WVU students, alumna joining elite group of researchers

Published: Jul. 13, 2023 at 1:35 PM EDT
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WDTV) - Three West Virginia University students and one alumna are joining an elite group of researchers from across the United States.

Rachel Morris from Charleston, Meagan Walker from Weston, and Teagan Kuzniar and Ellena Gemmen from Morgantown, are recipients of the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

They will each receive a three-year annual stipend of $37,000 and access to a wide range of professional development opportunities while pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

Morris, a May 2023 graduate with a bachelor’s in biology, was accepted into the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’ biology doctorate program where she’ll continue researching tsetse flies, a significant concern to human and animal health as carriers of trypanosomes.

Commonly referred to as “sleeping sickness” in humans and “nagana” in animals, the disease cannot be prevented with vaccinations.

Walker is currently working on a master’s degree in geography, and she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the same discipline with her fellowship.

As a senior, Walker began investigating how information gathered from tree rings can help scientists understand the past and possibly predict future solar events.

Specifically, she is analyzing unstable isotope signatures left in tree rings from Miyake events, cosmic explosions that happened in 774 and 993 Common Era.

Gremmen is currently pursuing her doctorate in mechanical engineering. She plans to continue contributing to technological advancements in the clean energy sector.

She plans to expand on her research by studying different thermoelectric materials and their abilities to generate power from waste heat.

Kuzniar, who graduated in May with a degree in environmental microbiology, will pursue a doctorate in soil science at North Carolina State University.

While at WVU, she conducted research alongside Ember Morrissey, assistant professor of microbiology in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

As part of Morrissey’s lab, Kuzniar used quantitative stable isotope probing to explore the effects of climate change on microbial communities in wetlands, work that helped prepare her for the next stage in her academic career.