Julia Ebert

Honors student named Goldwater Scholar

by Jordana Torres

Julia Ebert, a third-​​year behav­ioral neu­ro­science major, has been awarded a pres­ti­gious Barry M. Gold­water Schol­ar­ship. The merit-​​based schol­ar­ship is awarded annu­ally to 300 col­lege sopho­mores and juniors nation­wide who are studying sci­ence, engi­neering, or math­e­matics. Schol­ar­ship nom­i­nees must demon­strate prior expe­ri­ence in a research set­ting and submit a pro­posal to the Foun­da­tion Board of Trustees based on work that has advanced their field of study and fur­thered their career objectives.

Ebert wrote her schol­ar­ship pro­posal on an exten­sion of the project that she worked on while on co-​​op in Northeastern’s Action Lab. The research facility is ded­i­cated to the exper­i­mental study of human motor con­trol and directed by Dagmar Sternad, a pro­fessor of physics, biology, and elec­trical and com­puter engineering.

Her project on learning and long-​​term reten­tion of a bimanual skill involved mon­i­toring changes in per­for­mance over two months of prac­tice, including tests of motor memory three months later. Over the course of the co-​​op, Ebert gained expe­ri­ence in detailed kine­matic and elec­troen­cephalo­graphic record­ings in order to assess behav­ioral and neural cor­re­lates of skill learning. The results were promising, she said, showing asym­metric improve­ments across the two hands and remark­able retention.

“With this project, I was respon­sible for back­ground lit­er­a­ture research, pro­gram­ming of all of the pro­to­cols, and gath­ering sub­jects,” Ebert explained. “This expe­ri­ence has given me the con­fi­dence to inves­ti­gate other sub­jects that I’m pas­sionate about and pursue my PhD.”

Ebert, who has worked in the Action Lab since her second year, was intro­duced to Sternad and her research through PRISM, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary pro­gram that pro­motes interest in STEM sub­jects among first– and-​​second-​​year stu­dents. The program—Proactive Recruit­ment in Intro­duc­tory Sci­ence and Mathematics—encourages stu­dents to dis­cover the fun and excite­ment in sci­ence by devel­oping their own ques­tions and then finding the means to address those queries. Ebert par­tic­i­pated in the pro­gram as a first-​​year stu­dent and has served as a mentor ever since.

Through her posi­tion as a co-​​op and research vol­un­teer in Sternad’s Action Lab, Ebert has gone above and beyond to prove her pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion to her field.

“Julia is hard­working, effi­cient, self-​​motivated, and inde­pen­dent,” Sternad said. “She is an out­standing stu­dent in all respects and is the best under­grad­uate stu­dent that I have had in my lab.”

Ebert will leave for Tübingen, Ger­many, in June to com­plete her second co-​​op at the Max Planck Insti­tute for Intel­li­gent Sys­tems. The Max Planck Society is a world-​​leading sci­ence and tech­nology research orga­ni­za­tion and usu­ally only accepts doc­toral stu­dents for fellowships.

“I’m excited about what I’ve done in Pro­fessor Sternad’s lab, but I’m also excited to work in a dif­ferent lab envi­ron­ment, espe­cially in Ger­many,” said Ebert, who plans on pur­suing a doc­torate in neu­ro­science after grad­u­ating. “A lot of research is not only inter­dis­ci­pli­nary but also inter­na­tional. Having this oppor­tu­nity as an under­grad will give me a sense of what I’ll be get­ting into.”

Originally published in [email protected] on April 24, 2013

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