Research Communications

Four students land competitive National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellowships 

April 15, 2010

Ohio University has received the highest number of awards in one year to date from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, a highly competitive program that provides individual students with a three-year annual stipend and educational allowances of $40,000 to further their education.

Four current and recently graduated Ohio University students were notified this spring of their successful application to the program, which recognizes and supports outstanding undergraduate and graduate students in National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees in the United States and abroad. More than 12,000 students across the nation applied to the program, and 2,000 fellowships were awarded.

“These awards show that Ohio University trains well-balanced, intelligent, motivated and insightful students who are ready and able to significantly contribute to their field and society at large,” said Roxanne Malé-Brune, director of grant development and projects for the Ohio University Graduate College.
 jason bourke

Jason Bourke, right, is one of four recipients of this year's National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. He is conducting research with Professor Lawrence Witmer, center, on the impact of nasal cavity shape on air flow and physiology in dinosaurs and their modern relatives. (Photo credit: Marc Miller)

Malé-Brune and faculty members Lauren McMills and Mark McMills in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry worked with the students to help prepare this year’s applications. The team consulted with representatives from the National Science Foundation on strategies to strengthen Ohio University student proposals and then offered workshops and one-on-one assistance with other faculty mentors.

“Many of our students used the reviewers’ comments from previous applications, as well as a better understanding of the importance of the broader impact of their work for the general public, to submit vastly improved applications,” said Mark McMills.

The four fellowship recipients are:

Justin Henthorn
, a senior Honors Tutorial College major in mathematics and chemistry, plans to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry and conduct research on converting greenhouse gases into cleaner, usable products.

Henthorn’s experience includes a summer 2008 Department of Energy Student Undergraduate Laboratory Internship in which he conducted research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.  He also spent a summer 2009 Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship program internship at the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colo., resulting in a well-received publication concerning the predictions of solar flare activity. Henthorn is deferring his entrance to graduate school to complete research in the laboratory of Jeffrey Rack, Ohio University associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Jason Bourke, a graduate student in biological sciences, is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in biological sciences at Ohio University. He is conducting research on how nasal cavity shape in dinosaurs and their modern relatives impacts air flow and physiology in these animals.

Bourke is a member of the Golden Key International Honours Society and has previously published his scientific findings in the internationally prominent journal PLoS ONE. He has conducted research at the University of New South Wales and currently is a research assistant in the laboratory of Lawrence Witmer, Chang Professor of Paleontology and professor of anatomy in Ohio University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Ben Wegenhart graduated in 2008 with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and chemistry. He will use the NSF fellowship to continue his graduate studies on the use of metal catalysts for the production of renewable energy from biomass at Purdue University.

While at Ohio University, Wegenhart conducted undergraduate research with former faculty member Liwei Chen and current faculty Marcia Kieliszewski in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The team examined the structure of plant cell walls using atomic force microscopy, resulting in a publication in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Joseph Paxton graduated in 2006 from the Honors Tutorial College with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. He will use the fellowship to continue a doctoral degree in psychology at Harvard University.

While at Ohio University, Paxton initially participated in research on risk-taking behavior in the laboratory of Julie Suhr, associate professor of psychology, and then switched focus to study the philosophy of ethics in tutorials with Department of Philosophy Chair Arthur Zucker and former philosophy faculty member Tad Zawidzki. Paxton now is conducting research on moral decision making and honesty, and recently published a journal article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He plans to work for the federal government or a public policy think tank, conducting experiments intended to help reform governmental policies on the penal system, intelligence gathering and other morally-relevant issues.

In addition, three former Ohio University students received honorable mentions from the National Science Foundation this year: Tod Grusenmeyer, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2009, is now studying at Tulane University; Mike Lorek, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 2009, is now studying at University of California at Berkeley; and Daniel Hoy, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 2008, is now studying at Ohio State University.

Last year, Ohio University had one successful applicant to the NSF program, Nick Engerer, who graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in geography. He now is pursuing graduate work at the University of Oklahoma. Wegenhart, Grusenmeyer and five other students received honorable mentions in 2009: Annette Ratcliff (biological sciences, now at Case Western Reserve University), Liz Nalepa (mathematics, now at University of Virginia), Breanna Harris (biological sciences, now at University of California at Riverside), Terry Caston (physics, now at Georgia Tech), and Jillian Davis (biological sciences, continuing studies at Ohio University).

“NSF fellowships allow students incredible flexibility in selecting their graduate school, as the NSF package can transfer to almost any university, and their career path,” Malé-Brune said. “Having an NSF fellowship is a huge achievement.”

Since the program’s inception in 1952, the NSF has supported 46,500 fellows. Thirty of the fellows became Nobel Laureates and 440 became members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ohio University students interested in participating in the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program should contact Malé-Brune (, Lauren McMills ( or Mark McMills ( no later than fall, as applications are due in early November.

Students can view an informational presentation about preparing for the fellowship at

In addition, Sheryl Tucker, NSF program officer, will present a colloquium at 4 p.m., Monday, May 17 in Walter 135. 

By Andrea Gibson

Editor’s note: Justin Henthorn and Jason Bourke will present their research at the 2010 Student Research and Creative Activity Expo, noon to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, at the Convocation Center.