10 researchers named 2018 Women in STEM awardees

Ten women scientists at the University of New Mexico have been selected for the 2018 Women in STEM awards. Their work on eight separate projects includes research on smart grass that could generate energy, head injuries in professional fighters and better ways to take medicine.

Other winners of the research awards will consider how to create multiscale modeling of swarm dynamics, how to train communication partners for people with autism and how a zebrafish can be a model for studying neuroimmune interactions. In addition, award recipients will look at how children recover from natural disasters, as well as how to optimize network resources.

Provost Chaouki Abdallah said he looks forward to seeing what the recipients develop in the coming year.

“We have already seen the benefits of this program in the success of previous award winners, in bioengineering, physics, linguistics, and other areas. There is another deserving group of award winners this year, and I’m excited to see what they’re working on,” Abdallah said.

The Women in STEM awards are in their third year and are hosted by Advance at UNM, a five-year National Science Foundation grant to recruit, retain and promote women and minority STEM faculty. A committee this year reviewed 22 proposals.

Advance at UNM director Julia Fulghum said the winners represent some of the most promising research being done at UNM.

“The breadth and depth of this year’s awardees is quite wide and winners come from a range of departments at UNM. We look forward to seeing the results of the work by this talented group of women,” she said. “It’s exciting to consider the results that some of this research could bring, from smart grass to swarm robotics.”

These grants are supported by an anonymous gift made to UNM to support research by, and professorships for, women faculty in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Income from investment from this gift will be used to help UNM women tenure-track and tenured assistant and associate STEM professors to establish new lines of research and to develop research collaborations.

Awardee Dr. Heather Canavan, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering said she’s honored to apply the grant to her work on a new drug delivery system.

“I am so honored and grateful to receive the Women in STEM ADVANCE award. This funding will help us obtain the data we need to test a new drug delivery system that is more palatable for patients, which will increase the likelihood that they undergo the necessary screening tests to prevent cancer,” she said.

“It was my own recent experiences with cancer that changed the course of my research to pursue this new direction: using my background in bioactive polymers to improve the experiences of patients. This funding therefore comes at a crucial time for me and my group.  I plan to use the funding to optimize our hydrogel prototype design, and create a cruelty-free (non-animal) model to test the design. The results will be used to support proposals to the National Institutes of Health, and other agencies.”

The 2018 winners include:

Canavan. Her proposal is “From Theoretical to Translational: A Novel, Stimulus-Responsive, Tunable Hydrogel System and Testing Platform for Oral Drug Delivery.”

—  Dr. Judy Cannon, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and Dr. Melanie Moses, an associate professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Biology. Their proposal is “Multiscale modeling of swarm dynamics.”

The project will image live immune cells responding to an infection as a basis to understand how biological swarms interact. The researchers will take their experimental results to build a general computational model that can predict how swarms interact in multiple other systems such as in ecology, including ants foraging for food, and on social media platforms, including how groups of individuals interact online.

Melanie and I are honored to have received this award and very much appreciate the review by the Women in STEM committee,” Cannon said.

Dr. Cindy Gevarter, an assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. Her proposal is “Individualized communication assessment, intervention, and communication partner training for learners with autism spectrum disorder and limited speech.” This study will explore methods for incorporating iPad-based communication devices into the everyday routines of non-vocal children with autism. The study will focus on determining appropriate methods for individualizing device formats, selecting vocabulary, and providing parent training, according to Gevarter.

—  Dr. Amy Neel, an Associate Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences and Dr. Jessica Richardson, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. Their proposal is “Speech and Language Biomarkers of Repeated Head Trauma in Professional Fighters” and they will investigate changes in communication skills associated with repeated head trauma in professional boxers and mixed martial artists using data collected through the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study established by Dr. Charles Bernick at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Brain Health. The duo will compare speech and language skills in 80 professional fighters and healthy control subjects and link communication deficits with specific areas of brain damage associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Speech and language changes can serve as non-invasive biomarkers for the early diagnosis of CTE and for tracking of disease progression.

“Understanding speech and language deficits in fighters may help prevent and treat CTE in athletes in a variety of contact sports as well as in military personnel.

We are especially excited that we will be able to support two students in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences as project assistants with the funds from the WIS grant,” Neel said.

Dr. Svetlana Poroseva, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Her proposal is “Developing “Smart Grass” for Harvesting Wind Energy in Urban Areas.”

With the award, Poroseva said she’ll be developing a new device for harvesting wind energy in urban areas.

“Strong winds in cities are not strong enough for traditional technologies. Combining new technology (smart materials) with an idea borrowed from Mother Nature may give us a solution for a new “natural” way of safely harvesting wind energy in houses and outside,” Poroseva said.

“Students love projects where nature and technology work together and so do I. This is a new research area for me and this award will help me to advance in this area and to established new collaborations with my colleagues including a new assistant professor at the UNM ME department, Dr. Nathan Jackson,” she said.

Dr. Irene Salinas, an associate professor in the Department of Biology. Her proposal is “A zebrafish model for the study of neuroimmune interactions.”

Salinas said neuroimmunology is one of the most exciting areas of study in Biomedical Sciences.

“I am honored to receive this award so that I can develop a whole animal model to study the interactions between the nervous and immune systems and bring this biomedical model to UNM so that students and faculty can take advantage of its immense possibilities,” she said.

—  Dr. Eirini Eleni Tsiropoulou, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her proposal is “Redefining resource AllocaTION in Advanced wireLess systEms – RATIONALE.”

“With this award we will “rationalize” the resource allocation process in cyber-physical social systems including 5G wireless communication systems and Internet of Things infrastructures,” Tsiropoulou said.

“We evangelize that it is more rewarding both from user and system perspective to aim at satisfactory Quality of Service (QoS) rather than QoS maximization. There are naturally several types of services that are either simply interested in achieving a minimum QoS level, or users are insensitive to small QoS changes, or they are not willing to consume additional resources or pay a higher price for a better QoS level.”

“I am really excited that this award will further contribute to attracting highly qualified national and international graduate students to complement the PROTON Lab’s research vision and activities,” she said.

—  Dr. Kira Villa, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics. Her proposal is “The Intergenerational Health Impact of Early Life Climate Variability and its Implication for Child Recovery from Natural Disasters: Evidence from Indonesia.”

“For a sample of Indonesian women, we will examine the effects of early life climate variability on not only their adult health but also on the long-term health of their children,” Villa said. “We will further examine how this intergenerational transmission of mother-to-child health affects child resiliency to four natural disasters that occurred in Indonesia during the 2000s: the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2006 Yogyakarta Earthquake, the 2009 Pandang Earthquake, and the 2010 Marapi Mountain Eruption,” Villa said.

In 2017, 10 women scientists won awards for a variety of research, including investigations into the structure of the galaxy and the Galactic Bulge, the link between mitochondrial function and insulin signaling, and the treatment of amyloid diseases.

Learn more about past winners and how you can help support the awards here.