Last week was a good one for first-year Ph.D. students Atiyya Shaw and Brittany Suttner.
The pair of School of Civil and Environmental Engineering students learned they’d won graduate research fellowships from the National Science Foundation, some of the most coveted funding for graduate students.
- Brittany Suttner, first-year Ph.D. student and NSF fellowship recipient
Now they can stretch their research in new directions or into risky areas of inquiry thanks to the fellowship’s three years of support.
“This fellowship will help me to take this project in new directions and to explore more of the high-risk/high-reward questions that can often be difficult to secure funding for,” said Suttner, who is developing ways to assess water quality and risk to public health by using the genetic markers of bacteria that usually indicate fecal contamination.
“There is a great need to improve water quality worldwide and the field of water quality monitoring [and] treatment can stand to improve dramatically with molecular and genetic applications, yet there has been little development in this area,” Suttner said.
“With an increasing human population on Earth, assessing water quality and the risk to human health becomes increasingly more important and an essential part of civil infrastructure and, hence, sustainability,” said Kostas Konstantinidis, an associate professor in the School and Suttner’s adviser.
“Brittany is a highly meticulous student with genuine curiosity about every aspect of her work. I expect her research will have a significant impact on water quality testing and human health.”
- Atiyya Shaw, first-year Ph.D. student and NSF fellowship recipient
“By its nature, my research project is very open-ended, and this fellowship allows me the freedom to pursue various opportunities, without necessarily being tied to a sponsor's [interests],” said Shaw, who hopes to marry that freedom with sponsor-driven research questions to better understand — and model — the visual search patterns of drivers and other users of transportation systems.
The idea is to improve roadway designs and how information is delivered to users. And her work could also help in the development of driver-less cars.
“I also hope to focus on the application of these findings in the development of sensitive autonomous vehicle vision and guidance technologies that excel in a roadway environment designed for human perception,” Shaw said.
“Atiyya is one of the most intelligent and motivated students I have had the privilege to work with,” said Michael Hunter, Shaw’s Ph.D. adviser. “The NSF fellowship is a recognition of her great potential and will offer her the freedom to aggressively pursue her research.”
The NSF fellowship program supports some of the best graduate students across the country to help build a pipeline of top scientists and engineers, according to the agency. Winners are students “who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering.”