Carnegie Mellon University
November 10, 2023

Julia Ostrowski Receives Sutherland-Merlino Fellowship

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Julia Ostrowski wants to find technological solutions to current neuroscience problems. Carnegie Mellon University's Neuroscience Institute (NI) is the best place for that work, she said.

"I really want to work with patients in the neurotech space," said Ostrowski, a first-year Ph.D. student. "The access to the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC is unmatched, and I wanted to be somewhere that was focused on building and making solution-driven approaches."

Based on her enthusiasm for applying basic principles to real-world problems, NI awarded her this year's Sutherland-Merlino Fellowship.

Ostrowski earned her bachelor's in computational neuroscience from Brown University, where she did undergraduate research on neural signal processing. After graduation, she became a data scientist at BenevolentAI, a company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) models to determine potential avenues for drug discovery.

Though Ostrowski found her work at BenevolentAI interesting, she missed the experience of working on research herself, and she wanted to learn more about neuroscience. Like other first-year students in NI, she has the opportunity to rotate in different laboratories within NI before deciding exactly what topic to pursue for her dissertation.

"The beauty of neuroscience is all these interdisciplinary areas work together," Ostrowski said. "One of the big drivers for me to go back for a Ph.D. is I wanted to gain the ability to see something from the start and work on it all the way through. Once I finish rotations, I'm excited to choose a topic that I think is really interesting and stick with it."

Ostrowski plans to do further research into neural signal processing with a greater focus on potential applications. In her first rotation, she has been working with Doug Weber, professor in the Neuroscience Institute and Akhtar and Bhutta Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Weber's lab investigates how neural impulses relate to movements in patients who are paralyzed. The goal of Weber's work is to understand motor systems in order to develop systems that facilitate movement in these patients.

The Sutherland-Merlino Fellowship that Ostrowski received provides partial support for a first-year graduate student in the Neuroscience Institute who displays exceptional curiosity and a passion for learning. The fellowship was created by Nancie Merlino, a 1964 alumna of Margaret Morrison Carnegie College, in honor of her father, James Sutherland, and her husband, Thomas Merlino, also both Carnegie Mellon alumni.

Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, director of the Neuroscience Institute, said that Ostrowski is an ideal student for the fellowship and the Neuroscience Institute as a whole.

"Julia exemplifies what we look for in trainees - whip-smart, but also motivated," Shinn-Cunningham said. "Moreover, her enthusiasm and positive outlook really shine. She was one of the trainees that stood out to everyone on our admissions committee."

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