URI Division of Research and Economic Development, URI Ventures announce Research, Scholarship and Intellectual Property Awards

Awards honor outstanding students, faculty and staff

Media Contact: Dawn Bergantino, 401-874-4147 |
The URI Research, Scholarship and Intellectual Property Excellence Awards Ceremony, May 1, 2019. URI Photo/Michael Salerno

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2019 – The University of Rhode Island Division of Research and Economic Development and URI Ventures recently honored 10 members of the URI community during its Research, Scholarship and Intellectual Property Excellence Awards Ceremony. Awards were presented by University President David M. Dooley and Peter J. Snyder, URI vice president for Research and Economic Development and URI Ventures chair. Joining them was Michael E. Katz, URI associate vice president of intellectual property and economic development and executive director of URI Ventures, as well as Thomas Boving, professor in URI’s department of Geosciences and member of the URI Faculty Senate Committee for Research and Creative Activities.

Awards were presented to outstanding students, faculty and staff.

Undergraduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Nazaret Suazo
Department of Psychology
As an undergraduate, Nazaret Suazo has been responsible for a wide range of research tasks, such as community recruitment, screening and interviewing study participants, entering and coding research data. Her motivation, work ethic, passion for research, and writing ability have gained her recognition among her professors and colleagues, and led to a promotion. As project manager, she oversees the work of undergraduate and graduate research assistants in the psychology research lab. From Providence, Suazo has been a tremendous asset due to her ability to connect with study participants, showing great compassion for women who experience domestic violence and substance use, and developing a safe culture in the lab.

She has contributed to the development of manuscripts, including a first-author paper examining the role of gender in the relation between PTSD and emotional expressivity. She has also co-authored several publications examining racial, ethnic differences in positive emotion dysregulation and substance misuse, as well as exploring the moderating role of gender in associations between emotional avoidance and substance misuse. She has presented research posters at national, regional, and local conferences. In addition, she has served as a teaching assistant for an introductory-level psychology course, as an interpreter for clinical psychology doctoral students at the Providence Community Health Centers, and as a youth teacher and mentor.

Undergraduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Rachel Carley
Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Rachel Carley’s work as an undergraduate for the past four years in the Rhode Island Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Laboratory at URI had included 3D printing and visualization. In 2017, she was a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship student. She engaged in several research projects and presented her work, investigating how the human body can repair its DNA more efficiently. The West Greenwich native’s project was to synthesize the DNA adduct (FAAF), incorporate it into DNA and to purify it. She has developed a method to purify and completely separate the modified DNA using high-performance liquid chromatography. She was recently a co-author on a paper published in Molecule.

Calrey also won the prestigious national fellowship, the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education Gateway Scholarship and the URI “Think Big” Undergraduate Research Competition. This semester, Carley earned a URI Undergraduate Research Funding award for the use of surface plasmon resonance to study the protein binding properties of PFASs. Her professors believe that with her drive, intelligence and ability to convey scientific topics to the public, that she will develop into an exceptional scientist and research leader.

Graduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Shannon Forkus
Department of Psychology
Prior to coming to URI, Shannon Forkus, of Leyard, Connecticut, worked as a mental health specialist in the Army where she received extensive training working with military personnel exposed to combat stressors. Forkus completed her master’s degree at URI in psychology, with a concentration in behavioral science. She has since enrolled in the University’s Clinical Psychology Ph.D. Program, where she has been focused on improving the emotional and behavioral health outcomes of military veterans.

Forkus’ program of research focuses on understanding the processes that underlie military trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, and risky behaviors. Military veterans exhibit heightened rates of emotional and behavioral health problems compared to other trauma-exposed populations. Yet, relatively limited research literature examines the cause, course, and treatment of emotional and behavioral health problems among this group. During her time at URI, she has produced five first-author publications, nine co-author publications, one book chapter, and several conference presentations filling a critical need while also advancing theory, policy, service provision, and future lines of study, and making difference in the quality of care that veterans receive.

Graduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Zhiqiang Wan
Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering
Zhiqiang Wan’s research developing artificial intelligence includes a Visual Question Answering System that helps visually impaired users to know the world around them and provides assistance by allowing them to ask questions about their surroundings and generating answers based on its interpretations of the surroundings.

The Nan Chang, China native has also developed a Robot-Assisted Pedestrian Crowd Regulation System that can help to avoid accidents in densely populated areas. The system helps to avoid the buildup of crowd pressure and significantly improve safety. In addition to being an author or co-author on numerous papers in top-tier journals and conferences, and having one patent under review, he has also received the IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting (PESGM) Best Paper Award in 2018, a prestigious award that recognizes his outstanding research contributions.

Research Staff Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Kelly Addy Lowder
Department of Natural Resources Science
As a research associate, Coventry’s Kelly Addy Lowder is a leader in training and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in the URI Watershed Hydrology Lab. She has mentored more than 30 undergraduates between the URI Coastal Fellows Program and National Science Foundation programs. As a URI master’s degree graduate, she has continued to publish work in academic journals, with 27 peer-reviewed papers to date, seven as lead author, and several currently in review.

In addition to serving as a Grant Proposal Review Panel member for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Water Quality Program, lead writer of content for the National Water Quality Program, and planning committee member and reviewer of papers emerging from the American Water Resources Association Conference on Riparian Ecosystems and Buffers, Lowder has helped shepherd the organization and has been instrumental in obtaining more than $10 million of external grants and has twice received the Outstanding Reviewer Award of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Early Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Assistant Professor Nicole H. Weiss, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
Nicole H. Weiss, of Johnston, is an assistant professor of psychology and director of the Study of Trauma, Risk-taking, Emotions, and Stress Symptoms (STRESS) Lab. Her research examines the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and risky behaviors, most notably substance use and HIV/sexual behavior.

She serves as the lead researcher on an $800,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that evaluates the role of emotion regulation in the relationship of PTSD to substance use and HIV/sexual risk behaviors among community women who experience domestic violence. As an early stage investigator, she has already made impressive contributions to the field of traumatic stress, authoring more than 70 peer-reviewed publications and being recognized by several early career awards, including a Rising Star Award from the Association for Psychological Science and Clinical Research Loan Repayment and Early Researcher Travel Awards from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She has 20 manuscripts under review, has made 39 symposia and 61 poster presentations, serves on the editorial board for multiple journals and as a reviewer for more than 30 journals.

Early Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Assistant Professor Austin Humphries, Ph.D.
Department of Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Sciences
Since joining URI three years ago, Assistant Professor Austin Humphries has received 16 grants totaling more than $4.2 million. His research focus is on ecosystem-based management and fisheries in the United States, Africa and Asia. Originally from Roanoke, Virginia, he instills collaborative learning in his research methodology. He understands the need to take a holistic approach to studying how fisheries and ecosystems interact, including change and its impact within and among species, habitats, and coastal communities. He works directly with fishers and resource managers and has been invited to give dozens of seminars at universities, government agencies, and fishing groups around the world.

Humphries was named the regional director for the newly funded U.S. Agency for International Development Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish because of his leadership experience in Kenya. He is an Early Career Fellow at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and serves as the Northeast Chair for the American Fisheries Society’s Policy Program. He was also invited to testify at the U.S. Senate Committee of Appropriations in 2017 to talk about the most urgent needs for fisheries funding and management.

Advanced Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Professor Emi Uchida, Ph.D. and Director, Coastal Institute
Department of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
Professor Emi Uchida’s research in Asia, Africa, and the United States builds a more sustainable world, while simultaneously protecting standards of living and mitigating poverty in developing nations. Her research develops solutions that simultaneously reduce poverty while conserving and enhancing the environment which is as important as it is difficult because environmental programs often face tradeoffs with economic development interests. Uchida, who comes from Yokohama, Japan, started her scholarly work with a series of studies evaluating a large-scale conservation incentive program to protect forests in rural China.

Recently, Uchida’s understanding of cutting-edge economic analyses combined with her capacity to unite large groups of people resulted in the 2018 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences article, which was a comparative analysis of New England’s 7,500 dams. She brought together the expertise of fisheries biologists, hydropower engineers, water quality specialists and social scientists. Her work in Tanzania, also published by PNAS, has helped increase understanding of how to protect the coastal mangroves that are an essential source of cooking fuel, building homes, and fish nursery habitat. These same fisheries provide employment and food for the communities. She has also led economic experiments to explore landowner incentives to improve water quality and conserve habitat for hayfield nesting birds in southern New England. Professor Uchida has received nearly $4 million in externally funded grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Advanced Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Professor Rainer Lohmann, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Oceanography
As an organic geochemist, Professor Rainer Lohman is interested in the global transport, fate, detection and bioavailability of persistent organic pollutants and black carbon – contaminants that are grave threats to ecology, water quality, and human health. In his effort to free the world of pollutants, the Narragansett resident been awarded more than 50 highly competitive research awards totaling more than $15 million. Among them, the Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effect of PFASs (STEEP) award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is a collaborative effort with partners from URI, Harvard University, and Silent Spring Institute to combat long-lived chemical pollutants that contaminate our drinking water, food webs and the world’s oceans. His commitment and leadership ensured the success of STEEP even while initially on sabbatical as a visiting fellow during the fall and spring.

Lohmann has 125 publications – cited over 5,000 times – participated in 10 research cruises, over 200 conference presentations, and recently gave keynote speeches at the Eco-Forum, Australia and the Microplastics conference, Italy. He has served as major professor for 22 URI graduate students. His research group has advised 22 undergraduates from URI and 14 from other institutions. He has served as the external graduate examiner for 23 graduate students from URI and internationally.

Intellectual Property Excellence Award
Associate Professor Mindy Levine, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry
In addition to running an interdisciplinary research program at the interface of supramolecular, organic, and analytical chemistry, Associate Professor Mindy Levine’s work on chemical sensor development has led to several invention disclosures and two patent applications this year alone. In 2019, the Sharon, Massachusetts resident led the development of two technologies that will have a positive impact on the environment. The first technology is a novel metal-organic complex that removes various toxicants that have recently been identified as potential environmental hazards and have been found in drinking water. This material can be used to make robust, cost-effective water filtration systems to produce healthier drinking water.

Using novel coupling chemistry, she also developed a new, sensitive, cellulose paper-based method for detecting low levels of nitrate and nitrite in wastewater. She collaborated with other researchers to incorporate this technology into a lateral flow test strip for nitrate detection. Levine has also created an inexpensive colorimetric method to detect hydrocarbon pollutants. In addition to her invention disclosures and patent applications, she also runs an annual Chemistry Camp for Rhode Island middle school girls interested in science.