Aggies continue to make strides in research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded fellowships to study science and engineering at the post-baccalaureate level to several Aggies.  According to the NSF website, “The 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 at accredited US institutions.” Four recipients explain their award and future plans below.

Charles Zheng, Applied Mathematical Sciences

Zheng was awarded an NSF fellowship for research in biostatistics.  He plans to use the award to support a continued collaboration with the Chapkin Nutritional Science Lab at Texas A&M as well as continue his collaborations with the Fred Hutchinson Center for Cancer Research.  Zheng hopes to become established in the academic world – and maybe discover something new along the way, he added – with his graduate studies.  His goal as a scientist is to use statistical theory to better understand the scientific process.  “This understanding may help us ‘do’ science more effectively or even enable some of it to be automated,” he said.  Zheng will continue his research while pursuing a Statistics Ph. D. at Stanford University next fall.

As Zheng continues in his academic career he is grateful for the chance to participate in research at Texas A&M and all the knowledge he gained from it. “All of my research experiences at Texas A&M – including many efforts which I considered to be failures – were vital for preparing me for my current path to graduate school, and I would not change a single second of it.  I was indeed fortunate to find so many professors at Texas A&M who were generous in sharing their passion for research with me,” he said.

Oscar Carrasco-Zevallos, Biomedical Engineering

Carrasco-Zevallos will be pursuing a Ph. D. in biomedical engineering at Duke University with his NSF award.  His research interest includes developing a new medical imagining technology, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) that can be used to image up to several millimeters deep into tissue.  Specifically, he will work on merging an OCT system with an intrasurgical microscope to facilitate retinal surgical procedures. 

He hopes to continue performing research after completing his doctorate degree and become a leader in the field of bio-photonics/bio-imaging.    Carrasco-Zevallos credits his studies at Texas A&M with molding his skills and giving him the confidence to continue his academic career. “I believe both the classes I took as a biomedical engineering student and the undergraduate research I partook in gave me the skills and confidence necessary to succeed as a graduate student and beyond. Classes often introduced me to technical concepts, while research allowed me to implement that knowledge in a much more independent setting,” he said.

Zachary Crannell, Biomedical Engineering

Crannell’s NSF fellowship will be used to fund his bioengineering research at Rice University.  There he will work on developing point-of-care diagnostics for use in low-resource settings.  He is working towards completing his Ph.D. in bioengineering, after which he plans to go back to work in the industry and get involved with research and development at a small to medium sized biotech startup company. 

At Texas A&M, Crannell conducted research with Dr. Christopher Quick, Associate Professor in the department of Veterinary Medicine Physiology & Pharmacology, Dr. John Criscione, Associate Professor in the department of Biomedical Engineering, and Dr. Alvin Yeh, Associate Professor in the department of Biomedical Engineering, on a variety of projects including lymphatic flow dynamics, heart failure treatments, and tissue engineering.  Undergraduate research at Texas A&M helped Crannell identify what he wanted to do with his future. “My undergraduate education opened the door to an industry job where I was able to gain valuable business experience which in turn helped me better understand what I want to do in the long run,” said Crannell.

Zachary Sunberg, Aerospace Engineering

Sunberg intends to use his NSF fellowship to complete his Master’s degree in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M, afterwards he plans to continue his education by pursuing a Doctorate degree in the field. His research goals include expanding an engineers’ capability to observe and control dynamic systems, and learning the theory and tools that will help him to create sophisticated aerospace vehicles when he begins work in the industry.  Sunberg had many undergraduate research opportunities while at Texas A&M including work in the Land, Air and Space Robotics Lab.  He also earned the opportunity to accompany Dr. Suman Chakravorty, Associate Professor in the department of aerospace engineering, to the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. as an undergraduate. There he worked on cutting-edge research related to satellite tracking.  “It was extremely rewarding to develop and demonstrate new algorithms that no one had ever conceived of before,” he said.  Today, Sunberg works on applied research into helicopter control systems at the Helicopters and Unmanned Systems Lab at Texas A&M. 

When asked about his future career goals Sunberg said, “First, I hope to make an impact by working in industry on space exploration projects so that we can learn more about our place in the universe and experience its elegance and beauty. After some time working in industry, I hope to return to academia to disperse what I have learned to the next generation of engineers.”  He credits the aerospace engineering faculty with his undergraduate success as well as a solid foundation for his future.  “I am deeply indebted to the aerospace engineering faculty at Texas A&M. They pushed me to my limits in learning, gave me a rock-solid technical engineering background, taught me how to think effectively, and took the time to help me when I was struggling. I am very thankful that I earned my undergraduate degree at A&M because I was able to study under these professors. To a large extent, the education that I received at A&M is what enabled me to receive my National Science Foundation Fellowship,” Sunberg said.

Stacy Prukop – Biomedical Engineering

Prukop is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Rice University with her NSF award. The support of this award has allowed Prukop to continue researching polymeric materials at the graduate level.  Along with her research the NSF award has made it possible for her to travel to local and international conferences to share her studies and gain exposure to new research areas. 

As an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, Prukop spent most of her time in the choral ensemble Century Singers as well as TAMU UNICEF, an organization which she cofounded.  It wasn’t until the summer of 2009 that Prukop first realized her potential and interest in a career in research as a participant in the Undergraduate Summer Research Grant (USRG).  Under the guidance of Dr. Melissa Grunlan, Associate Professor in the department of biomedical engineering, her research goal was to create and characterize new responsive polymeric biomaterials.  With the support of her research advisor Prukop decided to pursue a doctoral degree after graduation in May 2010.  “Dr. Grunlan taught me the foundations of polymer chemistry in both a class and, most importantly, a laboratory setting. Her approach to research led me to appreciate the challenges and opportunities in this field,” said Prukop. 

As she finishes her second year of research as a doctoral student she credits Texas A&M for providing her with a rare undergraduate experience and a foundation for a successful career in academics. “I truly believe that the high standards Texas A&M University holds all students to and the strong traditions of the university make it a unique and nurturing place for young professionals to begin their successful academic and professional careers,” Prukop said.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

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