Three Win Prestigious NSF Fellowships

April 30, 2015 - Three engineering graduate students have won highly competitive fellowships from the National Science Foundation. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by providing three years of financial support for study that leads to a research-based master’s or doctoral degree. Neto Sosa, Christian Crouzet and Rylan Kautz are among 34 graduate students receiving the fellowships this year at UC Irvine.

Sosa (image gallery, far right), a biomedical engineering doctoral student, is developing new biosensors and optimizing traditional methodologies to advance digital droplet technology. His work can help doctors diagnose illness quicker and more efficiently, reducing lab bottlenecks and problems like antibiotic resistance. “If doctors can get all the right information early, they can immediately begin the appropriate therapies,” says Sosa, whose adviser is Weian Zhao, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences.

Crouzet (image gallery, left), a biomedical engineering student who works with biomedical engineering professor Bernard Choi at the Beckman Laser Center’s Microvascular Therapeutics and Imaging Laboratory, uses laser speckle imaging to examine blood flow dynamics, specifically in the brain, in models of Alzheimer’s disease, micro hemorrhage and cardiac arrest. Additionally, he is building a new laser speckle imaging device that will allow more accurate measurement of vascular changes, enabling study of the brain over several weeks.

Kautz (image gallery, center), a materials science graduate student, fabricates reflectin films, analyzing their use as biological substrates for cell adhesion and growth. With reflectin's unique material properties, this work could introduce new types of tissue scaffolds and bioelectronic devices. His primary adviser is chemical engineering and materials science professor Alon Gorodetsky, but he also collaborates with Francesco Tombola’s physiology and biophysics lab, and Lisa Flanagan’s neurology lab.

All three say they are excited to have been chosen and grateful for the support. “I do not envy the reviewers who have to make the choice of who gets the fellowships,” said Sosa. “Plenty of my friends here and at other schools are doing amazing research. I was shocked and feel extremely lucky to have received the award.”

Crouzet says he was “in shock and ecstatic” at receiving notification from the NSF. “Due to the competitiveness of the fellowship, I knew my chances were slim. Nonetheless, the hard work paid off. I am very happy to receive this honor, and look forward to continuing and expanding my research and outreach activities.”

Kautz, who calls himself “incredibly grateful,” also credits his fellow graduate students who critiqued his application and discussed ideas with him. “The fact that there are so many other deserving students makes me feel pretty fortunate, too,” he says.

Three additional engineering graduate students received honorable mention in the competition. They include:

  • Environmental engineering student Emily Ann Parker, who researches diffusion and transport of contaminants in biofilters and coastal zones, works with civil and environmental engineering professor Stanley Grant on the UCI Water PIRE project (;
  • Jessica Hsieh, who engineers the biochemical properties of materials to control the inflammatory response of macrophages (immune cells) that play a role in acceptance or rejection of implanted foreign material. Hsieh, who is affiliated with the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, is advised by biomedical engineering professor Wendy Liu; and
  • Mark Keating, who studies changes in stiffness between cells and their surrounding microenvironments in three dimensions and in real time, as a way to understand cell behavior mechanisms. Keating’s adviser is biomedical engineering professor Elliott Botvinick.

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