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Five UW Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

head photo of a woman
Cristilyn Gardner, one of five University of Wyoming 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows, is studying exoplanets. (Jennifer Gardner Photo)

Five University of Wyoming students have received National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships to pursue research in their fields this summer.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is one of the nation’s most highly competitive awards for graduate studies. It offers, among other things, three years of support -- within a five-year period -- with an annual $34,000 stipend; a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance; international research and professional development opportunities; and the freedom to conduct research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education that recipients choose.

Since 1952, NSF has funded more than 50,000 graduate research fellowships among more than 500,000 applicants.

UW students and their research projects are:

-- Cristilyn Gardner, a first-year doctoral student in physics with a focus in astronomy from Redondo Beach, Calif., will use her fellowship for research, titled “Discovering New Worlds and Igniting a New Era of Exoplanetary Science with the Fiber-fed High-Resolution Echelle spectrograph (FHiRE) at Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO).”

“My research involves study of exoplanets. Using WIRO’s DoublePrime camera, characterization of an exoplanet’s atmosphere can be done by looking at a transiting planet in different broadband filters,” Gardner says. “If the size of the planet changes as we look through different filters, we may be seeing Rayleigh -- the scattering of light off the molecules in the atmosphere -- scattering through the atmosphere.”

UW has been funded, in part, by NASA to build and install a FHiRE on its 2.3-meter telescope at WIRO. High-cadence, long-term radial velocity observations with this instrument will play a pivotal role in allowing Gardner to detect smaller planets that orbit stars in significantly longer orbits.

Gardner will have the opportunity to help build, commission and use FHiRE to do impactful science, while also ushering in a new research program that will be one of the centerpieces of UW’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“The impact of this project is far-reaching in terms of advancing knowledge in exoplanetary science, astronomical instrumentation and the fields of chemistry and astrobiology,” she says. “One of the attributes that sets UW apart from other institutions is that they make it easy for undergraduates, graduates and faculty to access all the available instruments at their observatories for an unprecedented amount of time.”

UW Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty members Hannah Jang-Condell and Chip Kobulnicky are Gardner’s advisers.

woman pointing to a screen with weather charts
Veronica Hanway presented her research focusing on the climate and atmospheric controls of the most recent droughts in California, and the impact droughts have on underrepresented minority communities in the economically and agriculturally important San Joaquin Valley. Hanway presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers in Washington, D.C. (Diane Roberts Photo)

-- Veronica Hanway, a geography master’s student from Cheyenne, is in her first year in the program after earning her undergraduate degree in geography from UW last year. Her research is titled “No Water? Now What? Understanding the Implications of the Climate-Drought-Water Nexus for Underrepresented Minorities in California's San Joaquin Valley.”

Hanway’s research focuses on the climate and atmospheric controls of the most recent droughts in California and the impact droughts have on underrepresented minority communities in the economically and agriculturally important San Joaquin Valley. The innovative project demonstrates the role of geographical research in integrating the physical and social sciences.

"My research was inspired by the experiences of my family during the 2011-15 California drought and seeks to open up new spaces for voices that have been previously neglected in climate change policies at local, national and international scales,” she says. “My research would not have been possible without the support of my advisers and department."

A first-generation Latina college graduate, Hanway was an NSF-funded Colorado-Wyoming Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Fellow; was president of the Multicultural Association of Student Scientists; and was co-author of a recently published, peer-reviewed paper, titled “The Influence of Atmospheric Circulation on Abnormal Snowpack Melt-Out Events and Drought in Wyoming,” in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Hanway is advised by UW Department of Geography faculty members Nicholas Crane and Jacqueline Shinker.

woman putting a radio collar on a deer
UW graduate student Mallory Lambert collars a mule deer as part of her research on how energy development in North America affects ungulates (hooved animals) and their migration routes. (Matt Cuzzocreo Photo)

-- Mallory Lambert, from Layton, Utah, started her master's degree program last August. Her NSF project is titled “Quantifying Development Thresholds for Ungulate Migration: How Much is Too Much?”

Lambert says energy development is occurring at a rapid pace in western North America, and studies show that ungulates (hooved animals) respond negatively to energy development during migration by moving more quickly through and selecting areas farther away from development.

“These studies, however, do not provide wildlife managers with development thresholds -- such as level of development that wildlife can tolerate without experiencing significant consequences -- needed to balance the conservation of migratory ungulates and the energy demands of society,” Lambert says.

The objective of her research is to help find this balance by identifying development thresholds in the migratory routes of mule deer, elk and pronghorn. She says the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship will help pay for materials needed to conduct analyses for her project as well as fund travel to scientific conferences.

“I am excited to be able to use the grant to help fund the K-12 pen pal and migration education program I am developing with the Wyoming Migration Initiative,” she adds. “The grant also will pay my salary, which will allow me to focus on conducting this important research without having to worry about funding.”

UW Department of Zoology and Physiology faculty member Jerod Merkle is her adviser on the project.

man with lab equipment and a column of fire beside him
UW graduate student Luke McLaughlin works in the Belmont Energy Research Group laboratory at UW. (Cassidy Enloe Photo)

-- Luke McLaughlin, a mechanical engineering master’s student from Rapid City, S.D., will continue researching in a doctoral program in mechanical engineering in spring 2020. He is a part of the Belmont Energy Research Group directed by UW Assistant Professor Erica Belmont, looking at emissions from the burning of biomass. Belmont is his adviser on the project.

Specifically, he will use the NSF fellowship to study the composition and optical properties of emissions from open biomass burning, such as wildfires and cooking around the world. Of the global annual emissions of organic carbon, up to 74 percent have been attributed to open biomass burning. These sources produce significant amounts of organic aerosols and secondary organic aerosols, which are health hazards and absorb and scatter incoming solar radiation.

“Absorption of incoming light causes warming of the Earth and atmosphere, while scattering causes cooling, making the optical properties of emissions capable of dramatically different impacts on global radiative balance,” McLaughlin says. “Throughout this study, our team hopes to obtain an improved understanding of how such emissions vary, including their molecular composition and light absorption properties upon emission, with biomass composition, as well as the transformations in these properties that occur during atmospheric aging.”

people holding a chipmunk
UW graduate student Q Quallen processes a chipmunk after trapping it at Happy Jack, outside of Laramie, where he and his colleagues conduct research. Students trap the chipmunks and then mark them with microchips to monitor population levels over time in varying habitats. (Sara Locker Photo)

-- Q Quallen, from Farmington, Conn., is a first-year master’s degree candidate. He was a dual undergraduate degree student at UW in wildlife and fisheries biology and management, and in environment and natural resources. Quallen’s NSF project is titled “The effects of knowledge transfer among individuals on population dynamics of a small abundant mammal.”

His research is to relate social learning in small mammals to changes in vital rates.

“This is of particular importance for conservation and management of species that share knowledge with each other in order to enhance survival,” Quallen says. “I hypothesize that population composition -- such as age structure -- influences the effectiveness of social learning and memory, which is something that is not typically taken into account in current population models.”

Quallen says the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship gives him the resources and financial stability to focus on his research at a high level and network with other scientists across the country.

UW Department of Zoology and Physiology faculty member Merav Ben-David is his adviser.

About NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

The Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a vital part of NSF efforts to foster and promote excellence in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics by recognizing talent broadly from across the nation. The awards are provided to individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant research achievements. Former NSF fellows include numerous individuals who have made transformative breakthroughs in science and engineering; have become leaders in their chosen careers; and been honored as Nobel laureates.

For more information, visit the website at



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