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Graduate council honors outstanding student research  

November 4, 2016

graduate-council-centerpieceThe NIU Graduate Council has named Francois Lemery, for his work in accelerator physics, and Catherine Ausland, for her research in plant biology, as winners of the annual most outstanding dissertation and thesis awards, respectively.

The awards are for dissertations and theses completed during the 2015-16 academic year.

“NIU continues to produce students who really are top notch researchers in their own right, as are Francois Lemery and Catherine Ausland,” said Bradley Bond, dean of the NIU Graduate School. “Their work represents important contributions to scientific knowledge in physics and biology, and also is a testament to exceptional mentoring by our faculty members.”

Lemery’s Outstanding Dissertation Award is accompanied by a prize of $750. His dissertation was related to a novel particle acceleration and manipulation scheme based on electromagnetic wakes that are produced as electron bunches propagate in capillary ceramic tubes. 

“Conceptually, this is the electromagnetic equivalent of a surfer surfing on the water wake produced by a boat,” said physics professor Philippe Piot, Lemery’s research advisor. Piot said the techniques developed by Lemery have “revolutionary potentials” in that they could lead to development of compact and cheap accelerators. 

Lemery is now a postdoctoral fellow at a premier national laboratory in Germany, where he continues his work on novel acceleration techniques and ultrafast laser science.

Ausland’s Outstanding Thesis Award was accompanied by a prize of $500. Her thesis examined how the interactions between plants and symbiotic microorganisms are altered under human-caused environmental change.

Most plants have mutually beneficial interactions with soil microbes, including bacteria and fungi. Ausland designed an experiment to examine how these interactions change as nutrients are altered in the soil around alfalfa crops.

The experiment required the careful propagation of more than 300 individual plants in soil that had been sterilized and then inoculated with combinations of the microorganisms and nutrients. The results indicated that human nutrient inputs affected plant-microbe interactions, but not in a straightforward manner that had been previously hypothesized. 

“Catie’s study represents the cutting edge of plant ecology and will be a valuable contribution to ecological literature,” said biology professor Nicholas Barber, who chaired Ausland’s thesis committee. 

Ausland is now working on her Ph.D. at the University of Kansas.