Record Number of NSF Fellowships Propel Huskies to Frontiers of Research

A record-breaking 25 Northeastern University students and alumni have earned the 2020 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.

Twenty-four 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 support for 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. In 2015, Northeastern was named a “highest research activity” (“R-1”) university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

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.

Biruk AbrehaBiruk Abreha COS’20
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, 2018
Biruk, a University Scholar and chemistry major with minors in computer science and biology, uses
 computational tools to accelerate the discovery of renewable materials. He developed a research project to build a database of computed, ground and excited state properties of organic molecules relevant to renewable energy research. At the time, datasets of properties of computationally-screened molecules already existed; however, none of these probed the excited-state nature of organic molecules to the extent that he proposed. This project culminated in a first-author publication: “Virtual Excited State Reference for the Discovery of Electronic Materials Database: An Open-Access Resource for Ground and Excited State Properties of Organic Molecules,” in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.9b02577). Biruk will pursue his PhD in bioengineering at Stanford.

Corinne Bowers

Corinne Bowers COE’18
Corinne Bowers is passionate about combining her engineering background and interdisciplinary experience to solve problems in the field of disaster resilience. She studied civil engineering at Northeastern as a University Scholar and conducted research with Professor Jerry Hajjar on topics related to earthquake and hurricane response and recovery. Her undergraduate thesis was on “Predicting Hurricane Risk and Resilience in the Boston Area.” She is now pursuing a PhD in structural engineering at Stanford University, and her current research focuses on how to best predict and mitigate homeowner flooding in northern California. You can follow her work at

Sofia CatalinaSofia Catalina COE’20
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, 2019
To achieve a truly fossil-fuel free society, we need to move beyond current battery technology with newer materials and new architectures for large-scale, dependable, affordable, and long-lasting energy storage when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. A chemical engineering major and University Scholar, Sofia has contributed to this crucial challenge through research at the Gallaway Lab at Northeastern and at Nuvera Fuel Cells, Form Energy, and Tesla. While pursuing her PhD in materials science at Stanford, Sofia aims to continue her research into potential new non-Newtonian fluids to illuminate the mechanisms of action and the physical properties of materials that can be used to develop low-cost, high-density energy storage solutions.

Elena ColeyElena Coley COS’18
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Spring 2017
Elena graduated in 2018 from the behavioral neuroscience program, where she worked in Dr. Heather Brenhouse’s lab. She received an Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, which she used to fund her honors project focused on the genetic, hormonal, and behavioral impacts of early life stress, and how such can be inherited by subsequent generations via genetic and environmental transmission. Elena is currently a second-year in UCLA’s interdepartmental neuroscience PhD program, working in the lab of Dr. Elaine Hsiao. Her dissertation work focuses on the effects of the maternal gut-microbiome on fetal brain development. In particular, she is studying how direct or secondary signaling mechanisms from the maternal microbiota interact with prenatal malnutrition to inform developmental trajectories in the offspring, and whether the gut-microbiome may present a point of intervention for combatting associated long-term deficits.

Alexandra ConvertinoAlexandra Convertino COS’15
At Northeastern, Lexie was a Psychology major with a particular focus on eating disorders and body image. As an undergraduate, she worked in the Applied Psychology Program for Eating and Appearance Research lab under the direction of Drs. Rachel Rodgers and Debra Franko. Lexie conducted her honors thesis on the effect of exposure to photoshopped images on body dissatisfaction in female undergraduates. She is currently pursuing her graduate studies in the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology with a focus on eating pathology in sexual minority individuals.

Evangeline FachonEvangeline Fachon COS’17
Evangeline Fachon graduated with a double major in Biology and Environmental Science. While at Northeastern, she was a student in the Three Seas program and later researched harmful algal blooms during a co-op at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. After graduation she returned to Woods Hole, and has spent the past two years studying the distribution and dynamics of toxic algal species in the Alaskan Arctic. Next fall she will return to school to begin a PhD in oceanography, where she will study how photosynthetic organisms in the oceans are impacted by climate change.

John Ferrier PhD’23
Physics and Astronomy – Condensed Matter Physics

Benjamin GincleyBenjamin Gincley COE’19, PhD’24
A double-husky, Benjamin Gincley majored in bioengineering as an undergraduate and transitioned from the fields of neuroscience and biotechnology to environmental engineering upon recognizing a significant gap in the field: a lack of an accessible technology for real-time online monitoring of microorganism contaminants. His work in the field started during a Bioengineering capstone project to develop the “MicrobeScope,” later dubbed ARTiMiS – “Autonomous Real-Time Microbe Scope.” Continuing his studies in the Interdisciplinary Engineering program at Northeastern, he hopes to develop a commercial product to alleviate this significant technological gap and enable people everywhere to answer the question “What’s growing in my water?”

Dustin JamnerDustin Jamner Khoury’20
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Summer 2016
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, 2019
Dustin’s research ranges from gradual typing and parametric polymorphism to compositional compiler correctness. He is currently working on approaches to developing a mechanized framework for extension-proof compiler verification based on modular specification and reasoning about programming languages. Dustin will pursue his PhD at MIT.

Maria Rain Jennings

Maria Rain Jennings COE’18
Maria received a BS in Chemical Engineering summa cum laude from Northeastern in 2018. She worked as an undergraduate research assistant under Dr. Steve Lustig and published her research in COE’s journal Embark. At Georgia Tech, she is completing her PhD In Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering under Dr. John Blazeck. The lab is broadly interested in immunoengineering and biotechnology; Maria’s project takes interest in the development of a therapeutic enzyme for targeted cancer treatment.

Emma KaeliEmma Kaeli COE’18
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, 2014
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, 2016
Emma completed her BS in Chemical Engineering at Northeastern with minors in Materials Science and Mathematics. Her undergraduate research career, for which she was awarded a 2015 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, included multiple projects to develop more efficient solar panels in the Interface Engineering Laboratory of Professor Kate Ziemer. Now she is at Stanford studying Materials Science & Engineering, researching development of solid state batteries for higher density energy storage.

Chase KelleyChase Kelley COE/COS’17
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Spring 2016
Chase graduated with a B.S. in chemical engineering and a combined major in physics. He engaged in biomedical engineering research co-ops at Selecta Biosciences, the Robert Langer Lab at MIT, and Editas Medicine, as well as on-campus biotechnology research in the labs of Professors Edgar Goluch and Srinivas Sridhar.  After graduation, he worked for a year as a full-time research associate in RNA engineering at Editas Medicine. Taken together, all of these experiences led Chase to pursue graduate level research in molecular biology and genetics, where he is working to apply his engineering and physics background to quantitative biological questions. Chase is currently a 2nd year PhD student in Genetics and Genomics at the University of Florida Genetics Institute, working in the lab of Professor Eric Wang. His projects focus on understanding the molecular determinants of microsatellite dynamics and repeat expansions throughout the genome, how repeat expansions cause disease, and how to develop new tools to study and treat them.

Nolan KittsNolan Kitts COS/CSSH’16
Nolan is interested, broadly, in sustainable forest management and natural climate solutions. While pursuing his M.S. at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, he hopes to develop mechanisms that allow individuals, organizations, or governments to bid for forest ecosystem services that could be produced on a discrete piece of land over a specific period of time. This technique uses optimization to identify the most cost-efficient management plans that can lead to bundles of forest ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration or old-forest habitat preservation.

Justin MayerJustin Mayer COE/COS’18
Justin majored in Chemical Engineering and Physics at Northeastern. He is currently a graduate student in the Materials Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where his research focuses on understanding the relationship between structural and magnetic order within biphasic intermetallic material systems.


Kelly McKeon COS’17
Kelly graduated from Northeastern with a BS in environmental science, concentrating in surficial processes, with a minor in marine biology. While at Northeastern she did research in marine geology, using blue hole sediments to study paleohurricane events in the Caribbean. She continued this research for three years after graduation as a research assistant in the Geology & Geophysics department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where she worked in a lab that studies how hurricane variability changes with climate. Kelly is now enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she will continue to use geologic tools to study coastal hazards and climate change.

Catherine McManusCatherine McManus COE’16
Catherine graduated from Northeastern with a degree in Civil Engineering. During her time at Northeastern, she was involved in the university’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, contributing to the design and construction management of a rural water distribution system in Uganda. After a few years working for a civil engineering company in Boston (where she did her first co-op!), she moved to North Carolina to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Catherine focuses on global water and sanitation projects, including an economic evaluation of a sanitation policy intervention in Ghana, and an analysis of rural water point functionality in twelve countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Evan MunEvan Mun COS’20
PEAK Experiences Summit Award, Spring 2020 
Evan will be attending Caltech’s Bioengineering PhD program in the fall with a focus in systems and synthetic biology. His research at Northeastern focused on the gene expression that guides limb patterning in the Mexican axolotl, including both limb development and the unique regenerative pathways that could ultimately enable regeneration of human limbs. Moving forward, Evan will transition to bioengineering in an attempt to control cellular dynamics at a more fundamental level, in hopes of creating new biological systems that can change how we ask questions and overcome impossible problems.

Alexander Sousa COS’16
Harvard University
Life Sciences – Systems and Molecular Biology

Tara SrirangarajanTara Srirangarajan COS’18
Tara Srirangarajan graduated in 2018 with a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience. At Northeastern, she was a member of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, directed by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett. Tara is currently a member of Dr. Brian Knutson’s lab (Symbiotic Project on Affective Neuroscience) at Stanford University, where she is exploring the neural correlates of emotional experiences, and implications for decision-making. She will be joining the doctoral program in Psychology at Stanford this fall and continuing to explore how affective circuits drive choice in the real world.

Lauren TangLauren Clarissa Tang COS’15
Lauren majored in BIochemistry and co-oped at Takeda/Millennium Pharmaceuticals doing analytical chemistry. After graduating, she worked at the Broad Institute in the Proteomics Platform. She is currently a second year PhD student at Columbia University in the Biological Sciences, under the mentorship of Dr. Marko Jovanovic. Lauren currently does mass-spectrometry based proteomics research in neuronal differentiation and pancreatic cancer, with a special interest in post-translational modifications.

Joanne TruongJoanne Truong COE’19
Joanne graduated from Northeastern University in 2019 with a degree in Computer Engineering and a minor in mathematics. At Northeastern, she was a part of the Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory (RIVeR Lab) directed by Professor Taskin Padir, and her research focused on developing robots to assist the elderly and disabled. Now, she is a first year Robotics PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she is extending her previous research in machine learning and robotics to develop robots that are capable of working in complex, real world environments.

Bryan WangBryan Wang COE’19
Bryan studied chemical engineering and biochemistry at Northeastern, and he is currently studying at Georgia Institute of Technology for a PhD degree in Bioengineering. His current research focus is Quality-by-Design driven scalable bioprocess development for therapeutic human mesenchymal stromal cell (hMSC) expansion and manufacturing: 1. MSC bioreactor design and optimization using design-of-experiment (DoE); 2. Multi-omics study of MSC expansion process to identify critical quality attributes and critical process parameters; 3. Advanced process analytical technologies integration in cell therapy manufacturing.

Aja WatkinsAja Watkins CSSH’17
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Fall 2017
Northeastern University Truman Scholarship Nominee and National Finalist from New Mexico
Aja studied Philosophy and Mathematics at Northeastern, with a minor in Law and Public Policy. At the time, she worked as an education policy advocate and researcher, devoting her co-ops, several internships, and her Honors Interdisciplinary Thesis to the study of school choice policies. She was also a national finalist for the Truman Scholarship in 2017. She began working on her PhD in Philosophy at Boston University in 2018. Her current research interests are in the philosophy of science. In particular, she works on philosophy of biology and philosophy of the historical sciences, such as paleontology and geology.

Elizabeth WigElizabeth Wig COE’20
Elizabeth’s primary engineering research interest is in the diverse, high-impact applications of electromagnetics for imaging and sensing. A University Scholar and Honors student, Elizabeth earned the 2018 Goldwater Scholarship in recognition of her outstanding achievements and potential as a researcher. Her research experience began at Northeastern’s Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats (ALERT) Center under the mentorship of URF Faculty Fellow and Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Carey Rappaport. Elizabeth’s research continued through co-ops at Draper Labs, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. These research experiences have allowed her to apply her knowledge of electromagnetics to problems as diverse as airport security, detection of water underground on Mars, LIDAR for autonomous vehicles, and supersonic flight. She will enroll in the doctoral program in electrical engineering at Stanford and aspires to a research career in either an academic or industrial setting.

Madison YoungblomMadison Youngblom COS’18
While at Northeastern majoring in Biochemistry, Madison conducted research in Professor Penny Beuning’s lab, studying DNA damage repair. Madison’s first co-op in Dr. Roberto Kolter’s group at Harvard Medical School studying a bacterial plant pathogen and the microbial community of its insect vector, and a second co-op at Visterra, Inc., in Cambridge, led her to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology. Madison is currently a member of Dr. Caitlin Pepperell’s group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studies the ecology and evolution of bacterial pathogens using computational biology with multi-omics data. Her thesis work is comprised of multiple projects, spanning different bacterial pathogens, all of which focus on identifying genetic determinants of virulence.


In addition, the following 11 Northeastern undergraduates and alumni received Honorable Mentions in this year’s competition.

Austin Baggetta Bouvé’20
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Summer 2019
PEAK Experiences Summit Award, Fall 2019
Life Sciences – Neurosciences

Albert Chen COE’20
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Spring 2019
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, Summer 2019
Life Sciences – Bioinformatics and Computational Biology

Lucas Cohen COS’18
Life Sciences – Ecology

Trinity Cookis COE/COS’20
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Fall 2018
Summer Scholars Independent Research Fellowship, Summer 2019
PEAK Experiences Summit Award, Spring 2020
PEAK Experiences Shout-It-Out Award, 2020
Life Sciences – Structural Biology

Camila Cortina COS’19
University of Texas at Austin
Life Sciences – Ecology

Camila Demaestri COS’17
Brown University
Psychology – Neuropsychology

Kristen Drummey COS’16
University of Washington
Life Sciences – Neurosciences

Leannah Newman COS’19
Life Sciences – Neurosciences

Lindsey Parnarouskis COS’15
University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Psychology – Social/Affective Neuroscience

Parker Robbins COS’19
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Spring 2019
Social Sciences – Linguistics

Matthew Tivnan COE’17
Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award, Summer 2016
Johns Hopkins University
Engineering – Biomedical Engineering

The following current Northeastern graduate students received Honorable Mentions in this year’s competition.

Matthew Baker PhD’24
Life Sciences – Ecology

Sabrina Marnoto PhD’24
Engineering – Chemical Engineering

Sarit Truskey PhD’23
Life Sciences – Ecology