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Three engineering seniors garner NSF graduate school fellowships

Civil engineering major Matthew Wheeler will use his NSF graduate research fellowship to continue the undergraduate work he has been doing at MU in the lab of assistant professor Sarah Orton, exploring ways to improve fiber reinforced polymer systems.

As graduation presents go, it’s hard to beat a National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research fellowship; just ask the three University of Missouri engineering “Class of 2011” students who have been accepted into the prestigious program.

The fellowships, which provide a three-year annual $30,000 stipend and an allowance of up to $10,500 for education costs, essentially provide funding for up to 2,000 students nationwide to follow their dreams.

Civil engineering major Matthew Wheeler, Christine O’Brien in biological engineering and Forrest Meyen who dual-majored in mechanical and biological engineering, all have been recognized and will be supported by NSF’s fellowship program.

“It was the most substantial application I’ve ever filled out. There were three two-page essays,” said Wheeler. “I had to convey why I wanted to do research and what I intended to pursue. They were interested in the broader impact of the research and how I will apply what I learn.”

Forrest Meyen who dual-majored in mechanical and biological engineering, will take his NSF graduate research fellowship to study at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. where he will work to create a wearable device to aid in locomotion for children with cerebral palsy.

According to their website, it is anticipated NSF fellows will contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering. The foundation believes students who receive fellowships to conduct graduate research are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security, as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.

Wheeler chose to use his fellowship to continue the undergraduate work he has been doing at MU in the lab of assistant professor Sarah Orton, exploring ways to improve fiber reinforced polymer systems.

“Suddenly you have all these options and you are positioned to take advantage of whatever you want,” Wheeler said of receiving the fellowship. “This reinforced polymer thing is on the cutting edge of engineering. It can be used for so many things from building bridges to the reinforcement of retaining walls. There is a lot to discover and a lot to improve.”

Christine O’Brien, a biological engineering major will use here NSF graduate research fellowship to study with Dr. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen at Vanderbilt University. She will be working on the detection of cervical cancer using a non-invasive method called Raman Spectroscopy.

Meyen is taking his fellowship to MIT in Cambridge, Mass., where he will be working in the lab of Dava Newman, the professor he studied with during his 2010 summer internship at MIT.

“I’ll be working on creating a wearable device to aid in locomotion for children with cerebral palsy. It’s a combination of sensors and controls to detect their movement,” Meyen said.

“This technology can also be integrated into spacesuit design to help astronauts move more freely,” he added.

Meyen, who has worked with mentor Sheila Grant a bioengineering professor, said that working for the private space industry greatly interests him. Before he begins his NSF fellowship, he will spend the summer doing an internship with Blue Origin, a private spaceflight company that just received a sizable contract from NASA for manned space travel.

O’Brien, has worked in the lab of biological engineering associate professor John Viator at MU. She said he is known for inspiring students to teach and, for her, getting a doctorate is the next logical step toward that goal.

“I will be working with Dr. Anita Mahadevan-Jansen at Vanderbilt University, O’Brien said. “My project involves the detection of cervical cancer using a non-invasive method called Raman Spectroscopy.”

A large clinical component and many animal studies will be conducted to test the technology.

“In addition to the research, I plan on getting a teaching certificate through Vanderbilt to aid in the teaching aspect of being a professor,” O’Brien said.
“My mother could not be more pleased,” said Wheeler. “When I called her she was so excited. She said she would take me out to lunch to celebrate. But I said, ‘No mom, now I can take you out to lunch.’ ”