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PhD students named 2021 ARCS Scholars

Alan Flurry

Seven UGA doctoral students have been named 2021 ARCS Scholars by the Office of Research. Amanda Caulfield, Kendall Clay, Christian Freeman, Morgane Golan, Megan Meany, Judith Reyes Ballista and Aarya Venkat will receive $8,000 each for the next three years to support their dissertation research. Four of the seven hail from departments or research areas within the Franklin College:

[Aarya] Venkat, a biochemistry Ph.D. student, is distinguishing how variations in conserved structural elements of an enzyme superfamily, called glycosyltransferases, contribute to changes in the enzyme’s function. One of Venkat’s goals is to connect these critical variations to disease outcomes, generating new targets for drug development.

“Being named an ARCS Foundation scholar is a great honor!” he said. “As a 2021 ARCS scholar, I’m elated to join an organization that prides itself on investing in values like diversity, equity and inclusion. I share that same sentiment and am excited to meet new peers and mentors. The intellectual and cultural exchange between fellow academics will be indispensable to me as I work toward becoming a professor who is committed to equity in the lab, as well as the classroom.”

Christian Freeman, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, is currently analyzing the phospholipids present in Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of bacteria known for growing in antibiotic-resistant infections each year. He hopes to bridge the connection between phospholipid composition, membrane fluidity, and membrane-active antibiotic activity.

“Establishing the purpose of membrane fluidity in antibiotic resistance would shift the playing field for drug delivery in many existing treatments today,” Freeman said. “Being a 2021 ARCS scholar will propel me forward into a new group of researchers who strive to better the world each day. Not only will I be able to dive deeper into external programs that require excess funding, I’ll also be a part of a like-minded group of individuals in which I can grow and communicate to accomplish a better outlook for our future.”

Kendall Clay, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience, is investigating genes that are important for the maintenance and regeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the asexual planarian Schmidtea mediterranea.

“My project has the potential to create a crucial foundation for the biological underpinnings of nervous system regeneration. This work can be applied not only to basic science, but also to human health, specifically Parkinson’s disease,” Clay said. “I am honored to be selected as a 2021 ARCS scholar and to be able to inspire others to pursue STEM education through my research and outreach.”

Megan Meany, a Ph.D. candidate in genetics, is investigating the genetic mechanisms underlying sex determination and gonad differentiation in the brown anole lizard Anolis sagrei. This research will be the beginning steps to large-scale comparative genomic studies and will reveal which aspects of anole sex determination and evolution are shared with humans.

Congratulations to all of the ARCS scholars on this well-deserved honor. Keep up the great work and best of luck in your research endeavors.

Image: UGA doctoral students (top, left to right) Amanda Caulfield, Kendall Clay, Christian Freeman, Megan Meany, (bottom, left to right) Morgane Golan, Judith Reyes Ballista and Aarya Venkat.

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