Students receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awards


Portland, Ore. —Michelle Maier and Wendy Smythe have each received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program award.

The NSF program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based masters and doctoral degrees in the U.S. and abroad.

Michelle Maier received her bachelor of science (B.S.) degree (magna cum laude) in biology from Oregon State University in June 2006 and went on to work in health-science related research at OHSU's Primate Center prior to entering graduate school. She is currently studying biological oceanography as part of her M.S. degree program in Environmental Science and Engineering at Oregon Health & Science University. Her graduate work seeks to uncover links between aquatic ecosystems and human health. Maier is one of only eight biological oceanography students receiving the award.

The Graduate Research Fellowship will allow Maier to perform research that aims to understand and predict the factors that influence toxicity levels of Pseudo-nitzchia blooms, an algal species that can have a negative impact of ecosystems and human health. These harmful blooms pose an important problem on the Oregon/Washington coasts both in terms of human health concerns and for the shellfish industry. Maier says this award will enable her to "learn what specific aspects of the marine ecosystem are being affected by human activities."

Wendy Smythe has a B.S. of biology degree in molecular microbiology (2001) and a B.S. of Science with a minor in geology (2004) from Portland State University. She is pursuing her M.S. degree in Environmental Science and Engineer in the lab of Dr. Bradley M. Tebo. Her research will characterize microbial populations associated with manganese nanoparticles from various locations such as the Columbia River plume, a terrestrial hot spring that deposits manganese in Yellowstone National Park, and an oceanic thermal seep from Lo`ihi Seamount in Hawaii.

Smythe plans on using molecular techniques to analyze the microbial population. "This is a novel technique employing a magnetic peptide probe to gently remove manganese oxides from solution in an effort to isolate and characterize associated microbial populations," said Smythe.

NSF Fellows are expected to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals will be crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation's technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.

In 2009 National Science Foundation funded 1243 Graduate Research Fellows out of 9347 eligible submitted applications. The funded GRF fellows are representative of a diverse mix of ethnic and economic backgrounds, as well as all US states and territories. Applicants came from 252 different baccalaureate institutions and proposed attendance at 335 different graduate institutions.