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Eight from MIT receive 2018 Fulbright awards

Graduating students and alumni will conduct research abroad in 2018-19 academic year.
The eight 2018 MIT Fulbright Students are: (top, l-r) Emily Watlington, Caitlin Fischer, Luke Weisenbach, Julia Cha; (bottom, l-r) Jessica Varner, Andrew Xia, Skanda Koppula, Mary Tsang.
The eight 2018 MIT Fulbright Students are: (top, l-r) Emily Watlington, Caitlin Fischer, Luke Weisenbach, Julia Cha; (bottom, l-r) Jessica Varner, Andrew Xia, Skanda Koppula, Mary Tsang.
Photos courtesy of the students.

Eight MIT students and recent alumni have been named winners of Fulbright U.S. Student Program research awards. An additional student received an award but declined the grant to pursue other opportunities.

Destinations for this year's Fulbright recipients include Germany, Switzerland, and other countries of the European Union; Chile; and Indonesia. Students' research interests range from astronomy, art criticism, architectural history, and biohacking to neuroscience, nuclear policy, and computer science.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Fulbright aims to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through international educational exchange. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at MIT through the Office of Distinguished Fellowships. The eight 2018 MIT Fulbright Students are:

Julia Cha will graduate this spring with a bachelor of science in brain and cognitive sciences and minors in biology and music. In Göttingen, Germany, Cha will conduct neuroscience research on epigenetic pathways that mediate the relationship between early depression and later dementia. A three-time recipient of the MIT Emerson Fellowship in classical piano, Cha has performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra and at Carnegie Hall. She anticipates continuing her love of music by playing with the Göttingen Chamber Music Society. After completing her Fulbright year, Cha will matriculate at Harvard Medical School with the goal of becoming an academic physician.

Caitlin Fischer is a senior majoring in physics with a minor in political science. Her research in the European Union will focus on international nuclear policy and the role played by the EU in facilitating nuclear negotiations. For her community engagement component of Fulbright, she will engage in outreach to inform the general public on issues of nuclear security and disarmament in an international context. At MIT, Fischer has served as president of the Society of Physics Students, a student member of the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, and general manager of the MIT community radio station WMBR 88.1FM.

Skanda Koppula '16 is an MIT graduate student who will receive his master of engineering degree this spring. He graduated from MIT with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and computer science in June 2016, has interned as a research scientist with Google and Yahoo, and is currently working with NVIDIA’s autonomous driving team. In Switzerland, Koppula will be researching with colleagues at ETH Zurich’s Department of Computer Science the design of a custom hardware processor for accelerating speech and language tasks. An avid motorsports engineer and co-founder of the new MIT/Delft Formula SAE driverless racecar team, Koppula hopes to participate with ETH Zurich’s racing team.

Mary Tsang MS '17 graduated from MIT in 2017 with a master of science in media arts and sciences, and has traveled the world as a non-binary artist and biohacker focused on strengthening feminist-oriented civil society participation. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Tsang will collaborate with the Microbiology Department at Gadjah Mada University and local community partner Lifepatch for citizen initiatives in art, science, and technology. Tsang’s interdisciplinary biohacking project seeks to extend feminist perspectives of care to local bodies of water. They will be developing low-cost yeast biosensors and fungal remediation protocols to enable grassroots investigation of endocrine-disrupting compounds in nearby rivers. 

Jessica Varner is a fourth-year doctoral student in the History, Theory and Criticism program within the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. As a Fulbright Student in Germany, her architectural history research in Karlsruhe and the Baden-Württemberg region will explore how chemically constituted building materials developed from the 1850s to 1920s. Through the Fulbright program, Varner will conduct research at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) Department of Architekturtheorie and at various academic and corporate archives, including those of the German chemical company BASF. 

Emily Watlington will graduate in June with a master of science in architecture studies (SMArchS) from the History, Theory and Criticism program. Watlington is a recipient of the German-American Fulbright Commission’s Young Professional Journalists award. As an art critic, historian, and journalist in Berlin, she will research the institutions that have shaped contemporary German art criticism and write for German art publications. Watlington is also eager to attend lectures and exhibition openings in Berlin’s vibrant arts scene, and to host a lecture series for the general public on issues surrounding art criticism.

Luke Weisenbach is a senior majoring in physics who is headed to Germany to conduct astronomy research. At Heidelberg University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, he will work with Professor Joachim Wambsganss, who has collaborated closely with Weisenbach’s mentor at MIT, Professor Emeritus Paul Schechter. Weisenbach’s research will focus on the effects of gravitational microlensing, with the goal of learning more about how matter distributions within galaxies make quasars twinkle. He also looks forward to participating in Heidelberg’s astronomy public outreach programs. After completing his Fulbright, Weisenbach plans on pursuing a PhD in astronomy and continuing on to academia or research.

Andrew Xia '17 earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering and computer science and mathematics from MIT in June 2017, and will complete his master of engineering degree in computer science in December. Xia is a recipient of the Fulbright Chile Science Initiative award. In Santiago, he will apply his computer science skills to modeling and preventing fare evasion for the city’s public transportation bus system. Xia will work with faculty from the industrial engineering and mathematical engineering departments at the Universidad de Chile. He hopes to explore Chile’s natural surroundings by biking and hiking in the Andes and engaging in photojournalism.

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