*This article has been updated to include Andrew Allee, a PhD candidate working with Lee Lynd in the Thayer School on biofuel production
The National Science Foundation (NSF) last week announced 2,000 recipients of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award. From more than 13,000 applicants, three graduate students at Dartmouth were among the awardees. Jim Lewis, NSF acting assistant director for Education and Human Resources said of the recipients "These talented individuals have gone on to make important discoveries, win Nobel Prizes, train many generations of American scientists and engineers and create inventions that improve our lives."
The Dartmouth graduate recipients of 2017 NSF GRFP awards are:
Andrew Allee, a PhD candidate working with Lee Lynd in the Thayer School on biofuel production
Nicole deAngeli, a PhD candidate working in David Bucci's lab in Psychological and Brain Sciences;
Sarah Herald, a PhD candidate in Brad Duchaine's lab in Psychological and Brain Sciences;
Ethan LaRochelle, a PhD candidate working with Brian Pogue and Scott Davis on medical imaging technologies.
Allee's personal statement for the NRSF credits "a barefoot Haitian boy" for the drive for much of his work. "We met in 2014 in a riverbed in rural Haiti, where fellow students and I were spending our 2014 spring break building homes. I was shoveling sand into the bed of a dump truck when he approached me, clad in an oversized pair of underwear and a thick coat of road dust. After examining me for a moment he solemnly reached for my shovel and began to move the earth with strength contradictory to his emaciated frame. Not yet 6 years old, a life of hard labor and poverty was all that this boy knew and had come to expect, " explains Allee. It was this stark socio-economic disparity that propelled Allee into spending his career advancing and implementing bioenergy technology to the benefit of developing communities
After completing his B.S. in Biochemistry, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Missouri, Allee joined Dartmouth to pursue work that would link his interest in science with his conviction to combat poverty.
He works in the Lynd Research Group at the Thayer School where he is involved in work developing process and economic models for advanced cellulosic ethanol facilities, and the design of plants that utlize process innovations that come out of the lab. His personal goal is to take the research and development from academia and put it into immediate action in the field, thus bridging the gap between publishing and action.
"The GRFP now supports me to approach this system through an interdisciplinary lens to determine how it can be engineered to promote social benefit while remaining financially feasible, " says Allee of the award. "Specifically, this now involves modeling of the chemical engineering processes used to create biofuels, data analysis to better understand what factors drive food security in developing contexts, and global information systems work that suggests existing pasture as a land stock with high potential for bioenergy crop development."
In addition to research and work in the lab, Allee has spent several weeks living in Brazil, working with local experts in the sugarcane ethanol industry, studying it's impacts and examining correlations between the Global Food Security Index and various socio-economic and agricultural variables. He additionally has open invitations to work with Dr. Gideon Wolfaardt at The University of Stellenbosch, South Africa and Dr. Francis Johnson of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Kenya. "I hope to push towards application of bioenergy in partnership with people like the boy who so inspired me in that dusty Haitian riverbed," states Allee.
DeAngeli received her B.A. in Biochemistry and Psychology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. "I initially thought I wanted to be a marine biologist," she says, "but I ended up taking a couple of psychology classes that I loved. One of the classes, "Drugs, Brains, and Behavior”, was taught by Dr. Wes Jordan who received his PhD from Dartmouth. He sparked my interest in behavioral neuroscience research and became my senior thesis advisor."
In the Bucci Lab, she is researching the role of two cortical areas, the retrosplenial cortex and postrinal cortex, in learning and memory. In particular, to determine if these two brain areas are important for storage and retrieval of memories formed long ago. While there is a great deal of research on how memories are stored in areas like the hippocampus, there is still a lot to learn about how cortical brain areas contribute to learning and memory. Using selective neurons which are turned "off' and "on" for up to two hour periods, DeAngeli is able to test whether or not a brain area is important for retrieving a memory formed long ago by turning it off while testing for the old memory.
"My goal is that my research will someday better our understanding of learning and attention in the brain, allowing others to develop more suitable treatments for those with memory and/or attentional impairments," DeAngeli says. "I’m fortunate to have a very supportive advisor, as well as post-doc and faculty mentors, here at Dartmouth who are helping me towards my academic goals."
When not in lab, DeAngeli likes to spend as much time outside as possible. "I grew up in Reno, Nevada in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I love the access to the outdoors at Dartmouth," she states. DeAngeli also serves as a Graduate Student Council (GSC) Department Representative, is an executive board member for the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE) group, and volunteers at the annual Dartmouth Brain Bee.
Herald attended the University of Southern California and received a B.S. degree in computational neuroscience. During her undergraduate study, she joined Professor Irving Biederman’s Image Understanding Laboratory and worked on projects related to object recognition and face recognition. During her time at USC, she worked on what was at the time the second reported case of developmental phonagnosia -- a diagnosis which means the person is unable to revognize a person from hearing their voice alone.
Her current research as a PhD student in Brad Duchaine’s Social Perception Lab continues this focus on higher-level vision and social perception. One of her projects involves studying people who are unable to recognize faces as a result of a brain lesion, a condition known as acquired prosopagnosia. "By examining which aspects of face recognition are impaired when different areas of the brain are damaged, we are able to gain a better understanding of how individual regions of the brain contribute to different aspects of face processing,"Herald says.
The project she proposed for the NSF GRFP, on which she is currently working, involves understanding how the visual system is divided between our left and right visual field. "Our brain is divided into hemispheres, and each hemisphere receives information from one half of our visual field. When we look out at the world, however, we see a unified world and not an image split in two," explains Herald. "A longstanding assumption is this divided representation in the brain becomes more unified as brain regions begin to represent categories of information like objects, scenes, bodies, or faces. By using visual displays that better simulate natural vision than previous studies, we have been finding that our brain remains more divided than previously thought."
LaRochelle is a PhD student working with Brian Pogue and Scott Davis where he has focused his research on developing medical imaging technologies. Over the past year he has helped develop a multi-spectral imaging system that could be used in dermatology clinics to assess the efficacy of photodynamic therapy (PDT), which uses light to activate a compound capable of treating pre-cancerous lesions. "My future research will focus on similar imaging technologies, but with the aim of characterizing immune responses occurring within the tumor interstitium, where current imaging and sampling capabilities are extremely limited," states LaRochelle.
As an undergraduate, LaRochelle studied electrical and biomedical engineering at Northeastern University where he completed research at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Draper Laboratory, and BAE Systems through the cooperative learning programs. He was also heavily involved with the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and traveled to Honduras on three separate occasions working with communities to design and install water distribution systems.
Most recently, LaRochelle has worked with the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) in partnership with ACTS and the community of El Rosario to help bring cancer screenings and follow-up care to this rural region. Over the past year he has worked with medical practitioners in Honduras and at Dartmouth Hitchcock to identify and test ways technology can be used to conduct high-throughput screenings so those at highest risk for developing cancer can get the care they need. "While this work is tangential to the work I do as part of my research in the Pogue lab, I often view my experiences in Honduras as a way to look at problems from a new perspective, "asserts LaRochelle. "Through my collaborations with medical professionals in the developing world I hope to identify needs I can address through my primary research focus."