UD doctoral students honored for work in preservation studies, engineering, chemistry, psychology and more

The University of Delaware recognized 10 doctoral students from the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021 with dissertation prizes for outstanding work in their field of study. The awards were announced during the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony held Thursday, May 27, 2021, on UD’s Newark campus.

Dissertations showcase a student’s original contributions to their field of study and highlight the potential impact of their work to the world. Each year, several students distinguish themselves among their peers for exhibiting the highest scholarly excellence.

These 10 distinguished scholars conducted research spanning a variety of fields, from preservation studies to computer science, chemistry, history, English, engineering and more. The honorees include:


Maria João Petisca (preservation studies)

Alexandra Turano (psychological and brain sciences)

Ayush Dusia (computer science)

Michael Metz (physics)

Kelly Mulholland (bioinformatics and systems biology)


Carrie Glenn (history)

Ángela Bohórquez Oviedo (political science and international relations)

Ryan McDonough (biomedical engineering)

William Lambert (chemistry and biochemistry)

Matthew Rinkevich (English)

Read on to learn about their work.

Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities

Maria João Petisca earned the 2020 Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities for her dissertation, Investigations into Chinese Export Lacquerware: Black and Gold, 1700-1850. Petisca’s research combines material sciences, history of collecting and material culture studies. She traversed four continents and collaborated with expert scientists and scholars in multiple countries to evaluate 18th- and 19th-century Chinese lacquerware spanning 300 years. Her investigation revealed unknown scientific data in historical manufacturing of lacquerware in Qing-dynasty China, which in turn allowed her to revise pre-existing arguments about the rise and decline of Chinese export lacquerware in the global trade history. Vimalin Rujivacharakul, chair of Petisca’s dissertation committee and an associate professor of art history, called her work a true blend of humanities and sciences that “revises our understanding about Chinese export lacquerware and successfully reframes the cultural history of Chinese export objects.”

Carrie Glenn earned the 2021 Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities for her work, titled The Revolutionary Atlantic of Elizabeth Beauveau and Marie Rose Poumaroux: Commerce, Vulnerability, and U.S. Connections to the French Atlantic, 1780-1860. Glenn’s research reorients what is known about inter-continental developments in the so-called Age of Revolutions, across British, Spanish and French empires, through compelling stories about intricate family networks during the commercial and revolutionary turmoil from 1770 to 1810. In particular, she sheds light on the previously unknown ways that French and North American women traded goods and information and how international networks of entrepreneurial women helped each other build small businesses at the turn of the 19th century. Glenn was advised at UD by Cathy Matson, Richards Professor Emerita of American History, who called her work “of great consequence for the field of Atlantic World studies.”

Matthew Rinkevich also earned the 2021 Wilbur Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities for his dissertation, titled Signs That Save: Sacramental Matter and Agency in English Literature 1590–1660. Rinkevich’s research explores the imaginative interplay between literature and material cultures of religion in Reformation-era England. In particular, his work reevaluates what is known about the relationship between human beings and their material environments, and focuses on the ways in which sacred objects like communion bread, holy water and relics acted on and affected people spiritually. According to Kristen Poole, Ned B. Allen Professor of English and Rinkevich’s adviser, his dissertation includes a tremendous amount of original archival work that “helps to reveal that thinking about materiality has striking consonances and revealing distinctions across human history.”

George Herbert Ryden Prize in the Social Sciences

Alexandra Turano won the 2020 George Herbert Ryden Prize in the Social Sciences for her dissertation, Examining the Impact of Neuroimmune Dysregulation on Social Behavior of Male and Female Juvenile Rats. Turano’s thesis examined the effects of mild activation of the immune system on the development of age-appropriate social behaviors and whether there are differences between males and females in these outcomes. Advised by Jaclyn Schwarz, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, Turano found that immune system activation around the time of birth can disrupt the development of appropriate play behavior later in life. The work is relevant to human health as many neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism, are associated with early-life immune activation or infection.

Ángela Bohórquez Oviedo received the 2021 George Herbert Ryden Prize in the Social Sciences for her dissertation, Weaponizing Gender: The Campaign Against ‘Gender Ideology’ in the Colombian Peace Plebiscite. Bohórquez Oviedo’s research illuminates the role of traditional and social media in shaping how right-wing elite movements seek to shape the public and sway events by any means necessary. While her dissertation focuses specifically on the 2016 peace referendum in Colombia, the work is globally applicable and explains several “missing links” in today’s discussion of big data and misinformation in shaping elections and public votes. Bohórquez Oviedo is co-advised by Kara Ellerby, associate professor of political science and international relations, and Pascha Bueno-Hansen, associate professor of women and gender studies.

Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

Ayush Dusia earned the 2020 Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences for his dissertation, Software-Defined Architecture and Routing Solutions for Mobile Ad Hoc Networks. Dusia was advised by Adarshpal Sethi, professor of computer and information sciences. Dusia’s research centered on advancing off-the-grid networks called mobile ad hoc networks (MANET) that don’t require existing infrastructure, such as cell towers, satellites or internet routers, to operate. These networks have the potential to improve wireless communications in disasters, smart cities and more. Dusia has designed a software-defined architecture for these networks that is flexible and can be managed centrally with minimal resources in extremely low-data rate environments.

Ryan McDonough won the 2021 Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences for his dissertation, Controlled Calcium Activation via Chemogenetic Signaling Platforms for Tissue Engineering of Articular Cartilage. Advised by Christopher Price, associate professor of biomedical engineering, McDonough explored novel synthetic control strategies to understand how calcium signaling regulates musculoskeletal cell function. In this work, McDonough developed a novel way to activate and control calcium signaling within chondrocytes, the cells responsible for development, homeostasis and adaptation of the articular cartilage within our joints. His promising approach adds important insights to what is known about cartilage biology and osteoarthritis. It also lays the foundation for future novel, safe and on-demand approaches to overcome existing barriers to tissue engineering/regeneration for joint repair.

Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences

Michael Metz was awarded the 2020 Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences for his dissertation, Fitted Models for Intermolecular Interactions from First Principles. Quantum mechanics (QM) can determine essentially exact forces between atoms, but is too expensive to be used in molecular dynamics (MD) simulations that enable scientists to predict the structure and properties of materials. Metz developed a method to efficiently leverage QM calculations for a small number of atomic configurations to create inexpensive force fields valid for arbitrary configurations. QM-based force fields are expected to replace those currently used, which are based on empirical input and often require manual adjustments in actual applications. His adviser, Krzysztof Szalewicz, professor of physics and astronomy, said Metz’s pioneering approach could revolutionize this field of science and engineering, “opening new avenues in material science” to design novel materials through computer simulation or modeling, especially for drug discovery and in processes involving DNA, proteins and other biological molecules.

William Lambert received the 2021 Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences for his dissertation, Development of New Tools for the Tetrazine Ligation: Installation of Minimal Tetrazines Through Silver(I) Mediated Cross-Coupling and Development of a Hydrophilic Trans-5-oxocene for Bioorthogonal Labeling. Lambert’s research focused on developing new tools and catalytic methods to improve access to molecules that can participate in tetrazine ligation, a lightning-quick reaction used to produce targeted chemical reactions inside living systems that would not naturally occur. The work has potential to facilitate drug discovery and improve nuclear medicine and cell imaging. His adviser, Joseph Fox, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, called Lambert “a highly productive, creative and insightful organic chemist,” adding that several of Lambert’s methods are now commonly used in chemical-biology laboratories in academia and in the pharmaceutical industry.

Interdisciplinary Research Prize

Kelly Mulholland was awarded the 2020 Interdisciplinary Research Prize for her dissertation, BIOMESEQ: A Quantitative Approach for the Analysis of Animal Microbiomes and Its Application in Characterizing the Microbial Ecology of Avian Species. In her work, Mulholland developed open-source computational tools and techniques to identify the bacteria, animal viruses, bacterial viruses and fungi that are found in a chicken’s respiratory tract. She further demonstrated that these bioinformatics tools could be applied to study the respiratory and intestinal microbiomes of ducks, turkeys and quail. Her adviser, Calvin Keeler, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and professor of animal and food sciences, said her accomplishments have had “significant impact [in helping] researchers study complex ecological communities in animal systems.”

| Photos by Evan Krape |