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KNOXVILLE – Three graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, are recipients of the 2010 National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. The NSF awards are given to students based on their potential as young scientists and for intellectual merit and broader impact. The fellowships are used to further their research.

Emily Austin, an ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student, Michelle Russell, a psychology graduate student and Todd Schoborg, a biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology graduate student, each will receive $30,000 over the next year.

Austin’s research aims to understand if global warming alters how fungi decompose wood of different tree types. Her work is important because decaying wood is considered to be a natural reservoir of carbon. Currently, the wood in forests decomposes slowly. However, if warming alters the kinds or the amount of fungi on a log, or the activity of the fungal community, decomposition rates could accelerate, thus increasing the amount of carbon that is released into the atmosphere.

“Emily is one of the most creative young scientists I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Her experience working as an ecosystem ecologist and a molecular ecologist enables her to work in an emerging area — linking microbial community composition with function. Emily is smart, motivated, curious, a good mentor and a good communicator,” said Aimee Classen, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and Austin’s faculty mentor.

Russell’s research focuses on the implications of forgiveness for relationships. She will analyze data of newlywed couples to determine the implications of forgiveness for subsequent marital satisfaction, depression and self-esteem. She also will examine the implications of forgiveness for forgiven partners’ subsequent negative behavior.

“Michelle is a fantastic student and is on her way to being a brilliant scholar. I am not surprised she received this award. I am excited to see what comes out of her research,” said James McNulty, psychology associate professor and Russell’s faculty mentor.

Schoborg’s area of research examines how chromatin, a supramolecular structure formed by proteins and DNA, is organized within the cell nucleus. This organization is key to numerous regulatory processes that may lead, for example, to stem cell differentiation or cancer.

Specifically, Schoborg is interested in understanding the role that chromatin insulator proteins play in gene expression regulation and in the control of mobile DNA sequences, which are the origin of numerous mutations in our genome.

“Since the beginning, Todd impressed me as a self-sufficient student, highly motivated and with a strong commitment to perform at the highest level. He enjoys doing research, but most importantly, he enjoys the thinking process behind all the work,” said Mariano Labrador, assistant professor with the department of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology and Schoborg’s faculty mentor.

The NSF’s fellowship program aims to help ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the U.S. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.

NSF fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.

Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and “Freakonomics” co-author Steven Levitt.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460,