DURHAM, N.C. – One paper investigates how fetal exposure to flame retardants can affect thyroid hormones.  Another introduces a novel method for detecting coal ash contamination in the environment. And another proposes a more scientific definition for small-scale fisheries.

Different as they are, all three papers have been chosen by Dean Toddi Steelman to receive a 2020 Nicholas School Dean’s Award for Best Graduate Student Manuscript.

The studies’ lead authors, doctoral students Matthew Ruis, Zhen Wang and Hillary Smith, will each receive a $1,000 cash award and a framed certificate, which will be presented during the Nicholas School’s “Marking the Moment” virtual graduation events on May 8 and 9.

Ruis was selected for his peer-reviewed paper, “PBDEs Concentrate in the Fetal Portion of the Placenta: Implications for Thyroid Hormone Dysregulation,” which he published Nov. 1, 2019, in the journal Endocrinology. His co-authors were Kylie D. Rock, Samantha M. Hall, Brian Horman, Heather B. Patisaul and Heather M. Stapleton.

Wang was selected for the peer-reviewed study, “Lead Isotopes as a New Tracer for Detecting Coal Fly Ash in the Environment,” which was published Oct. 16, 2019, in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Gary S. Dwyer, Drew S. Coleman and Avner Vengosh co-authored the paper.

Smith was selected for her peer-reviewed paper, “Defining Small-Scale Fisheries and Examining the Role of Science in Shaping Perceptions of Who and What Counts: A Systematic Review,” which she published May 7, 2019, in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. Xavier Basurto co-authored the study.

“I was impressed by the exceptional caliber and scholarly breadth of the nominations this year,” Steelman said.

She noted that it was so difficult to narrow the field to just three papers that she decided to award two honorable mentions, too.  One went to doctoral student Catherine Chamberlin for her paper “Stoichiometry and Daily Rhythms: Experimental Evidence Shows Nutrient Limitation Decouples N-uptake from Photosynthesis,” which was published July 16, 2019, in the journal Ecology. The other went to doctoral student Patrick Gray, for his paper “Drones and Convolutional Neural Networks Facilitate Automated and Accurate Cetacean Species Identification and Photogrammetry,” which was published June 27, 2019, in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

The Nicholas School has presented the Dean’s Awards for Best Graduate Student Manuscript annually since 2008 to recognize excellence in graduate student research.


Best Student Manuscript Winners 2020
Left to right: Hillary Smith, Matthew Ruis, Zhen Wang