IMET Ph.D. Students Shine in USM Board of Regents Awards

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IMET Ph.D. Students Shine in USM Board of Regents Awards

May 01, 2024

 The University of Maryland Board of Regents has awarded two scholarships to IMET students Jens Wira and Jonas Miller. The Student Excellence Scholarship for Academics, Scholarship, and Research is highly selective with only four awards given across USM. With around 37,000 graduate students within the USM, IMET is incredibly proud that two out of the four scholarships were awarded to IMET graduate students. 

Jens Wira, a UMCES-IMET Ph.D. candidate has been awarded for his unique work in Innovation and Creative Activity. Wira’s research is under the mentorship of Dr. Allen Place,  working at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET). Jens has an exceptional blend of scientific knowledge and creative thinking. During his time at IMET, he has successfully demonstrated his ability to go beyond methods of conventional science and propel his scientific knowledge in revolutionary ways. His work in the field of dinoflagellates has been a particular highlight here at IMET.  Jens has been able to quantify the swimming behavior of dinoflagellates while also deciphering the environmental cues for the behavior. 

In his off time, Jens enjoys orienteering, adventure racing, trail running, and mountain biking through the woods, having represented his home country of Singapore at national and international orienteering and adventure racing meets. He also enjoys cooking, and taking care of his 70+ house plants.  He and Miranda Judd also recently placed 3rd in the inaugural IMET Chilli Cookoff with his Southeast Asian style sambal belacan chili paste with scallion buns.  His perfect Sunday involves going to church, the post church nap, watering and caring for his plant babies, then making a nice meal.  

“Basically, the bottom line is, his innovative approach has not only advanced academic research but also significantly enriched our institute's scientific outreach and public engagement efforts,” said Dr. Allen Place.




Creative and Sustainable Entrepreneurship

In the ever-changing endeavor of science, Jens has shown his ability to stay ahead of the curve and emphasize that in order to communicate science effectively, creativity and artistic collaboration are pivotal keys to explaining complex scientific concepts to the public. His forward-thinking approach to repurposing a discarded 3D printer has brought new and exciting ways to propel research and education. 

 While maintaining the importance of resourcefulness and sustainability here at IMET, Jens’ innovation has not only highlighted his needed creativity in the science field but is also now a resource at IMET used to drive research work and science communication tools. His execution of a gamified “dinoflagellate safari” experience has successfully engaged individuals of all ages at events such as the IMET Open House and Chesapeake Global Collaboratory Summit. 

 Furthermore, his collaboration with artist-in-residence Dr. Lisa Moren (UMBC) highlights Jens’ passion for communicating science with visual art. Jens was involved in the additive manufacturing of gold-plated sculptures for multiple exhibitions and also providing technical assistance for Dr. Lisa Moren’s exhibition at the Peale Museum, where Pyrocystis cells are agitated upon noise, allowing a visual conversation between humans and algae.

 “I’m happy this award recognizes how fortunate and blessed I am to be working with the people I do. They support and allow me to be creative in expressing myself alongside the science we do. These endeavors have been a great and rewarding part of my academic journey, and I hope to be able to continue trying to make science accessible and engaging to all.” -Jens Wira


Jonas Miller, a UMBC-IMET Ph.D. candidate has been awarded for his accomplishments in Academics, Scholarship and Research

Jonas is a third-year PhD student working on developing environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods and platforms with a special focus in out-of-season broodstock spawning and egg quality prediction technologies for Atlantic salmon. In recent years, one of the largest challenges associated with culturing North American Atlantic salmon is the significant decrease in egg “eye-up”, the point of embryo development where the black eye spot is visible to the naked eye.

His years of research have fostered collaborations with the USDA, University of Maine, University of Wisconsin, and University of Maryland. 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Yonathan Zohar, Professor of marine biotechnology at UMBC at IMET, Miller has a unique understanding of the industry of aquaculture and literature with a strong reliance on his expertise of his research of tuna in Japan. His distinctive knowledge has given him a great resource in expanding his scientific network and benefitting his colleagues.  Jonas is currently working on IMET’s NOAA and USDA-NIFA funded projects that aim to develop a new generation of environmentally responsible aquaculture platforms in the US. Through a novel method of isolating total RNA from the skin-mucus of Atlantic salmon broodstock,  Miller’s research aims to develop methods for spawning salmon year-round and to identify non-invasive reproductive biomarkers in salmon skin-mucus for predicting egg quality.

“His multi-year studies have already generated innovative findings, and his ongoing work will undoubtedly result in much more data and lead to scientific advances and, potentially, economic development opportunities.” Zohar adds.




Excellence and Leadership Paves the Way

While maintaining a perfect cumulative GPA of 4.0, Jonas also served as the Graduate Student Association President  from 2022-2023 and has contributed countless hours to helping staff and graduate students. He created the "IMET English Corner" teaching additional English skills to incoming Chinese graduate students and mentored two high school students from South Carroll High School and Baltimore City College High providing instruction in aquaculture and molecular benchwork.

Miller’s continued excellence is fueled by individuals who love him most. His mother, Sheila Miller and best friend David Pardo both passed away in 2022. His father encouraged him to study fish biology and continues to motivate him. When asked about his reaction to receiving the USM award, he stated:

"I am grateful to all of my friends at IMET who have given me support. I wish my mom and best friend were here to experience this. They would both be really proud of this accomplishment. They motivated me to work hard and I hope that I made them proud." Miller stated. 

Miller’s ultimate dream is to teach aquaculture and marine biotechnology at the university level and work collaboratively with international researchers in the field. His work over the years has led to innovative findings that are expected to lead to further scientific advances.