Montana State University

Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowship Recipients


Alayna Caffrey, Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology & Immunology
Caffrey researches the early immune response against Aspergillus fumigatus, a common mold that can be found in soil or compost piles. The mold causes severe lung infections in people with weakened immune systems, perhaps compromised by leukemia, chemotherapy or organ transplants. The death rate from Aspergillus fumigatus ranges from 30 to 90 percent, depending on the population. To help lower that percentage and understand what goes wrong in weakened immune systems, Caffrey studies healthy immune systems to see how they respond to Aspergillus fumigatus. She has discovered that a molecule called IL-la is critical for recruiting white blood cells to an infection site. Read more...
Daniel Willems, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Willems studies lipid abnormalities in Alzheimer's disease (AD), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and Type 2 diabetes, all which may be related to disregulation of metabolism. Lipid disregulation has been implicated in many brain disorders such as AD, Parkinson's, depression and anxiety. Willems has developed an effective set of protocols to extract and analyze the lipid fraction of metabolites found in many tissues. By applying these techniques to human brain tissue, he can search for early biomarkers of the development of Alzheimer's disease. Further, he hopes to be able to detect these biomarkers in blood plasma at relevant levels and early detection in blood would be a key to better treatment and prolonged life. Read more...


Tamra Heberling, Ph.D. candidate in Mathematics
Heberling’s research focuses on mathematical modeling and numerical analysis. She is currently modeling transcription, which is the first step of gene expression when a particular segment of DNA is copied into RNA by the enzyme RNA polymerase. During transcription, RNA polymerases are known to frequently pause for short lengths of time. In the high density setting, where there are many polymerases transcribing the gene in a line, the transcriptional pauses can cause a “traffic jam” of polymerases on the DNA strand. A mathematical analysis of this phenomenon will lead to a greater understanding of the cause and effect of these pauses on gene expression and regulation. Read more...
Pilar Manrique, Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology
Manrique studies the role of viruses in shaping the structure and function of the bacterial communities associated with the human gut. Changes in the gut microbiome composition and structure negatively impact human health, and correlate with important diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Her research focuses on defining the role of viruses associated with the human gut microbiome in affecting human health and disease. She has isolated viruses from human samples, directly sequenced the isolated viral genomes, and applied advance bioinformatics analysis to understand the viral community composition and temporal dynamics in the human gut. Read more...


Timothy Hamerly, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Timothy Hamerly has developed a novel method for isolating small molecules from complex solutions using serum albumin, a protein found in the blood stream that transports a wide variety of small molecules throughout the body. His method greatly reduces the number of molecules seen by a mass spectrometer, resulting in decreased time spent analyzing data and increased rates of biomarker discovery. Hamerley’s assay has also been used to differentiate stressed animals that have undergone hemorrhagic shock (massive blood loss) from healthy animals in a rapid manner. Read more...
Nicholas Dotson, Ph.D. candidate in Neuroscience
Nick Dotson studies how different areas of the brain interact during working memory. This is accomplished by recording neural activity from non-human primates that are performing a working memory task. Deficits in working memory are a hallmark of many cognitive disorders, such as schizophrenia, and this type of work is crucial for the development of better treatments and diagnostic tools. The results of his research, which shows that that the patterns of synchronization between the prefrontal and posterior parietal cortex retain information in working memory, were recently reported in the journal Science. Read more...
Sydney Akapame, Ph.D. candidate in Statistics
Sydney Akapame’s research is focused on the optimal design of nonlinear models, which are models with exponents, logarithms or other complicated functions of the independent variable and parameters, for biostatistical applications. His work has been applied to the design of optimal experiments for testing compartmental models of drug absorption rates in pharmacokinetic studies, as well as models used to study chemical reactions that are catalyzed by enzymes and logistic models used in many pharmaceutical applications. Read more...


Joshua Heinemann, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Joshua Heinemann studies metabolism, and is focused on developing technology that will allow researchers to measure changes in metabolism in “real-time” using microfluidics and mass spectrometry. Using this technology living cells are processed and directly measured for changes associated with disease and stress. Development of this technology is important for preemptive treatment or intervention of disease. Microfluidic technology also has the advantages of low cost components and biocompatibility allowing direct integration into a living system. Read more...
Shefah Qazi, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Shefah Qazi works with P22 virus-like particles as next-generation diagnostic tools for medical resonance imaging (MRI) of cardiovascular diseases. Her research focuses on modifying the interior and exterior surfaces of P22 virus-like particles for both encapsulation of small molecule imaging agents and targeted delivery of these agents to diseased tissues. The P22 platform demonstrates a significant increase in contrast over clinically used MRI contrast agents. This research may lead to earlier detection and treatment of cardiovascular related diseases. Read more...


Alison O'Neil, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Alison O'Neil works with protein shells, which are found in diverse organisms and may provide blueprints for functional nano- and biomaterials design. Specifically, her research is focused on the development of a new class of bio-inspired materials that use the directed confinement of enzymes (or other proteins) within viral protein cage assemblies. While the encapsulated enzymes retain their native catalytic activity, the protein cage can be separately optimized as a container. These nano-reactors have varied applications in biomedicine and energy production. Read more...
Amy Servid, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Amy Servid is part of a team of researchers using protein cage nanoparticles to provide protective immune responses against respiratory viruses. Servid's research focuses on characterizing and modifying these nanoparticles with the goal of understanding how the structure of the nanoparticles relates to their function in vivo. She uses chemical and genetic modifications to design nanoparticles that display antigens or targeting molecules. This research provides a foundation for the design of nanoparticles that offer enhanced protection against influenza and other respiratory viruses. Read more...


Jonas Mulder-Rosi, Ph.D. candidate in Cell Biology & Neuroscience
Jonas Mulder-Rosi is studying how the functions of nerve cells depend upon their shapes and intrinsic biochemical properties. This research will assess how the normal healthy functioning of a nerve cell is determined by various structural and biophysical properties, which is a significant consideration from basic and clinical perspectives. Mr. Mulder-Rosi will use his fellowship to purchase computer hardware needed for his research and to attend conferences to present his results.


Crystal Richards, Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology
Crystal Richards’ research is focused on water and biofilms as an exposure pathway to pathogenic bacteria, including Helicobacter pylori, on the Crow Indian Reservation. This research will provide useful data to the Crow Reservation about drinking water quality, and increase understanding of H. pylori physiology in drinking water. She used her fellowship to attend an international conference, and to purchase supplies and books to support her research.
Travis Harris, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Travis Harris’ research is focused on understanding the intimate details of biological nitrogen fixation, which could lead to improved agricultural fertilizers that are more sustainable and less destructive to the environment. Mr. Harris used his fellowship to collaborate with researchers in Utah, to attend the International Conference on Biological Inorganic Chemistry in Japan, and to purchase computer hardware allowing him to perform work while away from campus.


Sunshine Silver, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Sunshine Silver used her fellowship to study an enzyme found in spore-forming bacteria. The enzyme enhances the bacteria’s resistance to ultraviolet light, making it very difficult to kill these organisms which can threaten human health with a number of diseases.
Ramon Tusell, Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry & Biochemistry
Ramon Tusell used his fellowship to develop techniques for modeling protein functions in the human body. Each human gene codes for a specific protein molecule (chain of amino acids) that performs a specific task, but how the proteins achieve these tasks is not well-understood at the atomic level.