Fall 2012 Dissertation Fellowship Award Recipients

Texas A&M University’s Graduate and Professional School recently awarded 10 dissertation fellowships as part of their Dissertation Fellowship Program.  Developed in fall 2011 by Associate Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies Dr. Karen Butler-Purry, the Dissertation Fellowship Program supports doctoral students in the late stages of degree program completion; namely final research topic analysis and dissertation writing.   Eligible applicants included U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international doctoral students.  Thirty-one students currently utilize the dissertation fellowship.

The following students (listed with their associated colleges) received Fall 2012 dissertation fellowships:

Simge Andolsun, College of Architecture

Simge Andolsun’s Ph.D. dissertation research focuses on energy saving strategies for housing in hot and humid climates.   When completed, her research will describe an innovative residential design (partial conditioning) that can provide lasting affordable comfort for low-income residents.  Furthermore, her findings will significantly impact the sustainable building design field and will introduce novel strategies in HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system design.   Currently Simge models the partial conditioning strategy in Texas Habitat for Humanity homes.   Energy costs represent significant burden for Americans.  In fact, 38.6 million U.S. households require low-income home energy assistance. Partial conditioning combines three primary ideas: 1) using courtyard building schemes to provide a buffer zone between conditioned spaces; 2) zoning and applying occupancy based heating/cooling in each zone; and 3) reusing conditioned air returning from occupied zones before exhausting it from the system.  This strategy expects to provide a substantial reduction in overall HVAC energy consumption of residential buildings.  After completing her doctoral program, Simge plans to expand her research through joining a U.S. university faculty.  Furthermore, she aims to build prototypes of her affordable house designs to test their energy performance and generate further improvements.

Aiping Chen, College of Engineering

Aiping Chen’s research focuses on tuning of functionality, especially magnetoresistance (MR) in oxide heteroepitaxial nanocomposite thin films. MR can be used in the reading heads for magnetic storage. He aims to find promising oxide nanocomposite thin film materials for reading heads applications. He devoted work to understanding the microstructure and strain effects on the MR properties in the nanocomposites. By varying the laser frequency, phase composition and vertical strain, MR in the nanocomposite films can be systematically tuned. His specific contribution to this field is the correlation between the microstructure, strain and functionality in vertically aligned heteroepitaxial nanocomposites. His research could provide useful guidance and application for future device designs. Aiping plans to pursue a career in academia after graduation.

Matt Davis, College of Liberal Arts

Matt Davis’ research explores how issues of the legitimacy of female authority – whether religious or secular – played a role in both the popular expression of the cult of Mary Magdalene and the events surrounding the War of the Roses.  He describes how and why the daring, apparently anti-patriarchal representation of Mary Magdalene in the play called Digby Mary Magdalene developed in mid-fifteenth century England.   He also studies the combinations of elements & contexts by which such a portrayal of Mary gained acceptance with the institutionally influential people of the period.   The Digby Mary Magdalene presents its title figure as a full-blown, self-governing “apostolesse” - a female apostle, peer to the conventional male apostles.  The play’s emphasis on Mary’s missionary activity supports bestowing her the “apostolesse” title.  Rhetorical shifts present in the play coincide with patronage by wealthy and influential supporters of the Yorkist Political cause, a cause that depended on the acceptance of royal succession through the female line.  Matt links literary devotion to Mary Magdalene to the discussions of authority and legitimacy which erupted into the succession controversies of the War of the Roses.  Matt’s work advances understanding of the literature, region and political events of the medieval period.  He also describes the mechanisms by which ideas transfer over time and how new ideas tend to manifest from unexpected sources.  After graduation, Matt plans to pursue a career as an academic professional.

Pablo Granados-Dieseldorff, College of Geosciences

Pablo Granados-Dieseldorff focuses his research on the conservation biogeography of mutton snapper (Lutjanus analis), a coral-reef fish that uses various habitats during its life cycle.  His research increases knowledge of the dynamic geography of mutton-snapper, thereby improving support strategies for sustaining exploited stocks and the local communities relying on them.  Since 2009 Pablo’s scholarly work promotes marine conservation science and policy in his home area, the Mesoamerican Reef Ecoregion (MRE, western Caribbean).  Small-scale fisheries supply most of the seafood the world consumes.  Throughout the Caribbean, these fisheries often constitute a vital source of income and protein for rural-poor coastal communities.  Mutton snapper represents one of the region’s most valuable fisheries.   Pablo’s study system incorporates stakeholders’ (fishers/managers) knowledge and direct participation.  His work supports local and regional marine management strategies, increases stakeholder participation in marine conservation and supports human livelihoods in Belize and the rest of the western Caribbean.  After completing his doctoral program, Pablo will continue advancing marine fisheries conservation science in the MRE and throughout the Caribbean.

Nanda Grow, College of Liberal Arts

Nanda Grow’s research focuses on the ecology, behavior and biology of non-human primates.  She spent the last four years studying the pygmy tarsier, a nocturnal primate inhabiting the remote forests of Southeast Asian islands.  In 2008 Nanda received a small high-risk grant for travel to Lore Lindu National Park, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia to try and locate a pygmy tarsier population.  Eight other scientists had attempted without success to locate pygmy tarsiers.  The lack of sightings since 1930 evoked concern among primatologists and conservationists that the species may have become extinct.  Nanda successfully located and observed the first live pygmy tarsiers, confirming her keen observation skills and fortitude while living under extremely difficult field conditions.  Her dissertation investigates how pygmy tarsiers adapt to life at high altitudes, and she hopes to determine which characteristics (such as reduced body size, small population sizes and ultrasonic vocalizations) arose as response to environment and which may be ancestral.  Ultimately her goal involves using pygmy tarsiers as models for how human and non-human primates adjust to different and often marginal environments. This research presents practical applications for local conservation efforts of an endangered species and global understanding of primate diversity and adaptability.  By investigating how primates acclimate to many different variables, we can understand how all primates, including humans, react to new environments.  Upon graduation Nanda will pursue a career with an academic institution.

Michael Jones, College of Liberal Arts

Michael Jones’ dissertation research focuses on the hull design and historical context of  Yenikapı Wreck 14, a Middle Byzantine cargo vessel from Yenikapı, Istanbul.  A shipwreck dating to 900 AD, workers unearthed the ship in the Yenikapı neighborhood of Istanbul, Turkey  in 2006.    Michael’s research creates detailed documentation of Yenikapı 14’s surviving hull timbers to facilitate accurate ship reconstruction.   Studying the materials used in the ship’s construction, including wood types and waterproofing agents, provides insights into maritime technology and exploitation of environmental resources in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods.  Further, Yenikapı 14’s remains provide new information on the roots of technological revolution and illustrate the social, economic, and environmental factors that influenced ship design in the Byzantine era.  Archaeological finds show that Mediterranean shipbuilding methods and trade patterns changed rapidly in the ninth century, but very little information exists explaining reasons for the changes.  Michael’s dissertation project will greatly impact nautical archaeology.  New information he provides rapidly alters our views of maritime trade and technology in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods.  Further, Michael’s dissertation represents one of the first published studies of a shipwreck from the Yenkapi site, drawing significant interest from nautical archaeologists and specialists in related fields. Upon dissertation completion, Michael aims to continue contributing to his academic field.

Lantao Liu, College of Engineering

Lantao Liu’s research generalizes, extends and adapts classical approaches in Operations Research (OR) literature in order to address challenges facing robotics engineers.  He designs task allocation methods for multi-robot systems. Specifically, his research aims to generate a means to instruct a particular robot to complete a specific task which ultimately optimizes the team’s performance.  Good task allocation strategy contains an efficient coordination policy that encourages a multi-robot system to behave as a synergistic whole.  The resulting sense of optimality, e.g., minimizing costs, gaining maximum benefits, reducing various risks, etc. all compares to similar efforts at organizing and directing a basic social group of human beings.  However, next generation robots with greater independence and intelligence require new task allocation methods to manage more complex coordination efforts.  For instance, we must carefully consider issues like information sharing and communication when enabling a robot to sense and behave independently while also taking actions that benefit the whole.  Consequently, partial and sometimes inaccurate information available to a robot undermines various objectives and optimality proves elusive.  Lantao’s research designs solutions to tackle these problems by combining inspirations from several fields:  graph theory, operations research and economics.  Through combining many novel ideas, he develops the most efficient task allocation approaches to improve the robots’ intelligence and consequently their collaboration ability.  After graduation, Lantao hopes to pursue a career in academia.

Hamidreza Nouri, College of Engineering

Hamidreza Nouri’s study consists of two main parts, focusing on plasticity and numerical methods in offshore foundation design and geohazard.  In recent years, dramatic growth in worldwide energy demand forced the energy industry further offshore to locate untapped energy sources. Progressing into ultra-deep water necessitates using novel technologies for installation/construction.   Floating structures anchored with plates to the seabed using innovative foundation solutions gained favor over conventional platforms in deep and ultra-deep water.  Hamidreza concentrated on the bearing capacity of deeply embedded plate anchors and shallow foundations under extreme environmental loading conditions.  To this end, he developed a simple analytical plasticity solution convenient for practical design purposes and verified by comprehensive numerical simulation.  Further, both coastal communities and the offshore energy industry face direct impact from geohazards.  Tsunami/hurricane/flood, underwater slope failures or retrogressive failures represent geohazard examples.  Using realistic simulating tools, Hamidreza’s work improves knowledge of triggering mechanisms for undersea landslides mainly caused by earthquake and wave loading.   His work addresses an important threat to offshore infrastructure and coastal communities that remains poorly understood.  Upon graduation he aims to continue work as a researcher and academic professional.

Jialei Xie, College of Agriculture

Jialei Xie’s research explores a basic concept described with a big word:  endosymbiosis.  Simply put, endosymbiosis occurs when one organism co-exists with another; one organism lives within the body or cells of another organism.   Symbionts can dramatically alter the reproduction, behavior and metabolism of their hosts, and therefore work well as pest control agents.   Jialei’s research project focuses on understanding the evolutionary histories and defensive association between flies in the genus Drosophila and bacteria in the genus Spiroplasma.  Her work shows that these bacteria protect their fly hosts against parasitioid wasp attacks.  Parasitoid wasps’ larvae live as parasites that eventually kill their hosts.  Further, Jialei’s research contributes to the monitoring of an expanding exotic pest species in Southwestern Texas, Drosophila suzukii (the Spotted Wing Drosophila).  This species recently invaded the continental U.S. (California), rapidly spreading to numerous states and worldwide.  The Spotted Wing Drosophila causes severe damage to soft-skinned fruits like grapes, peaches, pears, berries and cherries.  Jialei’s research helps monitor presence of this species, identifying parasitoids that may work as controlling agents, and also identifying endosymbionts that might hinder control efforts.   Upon completing her Ph.D., Jialei plans to return to her native China and pursue work as a research professor.  She hopes to mentor female scientists in a traditionally male-dominated field and also support collaboration between Texas A&M and Chinese universities.

Dawei (David) Zhang, College of Engineering

Dawei (David) Zhang’s dissertation research broadly focuses on polymeric biomaterials. In particular, he targets design of shape memory polymer (SMP) foams as options for healing bone defects or bone loss.  The SMP material, when inserted, can quickly lock into place in bone defects by simply applying warm saline. Traumatic injury, birth defects or tumor removal can create such defects.   David successfully synthesized the polymers, fabricated the foams, characterized  mechanical behavior and shape memory properties, applied bioactive coatings and even started bone organ culture work.  David’s research offers broad potential to impact global healthcare as a more appealing alternative to current clinical procedures which suffer complications like autografts, bone cements and bone putties.  Upon dissertation completion, David aspires to continue his independent research and teach as a faculty member at a major university.

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