Please join us in congratulating the

2024 Research and Scholarship
Excellence Awards Recipients

For their commitment to their studies, their College, the University community in general, and for serving as a positive role model and resource to all, The University of Rhode Island recognizes the 2023 Research and Scholarship and Intellectual Property Excellence Award recipients.

Undergraduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Department of Psychology, College of Health Sciences
Mr. Stephen Coutu began as a research assistant in the URI Study of Trauma, Risk-taking, Emotions, and Stress Symptoms (STRESS) Lab in May 2021, after one year was promoted to program manager. He proficiently learned a wide range of complex research duties and participates in tasks typically assigned to graduate students, including conducting interviews with study participants. He has been a tremendous asset with his ability to connect with participants who have experienced trauma and substance use. He doesn’t just show empathy for the people we serve in our research; he genuinely connects to them.

Mr. Coutu was awarded two grants by URI’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Innovation. The first examined risk and protective factors for posttraumatic stress among sexual and gender minorities. The second, examines the role of affect intensity in opioid use and suicide risk among individuals with trauma. He has also served as co-author on several publications and worked with a graduate student to develop a first-author paper and has developed and presented six first-author research posters at national, regional, and local conferences.

Mr. Coutu has been recognized by URI with several fellowships and awards. Including a Rhode Island IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Special Fellow in 2022 and 2023 and received acceptance into their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship+ Program in 2023. He was also awarded the Outstanding Contributions to Psychology award in both his junior and senior years of undergraduate studies.

He has accomplished all of this while maintaining a 3.92 GPA while engaged in other training, including serving as a teaching assistant for a psychology course. His professors have been impressed by his motivation, work ethic, passion for research, and leadership. His warmth and compassion in all his interactions have contributed in meaningful ways to the welcoming and safe culture of the lab.


Undergraduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
Ms. Anna Cetera has demonstrated extraordinary research achievements and scholarly excellence throughout her undergraduate journey. She has maintained academic excellence while actively engaging in high-impact research. Her major professor, Yan Sun said: “I have not encountered another undergraduate student with such a strong research achievement and publication record.”

Ms. Cetera’s research accomplishments, evidenced by her eight conference presentations and publication, highlight her talent and commitment to advancing knowledge in her field. Notably, her work as a sophomore on the development of a motor-assisted therapy bike for patients with Parkinson’s Disease, presented and published at the 2022 IEEE MIT Undergraduate Research Technology Conference, is one example of her impactful contributions to the field.

She volunteered at the Wearable Biosensing Laboratory, focusing on biomedical and neuroscience fields. Her involvement in the Translational Neurorobotics Laboratory further fueled her curiosity for developing brain-computer interface systems and assistive neurorobotic devices. Her contributions to constructing hardware platforms and developing machine learning pipelines for collecting real-time brainwaves during complex tasks are impressive.

As an integrated, bilingual student in the International Engineering Program, she spent a year in Spain at the Controls Engineering Group, University of Cantabria where she developed a computer vision-based robotic intelligent picking system for objects arranged randomly. In her Senior Capstone Project, she was crucial in developing real-time data acquisition/signal processing platforms for neuroscientific research and neurological rehabilitation.

Her research achievements have been recognized through various fellowships and awards, including the RI-INBRE/NIH Spring and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships. She received a Research Travel Award, representing URI at the 2023 Society for Neuroscience Conference.

Ms. Cetera is a recipient of the highly competitive 2024-2025 Tau Beta Pi Graduate Fellowship. She will pursue an MS in electrical engineering at URI, focusing on real-time systems and neural networks to advance noninvasive Brain Computer Interface (BCI) systems. With aspirations to earn a Ph.D. in BCI development, she plans to establish her own laboratory to provide support and mentorship to aspiring students.


Graduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Department of Psychology, College of Health Sciences
Mr. Emmanuel Thomas is a Ph.D. candidate in the clinical psychology program at URI. His research aims to identify culturally informed risk and protective factors for trauma, trauma-related psychopathology, and alcohol use among racially minoritized individuals. Since entering the program in 2019, Mr. Thomas has been quite productive, amassing 17 peer-reviewed publications, with eight manuscripts under review. Additionally, he has presented nine symposia and 36 research posters, primarily at national or international conferences.

In 2023, Mr. Thomas was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award F31 from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism titled, Micro-longitudinal Examination of the Association between Depression and Alcohol Misuse among Black Adults: Proximal Risk and Protective Factors. An F31 is the most prestigious grant awarded to clinical psychology students and signals exceptionally strong promise for a successful research career. Mr. Thomas’s F31 advances his research program by leveraging cutting-edge methods and data analytic techniques to understand how an exacerbation in racial stressors and trauma may increase immediate risk for alcohol use. This novel and exciting research has high potential for public health impact.

Mr. Thomas has proven himself to be an exceptional mentor to undergraduate and early graduate students. So far, he has served as a research supervisor to 12 undergraduate research assistants in the URI Study of Trauma, Risk-taking, Emotions, and Stress Symptoms (STRESS) Lab. As a research supervisor, he facilitates presentations on professional development related to the field of clinical psychology, provides guidance and instruction regarding lab-related research tasks, oversees independent research projects, and delivers feedback on research products. To date, the undergraduate students he has mentored have presented a total of eight first-author research posters at conferences and developed a first-author manuscript published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Lastly, Mr. Thomas has accomplished all of this and more while successfully completing program milestones and maintaining a 3.98 GPA.


Graduate Student Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences
Ms. Leah Rynearson has investigated novel electrolytes and electrolyte-electrode interactions for lithium-ion batteries. Her research required significant collaboration within her professor’s lab and with researchers in national laboratories. She excelled within these collaborations and is well respected by external collaborators. She is seen as a leader in the field of electrochemical energy storage.

During her time at URI, Ms. Rynearson has worked on a variety of projects to further improve the energy density of lithium-ion batteries with the end goal of creating a better battery for electric vehicles. This was mainly done by building batteries with silicon anodes or cycling standard cells to high voltages. A wide variety of analytical chemistry techniques were then performed to correlate how different chemical species and properties identified in the cell can lead to improvements in battery performance for further application use. This has resulted in six presentations at conferences and the publication of eleven articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals including Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed. and ACS Energy Letters.

Outside of her research, Ms. Rynearson has also been successful in academics, earning a 3.94 GPA at URI. Her attention to detail and focus on her coursework has led to her receiving multiple departmental awards for her academic excellence including the Victor Baxt Chemistry Scholarship and Milton Waltcher Memorial Endowment Scholarship.

In her role as a teaching assistant for the department of chemistry, she went the extra mile to help her students and still maintained high expectations for participation and engagement across the wide variety of classes she was entrusted to teach. Because of her excellence, Ms. Rynearson has been selected to help train new teaching assistants in the department on proper lab instruction for three years in a row. She continues to perform this service even as she has a Research Assistantship, which is especially remarkable.


Student Intellectual Property Excellence Award
Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering  
Mr. Vignesh Ravichandran exemplifies remarkable scholarly excellence and technical innovation. He is a Ph.D. student researcher working in the URI Wearable Biosensing Lab under the mentorship of Professor Kunal Mankodiya. He has recently completed requirements for the Graduate Certificate in Neuroscience. Currently, he’s involved with a team at UMass Chan Medical, supported by an NIH R01 grant, to create wearable devices to monitor withdrawal symptoms in people dealing with opioid use disorder. This effort is part of his broader mission to make health monitoring tools more user-friendly and effective.

During his master’s studies at URI, Mr. Ravichandran designed smart gloves to track motor symptoms in Parkinson’s Disease patients, aiding the remote assessment of medication effects. This project led to his current initiative, “Custom-Fit Smart Clothing,” which is under patent process in the U.S. The aim is to integrate personalized smart clothing technology seamlessly into everyday wear.

Mr. Ravichandran has authored several research papers, including nine journal articles and seven conference papers, which have collectively garnered over 345 citations. His notable work published in MDPI Biosensors focuses on enhancing the functionality of textile-based sensors. Beyond his technical pursuits, Vignesh has mentored several undergraduate students and teams at URI, guiding them in the development of various healthcare technologies. This mentoring role reflects his commitment to education and his desire to foster new talent in the field of health technology.

In addition to research and mentoring, Mr. Ravichandran has ventured into entrepreneurship through the URI Launch Lab Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program’s and by winning the Launch Lab pitch contest in 2022. He aims to transform his research into practical solutions that improve people’s health. Combining his technical expertise with a practical approach, Mr. Ravichandran focuses on innovations that have real-world applications. He is dedicated to advancing health technology, aiming to improve care outcomes and enhance quality of life through wearable innovations.


Research and Scholarship Staff Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Graduate School of Oceanography 
Dr. Corinna Breusing joined URI-GSO in 2018 as a Postdoctoral Researcher and became a Marine Research Associate in 2022. Through her expertise in animal and microbial biology, she has made significant breakthroughs in understanding the ecology and evolution of marine animals and microbes. Her use of genomic data to address research questions is unmatched. One of her impressive innovations has been uniquely employing paired host-symbiont population genomics techniques, which are now being adopted by other deep-sea biologists. This novel work has allowed her to reveal ecological and evolutionary patterns that had previously never been observed for these ecosystems. Her work provided the very first evidence for a long-standing, but previously never tested paradigm in the deep-sea biology field, the idea that hydrothermal vent animals associate with locally adapted microbial symbionts. This significant work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a top-ranked, high impact journal.

Dr. Breusing is a prominent and internationally recognized scientist who maintains many research collaborations across North America, Europe, and Asia and has been successful at securing prestigious research grants and contracts. She led a multi-institution research proposal to the Schmidt Ocean Institute which funded a 30-day research cruise to deep-sea hydrothermal vents along the Western Galapagos Spreading Center. She also secured a 2-year contract to work with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on a large-scale genomic sequencing project.

In addition to her scholarship, Dr. Breusing has mentored postdoctoral researchers, graduate, and undergraduate students teaching them both laboratory protocols and computational methods. She served as a guest lecturer, and supported research and training cruises for students and scientists. Dr. Breusing continues to lead multi-institution efforts funded by prestigious philanthropic organizations. Her insightful and impactful work will continue to grow her reputation and URI’s worldwide.


Early Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Departments of Professional and Public Writing, and Natural Resources Science, College of Arts and Sciences, and College of the Environment and Life Sciences 
Assistant Professor Madison Jones has developed a national reputation as a scholar and expert in science writing and environmental rhetoric. He has cultivated partnerships with colleagues from across the university and in local communities throughout the state of Rhode Island, supported by millions of dollars in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

As part of his commitments to the university and local community, he developed the Digital Writing Environments, Location, and Localization (DWELL) Lab as a hub for his research, teaching, and service to foster connections between students and faculty from across disciplines through partnerships with national organizations and local communities.

His dual appointment in Professional and Public Writing and Natural Resources Science is indicative of the collaborative, interdisciplinary, and innovative approach that he brings to his research, teaching, and service. He is interested in the rhetorical role of place in digital science writing and environmental communication, and participatory teamwork is requisite for this area of focus. He is pursuing trailblazing research combining spatial and ecological approaches to rhetoric and writing with emerging media like augmented reality and digital mapping.

Dr. Jones has published 15 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, eight digital media projects, 14 pieces of scholarly and public writing, over 50 poems in literary journals, and has presented at more than 25 refereed international and national conferences.

He has introduced emerging visualization methods and technologies to students. And he challenges students to engage with complex issues in science and technology studies and to communicate those issues and their solutions to diverse audiences. As a result, students and mentees have published their work in high-profile venues such as National Geographic, Metropolitics, and the NCA Environmental Communication Division.


Early Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering 
Assistant Professor Kaushallya Adhikari’s remarkable achievements in array signal processing distinguish her as a leader and pioneer, revolutionizing our approach to national defense. Her research focuses on array signal processing, sparse sampling, estimation theory, detection theory, and information theory, with numerous applications in medical diagnoses, maritime navigation safety, and emergency response systems. Her expertise in Sparse Array Signal Processing has garnered widespread recognition within her field.

Dr. Adhikari has received the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program award, a distinction rarely bestowed award in our university’s history. Her research significantly enhances surveillance, maritime navigation, and emergency response systems, pivotal not only for national defense but also for environmental monitoring and disaster management. These advancements contribute to a safer and more secure world, extending the impact of her work across multiple critical sectors. Her success in securing significant federal grants and the recognition she has garnered through prestigious research publications and awards within the professional community underscore her outstanding contributions and enduring influence in her field. With 40 peer-reviewed articles and significant citation impact, Dr. Adhikari’s research expertise is evident. In recognition of her contributions, she was awarded the prestigious European Association for Signal Processing (EURASIP) Best Paper Award in Signal Processing in 2018.

Her summer fellowships at both the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Air Force Research Lab exemplify her esteemed standing in the field.  She has secured several federal research grants totaling more than $6 million. She has extensive collaborations with Air Force Research Lab, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Dr. Adhikari is also very active in service to her profession. She was recently appointed as the Chair of the IEEE Underwater Acoustic Signal Processing Workshop for a 6-year term. Additionally, she is regularly invited to chair research conference sessions.


Advanced Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities
Department of Education, Feinstein College of Education 
Professor Julie Coiro is an internationally recognized scholar and pioneer in the field of digital literacy. She researches connections between digital literacy, multimodality, reading comprehension, student assessment, and inquiry-based learning. Her groundbreaking 2021 article, “Toward a Multifaceted Heuristic of Digital Reading to Inform Assessment, Research, Practice, and Policy” was the top-cited article for two years running in Reading Research Quarterly, the premier journal for reading researchers.

Dr. Coiro has received 22 different awards for her work. Just a few of those prestigious awards include: Stanford University’s list of the World’s Top 2% of Scientists (2023); Divergent Award for Research Excellence in Literacy in a Digital Age (2023); Erwin Zolt Digital Literacy Game Changers Award (2018), Computers in Reading Research Award (2015); Special Recognition Award from the New England Reading Association (2014); Toil Award from the Kappa Delta Pi International Society in Education (2014); Elva Knight Research Award (2014) from the International Literacy Association, and URI’s Early Career Research Excellence Award (2012). Coiro has also received 11 research grants totaling $4,981,982.

Currently, Dr. Coiro is working with colleagues in Belgium, Finland, and Spain to collect survey data on university students’ perceptions of agency in their coursework with the goal of developing practices that support intentional studying and meaningful learning in higher education in the United States and in Europe.

She is also co-editing the upcoming International Handbook of Research in Digital Literacies (2025) and will continue her ongoing international work with The Critical Project’s research team at Tampere University in Finland by supporting the design of a game-based platform for assessing and educating critical readers in a digital age.

With such extensive recognition locally, nationally, and internationally, Coiro is the epitome of excellence in research and serves as a role model for colleagues and graduate students at URI and globally.


Advanced Career Faculty Research and Scholarship Excellence Award
Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering
Department of Mechanical, Industrial, and Systems Engineering, College of Engineering 
Associate Professor Gretchen A. Macht is a computational community ergonomist taking a multidisciplinary road into the heart of the URI community. Dr. Macht’s sustainability, election operations, and mentorship work are commendable.

Her work through the Sustainable Innovative Solutions Lab includes electric vehicle charging behavior and solar energy. She has explored various factors that help governments and corporations understand the needs of EV drivers and opportunities for siting charging stations, thereby reducing the carbon footprint and impact of transportation on the environment.

Dr. Macht’s research also involves human factors for submariners with the National Institute for Underwater Vehicle Technology.

Through URI VOTES, Dr. Macht is making extraordinary contributions to society by applying industrial and systems engineering approaches to improve election operations by designing and implementing best practices. URI VOTES began when the Rhode Island Secretary of State turned to URI after the 2016 election. Using engineering principles, including simulation, optimization, advanced statistical analyses, and facility layout and planning, the team has created tools and guidelines, helped implement legislative changes, and addressed current election challenges. Dr. Macht’s work already has a national impact in nine states, representing over 28 million voters, and her work will continue to be essential for years to come.

Since joining the URI faculty in 2015, Dr. Macht has mentored seven Ph.D. and 20 master’s students, with over 50 undergraduates participating in her research group, spanning six URI colleges and hailing from five continents. In the meantime, she co-leads local Girl Scout Troop 418.

Dr. Macht was presented the 40 Under Forty Award by Providence Business News in 2019, designated an Election Expert by MIT in 2021, a finalist for the 2022 URI Teaching Excellence Award, and appointed a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Science Policy Fellow in 2023, as well as been featured in USA Today and NPR.


Faculty Intellectual Property Excellence Award
Department of Physics, College of Arts and Sciences 
Physics Professors Oleg Andreev and Yana Reshetnyak are being recognized for their intellectual property achievements, most notably the accomplishments of their company, pHLIP, Inc. as well as three recently issued patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which adds to the portfolio of more than 45 issued patents and more than 40 pending patents in 14 patent families.

pHLIP, Inc. was founded in 2014 based on their research of pH-sensitive peptides, pHLIPs: pH Low Insertion Peptides. They have pioneered a groundbreaking method to selectively deliver imaging agents, drugs, and nanomaterials to acidic cells in diseased tissues in the human body. Such novel mechanisms of delivery could lead to breakthroughs in fighting afflictions such as cancer, stroke, arthritis, genetic diseases, and more.

pHLIP-ICG fluorescent agent is in Phase II clinical trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in partnership with Stryker Corp. on breast cancer patients undergoing surgical removal of cancer. pHLIP-ICG is visualized using Stryker clinical instrument, and pHLIP-ICG allows surgeons to establish tumor margin in real time during surgery for complete removal of all cancer lesions.

pHLIP-Zr is the first-in-class PET agent for imaging of acidity. pHLIP-Zr will be entering clinical trials at MSKCC shortly. pHLIP-Zr will be used to assess disease development, progression and monitor outcome of therapy by establishing level of acidity.

Several pHLIP-drug agents are in pre-clinical and clinical development. pHLIP allows targeted delivery of anti-cancer drugs and immune-activating agents to tumor and stromal cells with greater specificity, while leaving healthy cells non-targeted. pHLIP-targeting reduces side effects and makes treatment more effective and efficient.

pHLIP peptides can also deliver a variety of nanoparticles. pHLIP, Inc. together with URI and CordenPharma are developing novel lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) coated with pHLIP peptides for targeted delivery of RNA and DNA encapsulated in pHLIP-LNPs for gene therapy.


Intellectual Property Awards
Issued U. S. Patents

Department of Physics, College of Arts and Sciences 
Professor Oleg A. Andreev, Professor Yana K. Reshetnyak, and Professor Donald Engelman, Yale University
for their U.S. Issued Patents:
Method of Detecting Diseased or Damaged Tissue with a Ph-Triggered Polypeptide Fluorophore Composition;
Fluorescent Compound Comprising a Fluorophore Conjugated to a Ph-Triggered Polypeptide;
Liposome Compositions and Methods of Use Thereof.

Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences
Professor Jason Dwyer, Professor Mindy Levine, and Teresa L. Mako
for his U.S. Issued Patent: Surface Functionalization of Cellulose and Other Substrates

Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering
Professor Otto J. Gregory, Professor Godi Fischer, Post-Doctoral Fellow Peter P. Ricci, III, and Andrew Rossi
for their U.S. Issued Patents:
Trace Detection of Chemical Compounds Via Catalytic Decomposition and Redox Reactions (Otto J. Gregory, Peter P. Ricci, III, Andrew Rossi);
Smart Seals for Monitoring and Analysis of Seal Properties Useful in Semiconductor Valves (Otto J. Gregory, Godi Fischer, Tao Wei, Zakary Kinzel, Noah A. Burke, Mookkan Periyasamy, Elizabeth Sassano, Carmen J. Quartapella);
Metal Fastener with Embedded RFID Tag and Method of Production (Otto J. Gregory, Tao Wei, Geoff Grove).

Department of Mechanical, Industrial, and Systems Engineering, College of Engineering
Professor Arun Shukla, Dillon T. Fontaine, and Anthony D. Marshall
for their U.S. Issued Patent: System for Elevated Temperature, High Pressure Accelerated Life Testing Using Seawater.

Department of Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Science, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of the Environment and Life Sciences and College of Pharmacy
Professor Marta Gomez-Chiarri, Professor David R. Nelson, Professor David C. Rowley, and Jason LaPorte
for their U.S. Issued Patent: Marine Bacteria Formulation Useful in Aquaculture