The Collegian
Monday, June 05, 2023

Senior, alumna awarded NSF graduate research fellowships

Richmond College senior Matt Luchansky and 2007 graduate Katie Weber received highly competitive graduate research fellowships that will fund research at any institution for up to three years.

The fellowship from the National Science Foundation will provide Luchansky and Weber with up to $121,500 for a researchfocused Master's or Ph.D. degree in the sciences.

Luchansky, an Ethyl and Albermarle Science Scholar, said he had been excited when he had heard the news.

"It's one of those things that not many people know about, but it's a big deal in the science community," he said. "If people see you had an NSF fellowship, it earns you a lot of respect. It's really an honor."

Luchansky has been conducting research since his freshman year with associate professor Jonathan Dattelbaum that could one day lead to the development of a bio-sensor that would, among other things, provide realtime monitoring of blood glucose levels for diabetics.

Luchansky plans to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in analytical chemistry, a branch of chemistry that identifies and quantifies the chemical properties of samples, he said. The NSF fellowship allows him to explore the research he is interested in, he said.

"It's great because instead of worrying about which field of research will pay me the most money," he said, "I can pursue what field I want without thinking funding." Weber, who now attends Cambridge University in Great Britain, said receiving the fellowship was gratifying.

"These are very competitive awards," she said.

Weber conducts genetic research on nematode worms at Cambridge, exploring how changes in DNA can alter neural circuits and change animal behavior, she said. Weber started conducting research her freshman year at Richmond, she said.

"The outstanding undergraduate research program Richmond has developed was invaluable in preparing me to be a graduate student at Cambridge," she said. "The fact that I started research in my freshman year and had almost complete control over the direction of my research projects was great preparation for this environment."

Luchansky said that after traveling around to different graduate schools, he was grateful for the opportunities Richmond had provided.

"I think Richmond did a fantastic job preparing me for grad school," he said. "In some of the larger universities, you hardly ever see the professors. You almost feel spoiled by all the attention you get here."

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The NSF Web site said its fellows were "crucial in maintaining and advancing the nation's technological infrastructure and national security, as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large."

Both Luchansky and Weber said they shared that vision.

"What makes America great is innovation," Luchansky said. "We are at a point where we can continue to be the leader in technology or we can start slipping behind countries like China, that emphasize the sciences."

Weber said her ultimate goal was to start a lab at a university.

"My goal is not just to do science," she said, "but to excite others about doing science as well. This will, I hope, mean both my students and the public. I think it's important for scientists to explain their work to the public and convey that science is not insurmountably difficult"

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