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Joy Putney – National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Name: Joy Putney

Class Year: 2016

Hometown: Fairfax, VA

Major(s): Biology and Physics-Engineering

Opportunity and Year: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2017

Project Summary: I am investigating motor encoding strategies in a nearly complete motor program for hawk moth flight. Hawk moths are capable of robust and complicated flight maneuvers that are controlled by comparatively few muscles. Additionally, there is a one-to-one relationship between their muscle activations and motor neuron firing, which enables me to record a spike-resolved motor program. I am currently investigating whether the number of muscle activations or the precise timing of those activations within a wing stroke is more important for force and torque production during flight. Understanding how the nervous system controls movement with a limited number of actuators can help us understand fundamental principles of motor control.

How did W&L prepare you for this opportunity? I applied for this program as a student at W&L and received an honorable mention before applying again this year. The support of Dr. France helped me construct a strong application both years. I also got my start in the world of electrophysiology working as a research student in Dr. Erickson’s lab at W&L, and I would not be in graduate school without his encouragement, teaching, and support. He went above and beyond to guide me to the right experiences and resources to prepare me for my PhD studies.

Why did you apply for this opportunity? The NSF GRFP provides financial and career support for graduate students. It gives me the freedom to conduct research that interests me without having to consider other funding opportunities. In addition, being awarded this fellowship indicates that the research I hope to do during my PhD program at Georgia Tech is interesting and has potential for high impact. Receiving this financial and academic support was the main reason I applied.

Post-graduation Plans: I am considering staying in the world of academia or leaving to do research in a government setting. I would love to teach at a small liberal arts college like Washington and Lee if given the chance.

How will this opportunity help you achieve your goals? The NSF GRFP will enable me to conduct research with academic freedom and hopefully impact my field through the papers I write during my PhD program.

Extracurricular Involvement:

University Singers, University Wind Ensemble, InterVarsity

Off-campus Experience:

University Singers Ireland Tour; W&L Yellowstone Spring Term Class; Research Internship with GI Group at Auckland Bioengineering Institute in Auckland, NZ (funded via a Johnson Opportunity Grant); NSF REU with Dr. Liao at Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, FL, US

Research Experience:

1 year with Dr. Sponberg at Georgia Tech; Research Internship with GI Group at Auckland Bioengineering Institute in Auckland, NZ (funded via a Johnson Opportunity Grant); NSF REU with Dr. Liao at Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, FL, US; 3 years with Dr. Erickson at W&L; summer internship in 2013 with Dr. Cabe at W&L

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