The Minnesota Chapter of ARCS Foundation supports scholars from the University of Minnesota. All are selected by their respective departments and meet ARCS Foundation’s high standards of academic excellence.
ARCS Foundation Scholar Awards are presented each fall, and provide Scholars with $5,000 per year, for two years.
Introducing the ARCS Foundation MN Chapter Scholars
Our current Scholars span six different departments at the University of Minnesota: Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics (BMBB); Biomedical Engineering (BME); Mechanical Engineering, Civil (Mech E); Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering (CEGE); Computer Science & Engineering (CSE); Neuroscience; aand Immunology.
Judee Sharon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota. She works with Dr. Katarzyna Adamala on research relating to synthetic cell systems and biological computing. She was drawn to this work in synthetic biology because of its potential in explaining how the principles of life operate. Much like we would rebuild a car engine to learn how each individual part contributes to a working whole, creating a synthetic cell that mimics a living one will (hopefully) show us how cells work. She is also working on building a primitive biological computer by tethering the concepts of Boolean logic with well understood concepts in biology. In the distant future, she hopes that biocomputing research will build toward highly integrated prosthetics, intricately programmed bacteria, and biological supercomputers.
Judee grew up in a few different towns in Northern California and attended the University of California, Berkeley for her undergraduate studies. Before coming to graduate school, she worked on soil microbiology research through the USDA and several start up companies. After finishing her Ph.D., she is looking forward to re-entering the biotechnology industry and applying her newly minted experience in synthetic cell research. The ARCS Scholar Award will enable her to attend conferences and workshops in the pursuit of her career development.
Mariah Dorner grew up in Hugo, MN and completed her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Mariah is currently Ph.D. candidate in the department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering (CEGE) at the University of Minnesota.
As a research assistant in the Behrens lab, Mariah is investigating the effect of biochar on nutrient removal and contaminant degradation processes in activated sludge systems. Biochar is a carbonaceous solid produced by thermal decomposition of organic biomass under low oxygen conditions and has gained a lot of attention because of its sorptive and electron-shuttling properties that can enhance microbial transformation processes. Mariah’s experiments involve the operation of bench-scale sequencing batch reactors amended with biochar, chemical analyses of water quality parameters, and the structural and functional characterization of microbial communities. While her current focus is on evaluating the effects of biochar on microbial nutrient removal in wastewater bioreactors, she plans to expand her work to elucidate the effects of biochar on the degradation and fate of contaminants of emerging concern that enter our wastewater treatment systems The ARCS scholarship will allow Mariah to obtain additional resources to help advance her research, including, textbooks, workshops, conferences, and statistical software.
Mariah stays active in her department by organizing a social group, Science Journal Club, for department graduate students and post-docs. She also serves as Graduate Diversity Coordinator (GDC) in the CEGE department. In her role as GDC, she publishes a monthly newsletter, attends workshops, and organizes events to foster inclusivity and diversity among students and faculty in the department. Mariah spends her precious free time playing ultimate frisbee, gardening, and tinkering with old bicycles.
Orla (they/them) is a 4th year PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. They complete research in both the Human Machine Design Lab under Dr. William Durfee and in the Medical Robotics and Devices Lab under Dr. Timothy Kowalewski. Orla’s thesis work focuses on determining if there is gender bias in competency based surgical skill evaluation using both crowdsourced and expert evaluations. They are involved in the department's diversity efforts by serving as the co-chair of the Mechanical Engineering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. In the long term, Orla hopes to use this background to research competency-based skill evaluation in graduate and professional school with an intention to stay in academia. They intend to use this research along with their identity as a trans, queer engineer to promote fair practices that encourage LGBTQ+ students to pursue STEM degrees. Orla also has a background in controls engineering having worked on handheld robots, soft robotics, rehabilitation devices and measuring grip force.
Orla grew up in Park Ridge, IL and graduated in 2018 with a B.S in Biomedical Engineering from Marquette University Milwaukee, with majors in Biomechanics and Mathematics. They are grateful to be awarded the ARCS Scholar award. They plan to use the money to upgrade equipment in their home office to increase productivity and towards a down payment on a house they hope to buy with their wife in 2022.
Fathima is an MD/PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota enrolled in the Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology graduate program.
She earned her B.S. in Biology and B.A in English from Hamline University. She is currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Blazar studying chronic graft versus host disease. Chronic graft versus host disease (cGVHD) which occurs in 30-70% of patients who undergo allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation results in a reduced quality of life and increased risk of morbidity and mortality. During cGVHD, donor-derived B and T cell interactions can produce antibodies that attack host tissues, causing organ damage. Unfortunately, cGVHD is often refractory to current drugs requiring novel treatment approaches. Her thesis work aims to elucidate and target the metabolic pathways fueling the pathogenic B and T cells that mediate cGVHD. Her long-term career goal is to run a research lab dedicated to investigating immune cell modulation as a therapeutic approach to pediatric diseases while maintaining a clinical practice as a physician scientist in pediatric hematology/oncology and bone marrow transplantation.
Paige is a first-year Ph.D. student pursuing a doctoral degree in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
In 2022, she graduated Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering, Magna Cum Laude, from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in Tallahassee, FL. During my undergraduate career, I worked in Dr. Jamel Ali’s Nano/bio Materials Research (NMR) group at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL). Under his advising I successfully completed and defended an Honors thesis characterizing cellular microenvironments and biomimetic polymer fluids using various types of passive and active microrheology.
Seraphina's research focuses on investigating how virtual reality (VR)-based perspective taking of one’s partner’s behavior in a close relationship affects social perceptions and communication behavior during emotionally-charged discussion on topics of disagreement. A large body of prior work in the VR area has investigated the effects of VR perspective-taking on empathy for different demographics, but none have studied this in the context of real individual humans and their relationships. The expected contribution of this work is new knowledge of how VR perspective-taking can assist with reflection and social learning surrounding the relationships of specific people, which can be applied in cases ranging from relationship maintenance to mitigation of power imbalancesin work practice.
Seraphina intends to pursue a career in academic research, and hopes to further knowledge on how technology can promote positive social practices by both making more research contributions and mentoring young scholars who are interested in this area of work. She enjoys cross-cultural literature and enjoys learning new languages and reading works in their original language. She can read fluently in English, Mandarin, Spanish, and Japanese.
Daniel is a Southern California native, and his research career began as an undergraduate student at the California State University, Fullerton earning his Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences in 2012. During this time, I was selected to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Undergraduate Research Scholarship program, providing him two years of hands-on research experience. He was then nominated and selected to participate in the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program for the summer of 2011 where hr had the privilege to work under a leading HHMI investigator at the University of Washington, Seattle. The combined experiences gave him knowledge and skills in the field of neuroscience, stem cell biology, molecular biology and protein analysis technologies. With the intention to take time for travelling and explore meaning and purpose in life after a spiritual experience, he decided to take a couple years off after his undergraduate studies. He worked as a laboratory technician in multiple positions across diverse disciplines including neuroscience/regenerative medicine, diabetes and cancer immunotherapy. During this time, He met his wife of nearly 7 years, who helped him navigate through many mental issues I was unaware of. After their first child was born, he pursued a Masters in the Master of Biological Sciences program at the University of Minnesota while simultaneously working full-time as a lab technician to support his family, welcoming his second child halfway through the program.
He is currently a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in the lab of Dr. Thomas Bastian. Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world and his project focuses on the effects of early-life iron deficiency during the neonatal period and the long-term ramifications over the life of brain development using cellular and rodent models. When acquired in early-life, it is a risk factor for long-term neurodevelopment and neuropsychiatric conditions (e.g. ADHD, schizophrenia) and these persistent neurological disruptions occur despite prompt iron treatment. The newborn human brain undergoes rapid development from the end of third trimester to the first 2 years of life, thus requiring much energetic and nutritional support. The region of the brain associated with learning and memory function, the hippocampus, is iron dependent and particularly vulnerable during this period. Iron deficiency reduces the structural complexity of hippocampal brain cells called neurons, impairing the ability of the hippocampus to learn and memorize new information. The mitochondrion, dubbed “the powerhouse of the cell,” produces most of a cell’s energy and requires iron for proper functioning. Energy production is decreased in the iron deficient condition modeled in neuron cell cultures derived from the hippocampus. To properly respond to a cell’s energy demands, mitochondria also undergo dynamic movements and structural changes, which are collectively termed mitochondrial quality control. Our objective is to test the mechanistic hypothesis that mitochondria-targeted therapies that improve mitochondria quality control can reverse the impairments we have observed in the iron deficient neurons. This work can provide avenues for alternative treatments for iron deficiency and can have implications for biological mechanisms and therapeutic approaches of neurobehavioral/neurocognitive diseases associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.
Daniel, together with his family, are deeply grateful for the ARCS Foundation Award. This will be used to help offset costs of insurance premiums and copays for his wife and children, allowing him to focus on his research more fully. This greatly reduces the stress of worrying about making ends meet to support his family while finishing grad school in hopes of a good return of investment in career prospects. His current long-term plan is to pursue a career leading a lab as an independent investigator devoted to advancing research in optimizing brain development in early childhood to support long-term overall quality of life for pediatric patients.