SEAS Graduate Students Win Prizes

Two outstanding Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science graduate students were honored by Dean T. Kyle Vanderlick at the annual Crest & Fest celebration on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.

Nicole McNeer, a Yale M.D./Ph.D. student graduating this month with a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, won the Henry Prentiss Becton Graduate Prize, awarded for exceptional achievement in research.

In nominating McNeer for the Becton Prize, Biomedical Engineering Chairman Mark Saltzman said that she ranked among the very best of the doctoral students he had supervised over the past 25 years. Only the second student in the history of Yale’s M.D./Ph.D. program to major in Biomedical Engineering, McNeer distinguished herself with exceptional scholarship, scientific and engineering accomplishments and leadership skills. As noted in a nomination letter for this award, “Nicole has a gift for identifying important problems and setting up experiments that show how to solve these problems.”

McNeer’s research focuses on an emerging bioengineering technology – the use of nanoparticles for site-specific genome editing. Her work has implications for the prevention of HIV infections and genetic therapy for diseases like sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. The importance of McNeer’s research was detailed in the nomination letter from Dr. Marie Egan from the Yale School of Medicine. Cystic fibrosis is a common inherited disorder in which half of those affected die in childhood from respiratory failure. If successful, McNeer’s approach could mean a cure for the vast majority of children with the disease, Egan said.

McNeer will receive her Ph.D. in Engineering next week, then continue her M.D. degree studies at the Yale School of Medicine.

The second award, the Harding Bliss Prize, was awarded to graduating doctoral student Baran Sarac. The Bliss Prize recognizes a doctoral student who has done the most to further the intellectual life of the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science.

Sarac’s research focused on the mechanical, thermal and morphological characterization of bulk metallic glasses. In nominating him for this prize, one of his fellow students wrote: “[Sarac] serves as a role model for the younger generation due his strong academic background, personality and intellectual traits.”

As a mentor to many graduate and undergraduate students, Sarac was praised as a valuable peer and friend with impressive managerial skills. He served as a teaching assistant in the Solid Mechanics and Materials Science lab course for three years.

Sarac has also served as a representative in the Yale Graduate Student Assembly, with the aim of improving academic, social and living experiences at Yale. He helped co-found and run the Turkish Society of Yale Graduate Students and Scholars, a group which hosts international events spotlighting Turkey’s cultural richness and heritage.

After graduation, Sarac will pursue a postdoctoral position at the Helmholtz Institute in Hamburg, Germany. 

Left to right: Dean T. Kyle Vanderlick, Sarac, and his advisor, Prof. Jan Schroers.