Three North­eastern Uni­ver­sity doc­toral stu­dents—Allison Matzelle, Jen­nifer Morales, and Tanya Rogers—have been selected as 2014 recip­i­ents of the pres­ti­gious National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion Grad­uate Research Fel­low­ship.

They are among 2,000 awardees from a pool of more than 14,000 appli­cants to the pro­gram, which aims to help ensure the vitality of the human resource base of sci­ence and engi­neering in the United States. 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 U.S. institutions.

In addi­tion to the awardees, six cur­rent North­eastern stu­dents received hon­or­able men­tions while another 14 recent alumni were also recognized.

The fel­low­ship pro­vides a three-​​year annual research stipend of $32,000 along with a $12,000 cost of edu­ca­tion allowance for tuition and fees. Fel­lows also ben­efit from unique oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­na­tional research and pro­fes­sional development.

Doc­toral stu­dent Jen­nifer Morales will use her NSF grad­uate research fel­low­ship to develop nanosen­sors that detect dopamine con­cen­tra­tions between neural cells. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

Morales, for her part, will focus her fel­low­ship research on devel­oping nanosen­sors that can detect dopamine con­cen­tra­tions in the synapse between two neural cells. The work, which is part of a larger nanosensor devel­op­ment pro­gram in phar­ma­ceu­tical sci­ences asso­ciate pro­fessor Heather Clark’s lab, aims to improve our under­standing of how indi­vidual neu­rons com­mu­ni­cate. Cur­rently, brain imaging studies rely on system level analyses, looking at the entire organ as a whole. This work, she noted, would afford a com­pletely new way of exam­ining, imaging, and probing human mental processes and could have impli­ca­tions for mental health treat­ment as well.

Allison Matzelle will use her fel­low­ship to study how envi­ron­mental and pre­da­tion stress influ­ence com­mu­nity dynamics of inter­tidal and marine species. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

Both Matzelle and Rogers are working out of Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant, Mass­a­chu­setts, where they are studying how marine organ­isms respond to cli­mate change. Matzelle, a member of envi­ron­mental sci­ence and public policy pro­fessor Brian Helmuth’s lab, is using energy budget models to under­stand the flow of energy through inter­tidal organisms. She is using this approach to look at how the cou­pled effects of envi­ron­mental and pre­da­tion stress may influ­ence com­mu­nity dynamics. So far most of her work has focused on inter­tidal inver­te­brates, such as mus­sels and clams, but she will be expanding her scope to include deep-​​water species that reside on coral reefs during a two-​​week research endeavor off the coast of Miami this summer.

Tanya Rogers will use her fel­low­ship to study the eco­log­ical con­se­quences of the blue crab’s range expan­sion due to cli­mate change. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Rogers is inter­ested in a dif­ferent marine species—the Atlantic blue crab. As a member of envi­ron­mental sci­ences assis­tant pro­fessor David Kimbro’s lab, she is researching the eco­log­ical con­se­quences of an expanding blue crab habitat in coastal New Eng­land. The blue crab is an impor­tant predator in a region whose northern range cur­rently stops at Cape Cod. But as tem­per­a­tures rise, the blue crab’s range is expected to expand as far north as the Gulf of Maine. Rogers will inves­ti­gate what this expan­sion will mean both for the blue crab as well as the region’s other species, such as the inva­sive Euro­pean green crab.

The tal­ented researchers credit early expo­sure to research as set­ting them on their paths to suc­cess. All three worked in their respec­tive labs before matric­u­lating to North­eastern as grad­uate stu­dents. The fel­low­ship, they say, pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity to focus their grad­uate careers on what inspires them most: their research.

The oppor­tu­ni­ties that the NSF fel­low­ship will pro­vide will allow me to become a research sci­en­tist or pro­fessor, it’s going to allow me to do more than I ever could have done oth­er­wise,” Morales said. “And I hope even­tu­ally that I will become someone that my com­mu­nity will be proud of and someone who will inspire the next gen­er­a­tion of women in science.”