Biochemistry and Physics Majors Land NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Two University of Maine seniors have been awarded Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The UMaine honors students, Gwendolyn Beacham of Farmington, Maine, a biochemistry major, and Julia Sell of Cushing, Maine, a physics major, were among 2,000 students nationwide selected from among 16,500 applicants in the 2015 competition.

BeachamThis fall, Beacham will enter the Ph.D. track at Cornell University in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology. Sell will pursue a Ph.D. in experimental condensed matter physics at the University of Maryland.

Beacham is UMaine’s 2015 valedictorian and the Outstanding Graduating Student in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture. She received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, a national award given to rising undergraduate juniors and seniors in the STEM fields, and the George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship to study abroad in spring 2014 at University College Cork in Ireland. At UMaine, Beacham has been involved in the national Phage Genomics Program, sponsored by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, by taking the UMaine honors course in phage genomics, and she interned at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, an affiliate of Cornell University, and the MDI Biological Laboratory.

Beacham’s research focuses on mycobacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria of the genus Mycobacterium. She is studying a particular phage named Ukulele that was isolated at UMaine in the Phage Genomics course Beacham took in her first year. Her project focuses on identifying which genes encode the proteins that are involved in regulating Ukulele’s life cycles. Her numerous awards for research and academic achievement include fellowships from UMaine’s Center for Undergraduate Research, and research fellowships from the Maine IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE).

SellsSell is an undergraduate researcher at UMaine’s Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, where she has studied the structural and electrical stability of Pt-ZrB2 nanolaminate thin films at temperatures above 1800 degrees F. The films have potential use as electrical contacts in a new generation of microelectronics that enhance the reliability and safety of high-temperature machinery, such as jet engines and industrial power plants.

Sell participated in NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at UMaine. Her numerous awards for research and academic achievement include fellowships from UMaine’s Center for Undergraduate Research and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Bath Iron Works scholarships, and the 2015 Edith Patch Award.

NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period ($34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution) for graduate study that leads to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree in science or engineering, according to the NSF announcement of the awards.

Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is part of NSF’s overall strategy to develop the globally engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation’s leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745