennifer Garland COS’21
Jennifer will be pursing a PhD in applied physics or materials science and is currently choosing between programs. She is interested in nanoscale magnetism and electrochemistry. Her goals are to investigate emergent properties of materials that can be used for applications in information storage and sustainable energy.



Jackson GriffithsJackson Griffiths COS’19, PhD’24
Jackson is currently a first-year graduate student at Northeastern University pursuing a PhD in the biology program, with a concentration in cell and molecular biology. Jackson’s work focuses on the molecular underpinnings of limb regeneration in axolotl salamanders, and his primary project involves the identification of the essential factors provided by nerves to facilitate regeneration.



Rachelle Hunt COS’17
Rachelle is a PhD student in the Crawford Lab at Yale University.  

Isabel Kain COS’21
Summit Award, Fall 2020

David LiuDavid Liu PhD’24
David is a computer science PhD student in Khoury College. His focus is on integrating artificial intelligence into society. In particular, he is working to improve the reproducibility and fairness of machine learning models.




Lauren Miner COS’19
Lauren is a PhD student in neuroscience at Harvard, researching in the Crickmore Lab at Harvard Medical School.

Sydney MorrisSydney Morris COE’21
Summit Award, Spring 2021
Sydney is planning on pursuing a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at Brown University beginning this fall. She will be researching the mechanical stresses and degradation of solid-state battery materials and looks forward to contributing to a deeper understanding of what occurs within electrodes and batteries as they cycle. She hope to use the knowledge and skills she gains throughout her time at Brown to tackle the climate crisis through the development and improvement of electrochemical systems for grid-scale energy storage.

Nicholas O'HareNicholas O’Hare PhD’24
Nicholas is a first year PhD student in the Ebong lab at Northeastern. He is currently investigating the impact of shear stress and glycocalyx degradation on endothelial activation. He is also interested in examining how blood/brain barrier integrity is implicated in a variety of neurological diseases.



Jameson O'ReillyJameson O’Reilly COS’19
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Fall 2017
Jameson is currently attending the University of Maryland, College Park, and will likely be transferring to Duke University this summer to continue working with his research advisor, who is moving there. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in physics, focused on using single photons to entangle spatially separated trapped ions in a quantum network. This will be an important proof of concept for scaling up the size of modular trapped-ion-based quantum computers.


Morgan PfaffMorgan Pfaff COS’21
Summit Award, Fall 2020
Morgan will be matriculating into the UC Berkeley/UCSF Joint Bioengineering PhD Program in the fall. There, she’ll be studying biomaterials, working to fabricate materials that potentiate specific biological functions for a variety of tissue engineering applications.



Diego RiveraDiego Rivera COE’21
Diego is choosing among doctoral programs. His area of focus will be around sustainability, though the specifics will depend on the lab he joins. Potential areas of research range from energy storage to solar cells to catalysis — he cares most about the overall applications and an ability to make a difference on climate change.



Tatiana RothchildTatiana Rothchild PhD’24
Tatiana is currently completing her first year in the Political Science PhD Program in the College of Social Science and Humanities. Her past research has focused on the efficacy of conflict resolution and peacebuilding approaches as anti-human trafficking methods, and she is hoping throughout her doctorate studies to contribute to theory building around human trafficking from a political-scientific approach.



Rachel ShapiroRachel Shapiro COE’17
Rachel is a second year PhD student in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at Johns Hopkins University in the Ensign Lab. Her research focuses on local drug delivery through mucus barriers, from drug formulations to animal models. Specifically, she is working on vaginal drug delivery for the prevention of pre-term birth, colonic drug delivery for treatment of IBD/Crohns/Colitis, and intravesical drug delivery for better treatment of bladder cancer.



Nathaniel SilviaNathaniel Silvia PhD’24
Nathaniel is pursuing at PhD in bioengineering at Northeastern. His research is the development of in vitro 3D vascularized brain tissue models for investigating treatment-resistant characteristics of glioblastoma. He focuses on the underlying mechanisms for glioblastoma stem cell dormancy and special invasion behavior.



Kristian Teichert COS’17
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Fall 2014
Kristian is pursuing at PhD in chemical biology at Harvard.

Evan TothEvan Toth COE/COS’21
Evan will be pursuing a PhD in materials science that targets the percolated composite design and manipulation for thermal/electrical energy applications. His goals and experience live at the intersection of experiment, simulation, and theory – ultimately he wants to develop comprehensive, fundamental understanding of material behavior and integrate that knowledge into novel energy systems.



Erica WagnerErica Wagner COE’20
Early Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Spring 2018
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Spring 2019
Erica is a first year PhD in biomedical engineering at Cornell University. Her focus is on regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. Specifically, Erica is using biomaterials to differentiate and mature induced pluripotent stem cells to insulin secreting beta cells as a potential therapy for type I diabetes.