Four Notre Dame Science students earn NSF fellowships for graduate study

Author: Deanna Csomo Ferrell

Four Notre Dame Science students earn NSF fellowships for graduate study

One undergraduate and three graduate students in the College of Science have received National Science Foundation (NSF) fellowships that will help fund their graduate studies.

Miles Audrey Feature
Audrey Miles

The students include Audrey Miles, a senior undergraduate chemistry major with a concentration in computing and a supplementary major in theology; Cade Dembski, a first-year physics graduate student; Isabella Gimon, a second-year computational biology graduate student, and Emma Thrift, a second-year biology graduate student.

Cade Dembski
Cade Dembski

“The NSF fellowship is the country’s oldest graduate fellowship program that supports graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines,” said Santiago Schnell, the William K. Warren Foundation Dean of the College of Science, who is also a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Applied and Computational Statistics and Mathematics. “These students have received one the most highly regarded fellowships in basic science, and have already demonstrated a high level of skill in and passion for the field of study at Notre Dame.”

2022 Gimon Isabella Gem University Of Notre Dame Phd Candidate Computational Biology
Isabella Gimon

Miles works in the laboratory of Amy Hixon, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences in the College of Engineering. Miles’ work investigates cation interactions with chemical compounds called uranyl polyoxometalates. The purpose of the research is to minimize the environmental consequences of nuclear power generation and improve nuclear waste management by developing less energy-intensive and toxic separations techniques for elements like uranium and plutonium. 

Miles will study at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, next year as a Churchill Scholar, and plans to begin her NSF fellowship the following fall at the University of California, Irvine. Miles is also a Glynn Family Honors Scholar and a Goldwater Scholar.

“I am most excited for the freedom that this fellowship provides to pursue my own research ideas under the guidance of world-class faculty,” she said about the NSF fellowship.

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Emma Thrift

Dembski works in the laboratory of Daniel Bardayan, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His research focuses on nuclear reactions that occur in extreme astrophysical objects, like neutron stars. The properties of specific reactions are important to how astronomers determine other characteristics, such as size and mass, of these objects from the signals they send to telescopes. An in-depth understanding of these astrophysical nuclear processes is also key to determining how all of the elements of the Periodic Table came to exist in the Universe today.

Dembski is also an Arthur J. Schmitt Fellow at Notre Dame. 

“The NSF contributes so much to fundamental science research in the United States, and I can remember watching NSF-funded science TV shows before I even started school,” Dembski said. “To be recognized by an institution that has been a part of my past and will be a part of my future in science is very exciting at this stage of my career.”

Gimon works in the Schnell laboratory and studies protein aggregation, which occurs when proteins cluster in an abnormal way, often making them insoluble and potentially leading to a variety of diseases, including ALS and Alzheimer’s. She previously earned a fellowship for her graduate studies from the National GEM Consortium, a nonprofit organization founded at the University of Notre Dame in 1976 to support students who are pursuing graduate studies in applied science and engineering.

She said she is pleased and honored to have been awarded this competitive fellowship, adding, “there are many incredible scientists here, and these fellowships help recognize the fantastic scientific community present at Notre Dame.” 

Thrift works in the lab of Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. In addition to this NSF fellowship, Thrift currently serves as the Co-President of Notre Dame’s Science Policy Initiative, and was previously awarded the NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship for conservation research.

She studies how various agricultural practices and environmental conditions like manure management, nutrients, and light availability impact the transport dynamics of antimicrobial resistant genes in agricultural streams.

She also researches how drainage water management structures on the edge of farm fields impact flow and nutrient loading into streams.

“I am most excited for the opportunity and flexibility to conduct innovative research within the field of antimicrobial resistance,” Thrift said about her plans for her fellowship.

In addition to Miles, Dembski, Gimon, and Thrift, four Notre Dame alumni also received NSF fellowships. These include Molly DeLuca ‘22,, Marie McCusker ‘19, Kimberly Riordan ‘21, and Noah Springer ‘21.

Patrick Heffernan, a graduate student in the lab of Jason Rohr, the Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla College Professor & Department Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences, received an honorable mention from the NSF.


Originally published by Deanna Csomo Ferrell at on April 21, 2023.