Graduate Student Excellence-in-Research Award

Initiated in 1999, the Graduate Student Excellence-in-Research Awards recognize the quality and significance of graduate student scholarship at the University of Georgia. These awards may be given in five areas: Fine Arts, Humanities and Letters, Life Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and  Applied Studies.

2019 Recipients

Douglas Atkinson earned a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Cardiff in Wales, United Kingdom, after completing his Ph.D. in political science and international affairs in 2018. Many scholars of international conflict argue that war onset, duration and termination can be explained largely by countries’ relative strength. But this approach doesn’t fully account for the issues over which war occurs. Atkinson undertakes in-depth case analyses that explore how government leaders use issues to signal their resolve for potential conflict or war. He explores which issues countries fight about, how leaders introduce those issues into a conflict or war, which trade-offs between issues might exist and how the net effect of a constellation of issues might influence conflict behavior. He is now exploring how to classify issues in possible orders of importance, which remains a complex task, but this approach offers the field a significant advancement over existing research.

Philip Limerick completed his Ph.D. in Romance languages with a concentration in Hispanic linguistics and is now adjunct instructor of Spanish at Eastern Kentucky University. His doctoral research addressed the emergence of new varieties of Spanish among immigrant populations in the Southeastern United States, an area whose representation in the linguistics literature is small compared to the major Spanish-speaking populations in other U.S. regions. Limerick gained access to a community of speakers in Roswell, Georgia, undertaking two dozen interviews that provided the natural speech data used for his work. This research provides a framework for understanding the mechanisms that underlie linguistic variation in this community. His work is innovative, both in its treatment of this community of U.S. Latinos and in its blend of sociolinguistic and pragmatic perspectives. It could represent an important contribution to the still nascent understanding of the linguistic features that characterize new dialect formation.

Jitendra Pant focused on developing and characterizing nitric oxide-releasing materials for use in biomedical and tissue engineering applications for his Ph.D. dissertation, completed in the School of Chemical, Materials and Biomedical Engineering. The biomaterials he developed have been reported to have greater than 99 percent antibacterial efficacy without harming human and mouse cells. Some of the biomedical device applications that Pant developed include instant clot wound patches, vascular catheters, device topcoats, 3D bone scaffolds and antibacterial packaging materials. He has also demonstrated the role of nitric oxide-releasing patches in preventing skin cancer and psoriasis. His research thus far has resulted in 18 publications, seven patent disclosures and multiple honors, including a TEDx talk, the Brahm Verma Award, and acknowledgement from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To commercialize his research, Jitendra co-founded a biomedical startup called inNOveta Biomedical with his Ph.D. mentor, Hitesh Handa.

Zheng Ruan earned his Ph.D. in bioinformatics in 2018, delving deeply into how signaling proteins work in both normal and disease states. Using an interdisciplinary approach that combined bioinformatics, biochemistry and cell biology, he uncovered the mechanisms by which cancer mutations alter cell signaling functions. Ruan pursued a unique research strategy by generating hypotheses from computational structural modeling and designing detailed experiments to test these hypotheses. His approach allowed him to answer fundamental questions in cancer genomics and structural bioinformatics. Ruan’s work has generated tremendous interest in the signaling field and will contribute to the understanding and treatment of human cancer. As a postdoctoral researcher at the Van Andel Institute in Michigan, he is studying large macromolecular ion channel proteins using single particle cryo-EM techniques, a rapidly evolving area that has the potential for major breakthroughs.

Xiaoxiao Sun, who completed his Ph.D. in statistics in 2018, is now a tenure-track assistant professor at the University of Arizona. He has combined creativity, computational skills and statistical knowledge to take on important challenges in the modern development of data science. Although he focused on statistical theory and methodology development in his doctoral research, he also spearheaded several bioinformatics projects, including one that addressed the issue of statistical computing in big data. For decades, asymptotic theory has been the most common theoretical analysis in statistics and has been used to extrapolate the statistical inference in moderate size samples. But some have questioned whether this analytical method can be translated into practice with the rise of big data. He came up with a simple two-step translational method for big data analysis that performs better than competing methods in terms of both accuracy and computational time.

Past Recipients