by Jason Kornwitz

Julia Ebert, S’15, has won a Mar­shall Schol­ar­ship to pursue a one-​​year master’s of research in bio­engi­neering at Impe­rial Col­lege London starting in the fall.

Founded by the British gov­ern­ment in 1953 to com­mem­o­rate the Mar­shall Plan, the post­grad­uate schol­ar­ship allows up to 40 intel­lec­tu­ally dis­tin­guished Amer­ican stu­dents to study in the United Kingdom each year.

Ebert is Northeastern’s second stu­dent to receive the award, whose 2015 win­ners were announced last week. “It’s an honor to receive the Mar­shall Schol­ar­ship and it shows that all the work I have done up to this point has paid off,” said Ebert, a fifth-​​year behav­ioral neu­ro­science major who applied for the schol­ar­ship through the university’s Office of Fel­low­ships.

Her aca­d­emic journey began in high school, when her pas­sion for learning led her to pursue the Inter­na­tional Baccalaureate’s psy­chology course. “I got really inter­ested in psy­chology,” she said, “and I wanted to take a more sci­en­tific approach to under­standing the brain.”

Over the past four years, Ebert has fine-​​tuned her aca­d­emic focus through research posi­tions and co-​​op jobs in campus labs and far-​​flung coun­tries. In the fall of 2011, the honors stu­dent and National Merit Scholar started working as a research assis­tant in Northeastern’s Action Lab, which is ded­i­cated to the exper­i­mental and com­pu­ta­tional study of human motor con­trol. Under the direc­tion of pro­fessor Dagmar Sternad, she col­lected and ana­lyzed data from human par­tic­i­pants in motor con­trol exper­i­ments and sub­se­quently won a Barry Gold­water Schol­ar­ship for her research achieve­ments. She is cur­rently fin­ishing her under­grad­uate thesis on learning and long-​​term reten­tion of a bimanual skill.

Julia has the mak­ings of an excel­lent sci­en­tist,” said Sternad, a pro­fessor of physics, biology, and elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering. “She is extremely bright, works inde­pen­dently, and is self-​​motivated.”

Ebert’s next expe­ri­en­tial learning opportunity—a research co-​​op in the autonomous motion depart­ment at the Max-​​Planck Insti­tute for Intel­li­gent Sys­tems in Tübingen, Ger­manykin­dled her interest in robotics and machine learning. There, she designed exper­i­ments using the Cyber­Glove, an input device that mea­sures 19 joint angles in the hand and can be used to test how humans learn to con­trol a high-​​dimensional system. “Con­ducting research has given me insight into how my course work fits together,” said Ebert, who added a com­puter sci­ence minor fol­lowing her ini­tial expe­ri­ence in the Action Lab. “I started taking more math classes and learned how to pro­gram, which has enabled me to do more tech­nical modeling.”

As a Mar­shall Scholar, Ebert hopes to work in Dr. Eti­enne Burdet’s human robotics lab, which aims to design assis­tive devices and vir­tual reality-​​based training for reha­bil­i­ta­tion and surgery. After London, she plans to return to the U.S. to earn her doc­torate in bio­med­ical engi­neering with the goal of becoming an aca­d­emic researcher.

Ebert summed up her career ambi­tions in her per­sonal state­ment for the Mar­shall Schol­ar­ship appli­ca­tion, writing that “My desire to learn has already led me to a field that draws on my inter­ests in every­thing from music to math. Now I want to expand on my pas­sion for neu­ro­science not only to solve the mys­tery of learning, but to employ that infor­ma­tion to improve lives.”

Originally published in news@Northeastern on December 5, 2014.