Seven chemistry students selected as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows


Seven University of Illinois chemistry students have been selected as 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows and seven more were accorded honorable mention.

Susanna Barrett, Mandira Banik, Annika Holm, and Andrew Rice are graduate students pursuing doctorates in chemistry, and Peng-Jui Chen, Sriyankari Chitti, and William Lyon are undergraduate chemistry majors.

The seven recipients are among a total of more than 2,000 students to be awarded the prestigious NSF fellowships in the highly-competitive program that supports students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social science fields. Applications are evaluated according to NSF’s two review criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts. Awardees generally are those who demonstrate exemplary promise as researchers as well as show a record of using their research and related skills to benefit society. 

In addition to three-year annual stipends and an allowance for tuition and fees, NSF graduate fellows also have additional opportunities for international research and professional development and the freedom to do their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education. Typically, awardees are those who demonstrate exemplary promise as researchers and a record of using research to benefit society, according to the NSF.

Graduate Students

Head shot of Susan Barrett

Susanna Barrett is a second-year graduate student in Doug Mitchell’s lab, where she works on identifying the full substrate scope of a group of enzymes involved in the post-translational modification of lasso peptides. I am also developing a lasso peptide display method that would enable us to easily select novel lasso peptides that bind therapeutic targets.

Barrett said she could not have won this fellowship without the support and encouragement of many people who have been critical to her development as a scientist.

“I am so appreciative of those who have helped me on this journey,” Barrett said.


Head shot of Mandira Banik


Mandira Banik is a second year graduate student in Yi Lu’s research group, where her main
project is delivering functional DNA sensors across the blood-brain barrier in living systems.




Head shot of Annika Holm



Annika Holm is a second-year graduate student in Lisa Olshansky’s group where she works
on photo-initiated conformational gating in metal complexes for applications in catalysis
and green energy technology.



Head shot of Andrew Rice



Andrew Rice is a second-year graduate student in Doug Mitchell’s group where his research
focuses on developing a detailed 
mechanistic understanding of a formal Diels-Alderase
involved in thiopeptide and pyritide biosynthesis.



Undergraduate students

Head shot of Ruby Chen

Ruby Chen is a senior chemistry major who will graduate in May 2021. Chen is an undergraduate researcher in Martin Burke’s group, where she primarily focused on developing optimized analogues of hinokitiol, a small molecule natural product that can transport iron across cell membranes and therefore possess potential to treat iron deficiency disorders.

“To achieve this, I have been synthesizing a variety of hinokitiol derivatives and have also played a role in evaluating the biological activities of the derivatives I make to establish the structure activity relationship,” Chen said.

After graduation, Chen will pursue her PhD in organic chemistry, but has not yet committed to an institution.

“I plan to pursue research on organic methodology in graduate school,” Chen said.


Head shot of Sriyankari Chitti


Sriyankari Chitti is a senior chemistry major who is an undergraduate researcher in
Martin Burke’s group, where she is
currently developing a method to automate the synthesis
of Csp3-Csp3 bonds in natural products. She will graduate in May and plans
to attend Stanford University in the fall to obtain a PhD in chemistry.



Head shot of William Lyon


William Lyon is an undergraduate student with interests in the field of organometallic chemistry.
He plans to earn a PhD in organic chemistry to contribute to research that will streamline the
drug-discovery process. He has done undergraduate research in the groups of
Huimin Zhao and M. Christina White.


Honorable Mention

Seven additional chemistry students received honorable mention. They include graduate students Shravan Dommaraju (Doug Mitchell group), Joseph Forzano (Jeff Chan group), Catherine Jalomo (Steve Zimmerman and Cathy Murphy groups), Kimberly Kelly (Lisa Olshansky group), Rachel Nixon (Prashant Jain group), and Claire Schmit (Greg Girolami group); and undergraduate student Kailey Komnick (Paul Hergenrother group).

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