Undergraduates receive 2021 Norma Slepecky research award

Laurel White, Slepecky First Place Winner

Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) is delighted to announce that two undergraduate researchers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) were recognized for their resilience, advancement and research excellence at the conference and ceremony Slepecky Annual Memorial. Laurel White, a major in physics at the College of Arts and Sciences, received the first place award of 2021 Norma Slepecky Undergraduate Research Award.

White was nominated by her mentor Duncan Brown, physics professor Charles Brightman, and unanimously chosen for her outstanding work in physics. The title of his revised honorary thesis is “The Effect of Spin Priorities on Determining the Equation of State of the Neutron Star Using Gravitational Wave Signals”. This project focuses on the challenges of estimating parameters used to analyze gravitational wave signals.

Brown notes that the work done by White led to the significant discovery that it will be more difficult than previously thought to obtain an accurate measurement of the equation of state with current second-generation detectors, due challenges in extracting tidal deformability from the waveform; and the impact of previous assumptions on neutron star mass and spin distribution. This research is expected to result in two papers before White’s graduation this year, adding to White’s list of publications. White was also previously selected as a 2020 Goldwater Fellow and 2019 recipient of a Astronaut scholarship, and will join the doctorate in physics. program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduation.

“I am very honored to receive the Slepecky Award. Physics, like other STEM fields, is sorely lacking in female participation, and mentoring has been cited as a critical tool in correcting the gender imbalance. I share Norma Slepecky’s belief in mentoring, and have experienced first-hand how this can positively impact a young researcher, ”says White. “I hope I can leave the same legacy of serving as a role model and advocate for women in STEM.”

portrait of aliza willsey

Aliza Willsey, Slepecky Second Place Winner

A second student was also recognized for her research. Aliza Willsey, senior in aerospace engineering at the College of Engineering and Computer Science, received the second Slepecky Award. Willsey was appointed by Jeongmin Ahn, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Willsey’s research explores the benefits and results of the mycelial membrane. Her work entitled “Investigation of Mycelium Growth Network as a Thermal Transpiration Membrane for Thermal Transpiration Based Pumping and Power Generation”, of which she was the lead author, has been published in ASME Conference Proceedings.

“My research experience has certainly been the most rewarding thing I have been involved in at Syracuse University,” says Willsey. “It is very important for me to be able to carry on the legacy of Norma Slepecky and to be recognized for my research as a woman in STEM. I think this award is a great way to motivate young women to pursue careers in STEM and undertake their own research projects.

White and Willsey were both recognized at the annual Slepecky Conference and Memorial Ceremony, which was sponsored by WiSE, the Center for the Humanities and the Department of Biology at Syracuse University. The annual ceremony featured Syracuse graduate Ahna Skop ’94, who lectured on “Took Creative for Science”. The conference is available for online viewing.

About the Norma Slepecky Undergraduate Research Fellowship

The prize is awarded in honor of Norma Slepecky, who was a passionate professor, researcher, and advocate for undergraduate student research at Syracuse University. She has also actively supported efforts to increase the number of women in science and engineering. Like Slepecky, WiSE programs support the perseverance and excellence of women in science, technology, engineering and math. The Slepecky Award is intended to honor young STEM scientists who have demonstrated persistence in graduation, resilience, advancement and excellence in research.


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