2022-2023 Illinois Scholars

The Illinois Chapter of ARCS® Foundation has granted awards to a total of nine scholars for academic year 2022-2023.  These scholars were selected from the five institutions that are our Chapter's Academic Partners:

Awards were presented at the Scholar Awards Event held on November 2, 2022.

Our Academic Partners  identify qualified scholars  who then go through a detailed vetting process before they are matched with  those donors who support named scholars, or before they are chosen to be awarded from the general Scholar Award Fund.  This year and in recent years, each scholar receives an annual award for a maximum of three years, and becomes a welcome member of the ARCS Illinois family.

Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine
Rasa Valiauga

MD/PhD in Neuroscience
ARCS Foundation Scholar

My research is focused on the molecular mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases. My dissertation work is investigating the role of diet in the progression of Alzheimer's disease, specifically as it relates to inflammation. Our laboratory has developed a caspase-1 biosensor mouse model, which allows us to visualize the activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome in living animals. This grants me the ability to track changes in peripheral and central inflammation over time, and to monitor the progression of Alzheimer's disease as the rodent diet is modified.

Northwestern University
head shot of Bakare Awakoaiye
Bakare Awakoaiye

MD/PhD in Microbiology-Immunology
The Brinson Foundation / ARCS Foundation Scholar

My research investigates the immune response and protection provided by combining different types of vaccines targeting the same virus.

Head shot of Hendryck Gellineau
Hendryck Gellieneau

MD/PhD in Chemistry
Helen V. Brach Foundation / ARCS Foundation Scholar

My work focuses on using metal-based drugs, specifically cobalt complexes, as new antibiotics.

The University of Chicago
head shot of Alexandra Hanselman
Alexandra Hanselman

PhD in Physics
The Brinson Foundation / ARCS Foundation Scholar

My research simulates theoretical black hold images using a computationally-inexpensive two-parameter model to simulate emission of the accretion disk, which is the gas and matter that orbits the black hole and emits light. Using this model, we develop a prescription to relate observed features to phenomenological characteristics, and then can compare our model-generated images to the images collected by the Event Horizon Telescope.

head shot of Sofia Sheikh
Sofia Sheihk

PhD in Ecology and Evolution
The Brinson Foundation / ARCS Foundation Scholar

Most biological diversity has been generated through small tweaks or "co-opting" of ancient genes rather than the evolution of entirely new genes. My work explores the mechanistic basis for how genes gain new functions while retaining their ancestral ones, using the classic case of gene co-option: doublesex-mediated mimicry in Papilio swallowtail butterflies. I am investigating how dsx modulates gene networks to produce dramatic phenotypic variations between morphs.

William Koval

PhD in Ecology and Evolution  

The Brinson Foundation / ARCS  Foundation Scholar

My research focuses on the question of how genetic variability affects incidence of a fatal, naturally occurring insect virus in Douglas-fir tussock moth populations. Douglas-fir tussock moth is a destructive pest of ecologically and economically important timber in the Pacific Northwest, where I have collected data on the rates at which tussock moth caterpillars are killed by two virus strains. Although the two strains compete fiercely to infect caterpillars, I have shown that coexistence occurs across various forests. My data directly contradict standard epidemiological models, which predict that ecologically similar pathogens cannot coexist. By understanding virus coexistence, and constructing more accurate predictive models, I hope to advance both disease ecology and forest health protection.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Breanna Lucero

PhD in Astronomy
Aileen S. Andrew / ARCS Foundation Scholar

I do research in observational cosmology. Currently, I am analyzing images of AGN (active galactic nuclei) whose light has been warped by a large mass - a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Such lensing means that we have multiple images of the same object observed by the telescope. We can determine the spectra of individual images to infer information about the physical system of that lens, which in turn allows us to constrain values of important cosmological parameters such as the Hubble constant H0. H0 characterizes the expansion of the universe.

Jason Karakehian

PhD in Plant Biology
ARCS Foundation Scholar

My research is in the systematics, taxonomy and ecology of several unrelated groups of wood-decaying microfungi that inhabit dead, suspended branches and twigs of broadleaved and coniferous trees. This is a harsh habitat to occupy because these substrates are poor in nutrients, often desiccated, and are frequently exposed to damaging ultraviolet radiation. As an ecological group, these fungi are interesting because they have evolved similar morphological and physiological traits. These include the production of long-lived, tiny, spore-producing bodies that are erumpent through dead wood or bark. Some are highly melanized and open like clam shells after rainfall to discharge large spores. Many of these fungi are slow-growing, and it is suspected that they may be latent decayers – persisting within the tissues of living, apparently healthy trees until these senesce, whereupon these fungi begin to proliferate and capture territory for nutrition and sporulation. Even though some of these fungi are ubiquitous denizens of temperate Northern and Southern Hemisphere forests, they remain understudied. My research will update their nomenclature, provide useful keys to species, and elucidate their evolutionary relationships using gene-based phylogenetic methods. With this stabilized taxonomy, I will then be positioned to use these fungi to study selection pressures on spore size and shape, and to broadly explore the ecological role that they play in the forested landscape.

Illinois Institute of Technology
head shot of Sarah Vavrek
Sarah Vavrek

PhD in Biomedical Engineering

Pat and John Anderson ARCS Foundation Scholar

My research is on the development of image-based biomarkers for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness. We are developing the dynamic tracer kinetic model method to quantify retinal vascular permeability and volumetric blood flow from images and videos taken from scanning laser ophthalmoscopy.