About the program

The Neubauer Family Initiative for Excellence in Graduate Education is intended to recruit the most talented doctoral students from around the world by providing competitive fellowships to the University of Chicago’s Humanities, Social Sciences, and Physical Sciences Divisions. The inaugural cohort of Neubauer Family Distinguished Doctoral Fellows includes fifteen gifted students whose outstanding academic accomplishments thus far demonstrate their promise as scholars and teachers capable of making important contributions to their fields.

2018-19 Fellows

Jake Butts, Neubauer Fellow

Name: Jake Butts
PhD Program: PhD program in Psychology
Hometown: Springfield, PA
Education: Williams College; B.A., Psychology
Research: My research explores conceptual development with a focus on mathematical symbols and notations. Specifically, I am interested in how linguistic input and spatial representations impact children’s understanding of mathematical concepts. Through this research, I hope to better understand the basic cognitive processes that drive learning and identify mechanisms to close achievement gaps in mathematics.

Name: David Cerny
PhD Program: PhD program in Geophysical Sciences
Hometown: Prague, Czech Republic
Education: University of California, Los Angeles; B.S., Ecology, Behavior and Evolution
Research: Since high school, I have been interested in the evolution of animals with backbones and in evolutionary processes taking place above the level of species. I took part in paleontological fieldwork in Krasiejów, Poland; conducted ecological and behavioral field research in French Polynesia; and worked as a computational biology research intern at the Centre de Regulació Genòmica in Barcelona, Spain. At UCLA, I had the opportunity to work in the Alfaro Lab on several projects involving molecular dating (a technique that combines paleontological information with DNA sequence data to infer the ages of origin of various groups of organisms), resulting in two published papers and several others still in preparation. In the Slater Lab at the University of Chicago, I hope to contribute to the development of methods that integrate fossil and molecular data in order to help us develop a deeper understanding of the evolution of Earth’s biosphere.

Name: Binglu Chen
PhD Program: PhD program in Mathematics
Hometown: Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
Education: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences; B.S.
Research: My undergraduate thesis is a very basic survey related to K-stability of Fano varieties, which itself is an active math branch. Now I’m trying to get into the research area of Algebraic Geometry and Representation Theory.

Name: Basil Dababneh
PhD Program: PhD in Cinema and Media Studies
Hometown: Buffalo Grove, IL
Education: Vanderbilt University, BA, Cinema and Media Arts
Research: Basil Dababneh is a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. He holds a BA in Cinema and Media Arts from Vanderbilt University, where he also minored in Women’s and Gender Studies. His research coalesces around theories of cinematic temporality, the politics and aesthetics of queer theories of time, and the anachronisms of horror cinema in the digital age. He is also interested in postcolonial theory and Arab cinema.

Name: Daniel Epstein
PhD Program: PhD Program in Political Science
Hometown: Cape Elizabeth, ME
Education: Harvard College, Cambridge, MA; A.B. Social Studies
Research: I am a political theorist with broad interests in violence and reconciliation, law and punishment, and the ethics and politics of alterity (otherness). I wrote an undergraduate thesis on the philosophical foundations of restorative justice, a response to crime and conflict that emphasizes encounters between stakeholders and the repair of harm. While my future research agenda remains open, I may be interested in continuing along these or related lines, perhaps attempting a broader interrogation of the values, assumptions, and political/psychosocial forces that animate American criminal justice and a deeper, more comprehensive search for alternatives to our carceral paradigm. Moreover, I hope to explore the possibilities and potential advantages of complementing traditional modes of political theory with ethnographic methods and/or reference to ethnographic works. Outside of academics, I enjoy prestige TV drama and following my favorite teams: Tottenham Hotspur and the Boston Celtics.

Name: Michael Feeney
PhD Program: PhD in History
Hometown: Princeton, NJ
Education: University of Oxford B.A., MSt
Research: My research interests focus mainly on Early Modern Europe and the ways in which political information and news was able to circulate in both print and manuscript forms. For my Master’s dissertation I analysed historical writing in Early Stuart England to demonstrate the ways in which censored print was still a valuable way to make a public political argument and claim the ‘high ground’ of moderation. In my free time I love to watch and play football (soccer), and I played for the University of Oxford team as an undergraduate and graduate student.

Name: Zehua Lai
PhD program: PhD program in computational and applied mathematics
Hometown: Quanzhou, Fujian, China
Education: Tsinghua University, BA in mathematics and economics
Research: I am a first-year Ph.D. student at Committee on Computational and Applied Mathematics. Prior to coming to Chicago, he received his bachelors degrees in Economics and Mathematics at Tsinghua University. I have broad interests in machine learning, partial differential equations and image processing.

Name: María D. Hernández Limón
PhD Program: PhD in Geophysical Sciences
Hometown: Waukegan, IL
Education: Brown University, Providence, RI; B.S., Geology-Biology;
Columbia University, New York, NY; Post-Bacc. Earth Science
Research: Maria became the first in her family to graduate from college when she earned a B.S. in geology-biology in 2014 from Brown University. As a junior, Maria helped to assess hypoxia in Narragansett Bay, which led to her interest in aquatic ecosystems. After graduating, Maria worked with the Schuler Scholar Program which prepares underserved students to excel in college. In August 2016, Maria joined the Dyhrman laboratory at Columbia University, which focuses on understanding the interaction between phytoplankton and their environment. In 2017, María’s research focused on comparing data from phytoplankton grown at ambient and increased CO2 to elucidate how increases in CO2 influence phytoplankton physiology. The results were published in Frontiers in Microbiology. María’s current research aims to describe patterns of important process in Emiliania huxleyi from samples collected in the Pacific Ocean. At University of Chicago Maria hopes to explore the microbial diversity of the Great Lakes.

Name: Carol Medina
PhD Program: PhD in Psychology
Hometown: Charleston, SC
Education: Brown University, Providence, RI; B.S. Psychology
Research: Having been a summer camp counselor, babysitter, and pediatric health researcher, working with children has been a lifelong passion, but my interest in children’s cognition is a more recent discovery. In college, I discovered my fascination with the human mind and all that makes humans such extraordinary learners. This incredible capacity is most evident in toddlers as in only a few years, they go from knowing little about the world to being able to walk, talk, and recite the ABC’s! As a developmental psychologist at UChicago, I plan to study how children learn to navigate their world, when they learn from others, and how they generate hypotheses as such processes may be the foundation for children’s later science abilities. In addition to psychology, I am also passionate about music. I sing (mostly to myself) and played the sousaphone throughout college as a member of the Brown University Marching Band.

Name: Solomon Quinn
PhD Program: PhD program in Computational and Applied Mathematics
Hometown: New York, NY
Education: University of Richmond, Richmond, VA; B.S., Mathematics and Physics
Research: Solomon’s current research interests include physically motivated problems, particularly in quantum mechanics and applications of partial differential equations. At the University of Richmond, Solomon conducted research in cosmology with Prof. Ted Bunn, examining the possibility of extracting multi-wavelength maps from single-filter observations of the cosmic microwave background. Solomon and Prof. Bunn presented their results at the 231st American Astronomical Society Meeting in January, 2018. Solomon’s undergraduate work also included a project in game theory, under the supervision of Prof. Michael Kerckhove. Aside from mathematics and physics, Solomon enjoys playing the piano, sports, chess and hiking.

Name: Nicolás Torres-Echeverry
PhD Program: PhD program in Sociology
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Education: Stanford Law School, Stanford, J.S.M. (Master of the Science of Law); Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, LL.B. (Law) and B.A. (Economics)
Research: I am interested in political and economic sociology, specifically in how social interaction on the Internet is shaping people’s political and economic ideas. During my time at UChicago, I would like to reflect on the way the Internet and data are changing political and economic processes and the organizations behind such changes. My research adopts an interdisciplinary approach and combines quantitative and qualitative methods. Before coming to Chicago, I was at Stanford conducting socio-legal research as a JSD fellow and a research assistant at FSI’s Global Digital Policy Incubator. My previous research was on political sociology, in particular on state-building challenges in post-conflict settings, with a focus on Colombia. Before that, I worked as a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia), and as a consultant for the Ministry of Justice in Colombia. I love cooking and swimming!

Name: Hai Tran Bach
PhD Program: Statistics Ph.D.
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Education: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; B.S. , Mathematics & Data Science
Research: My research interests are in Machine Learning, Network Analysis, and High Dimensional Inference. At the Big Data Summer Institute, I have worked in identifying the relationships between financial and private entities in the Panama Papers to unveil the world’s hidden wealth. Later at Chenope, I had the opportunity to build a statistical model which reveals the interaction of political clusters on Twitter over time. During my PhD program, I plan to further my understanding of the underlying structure of real big data sets. I am also interested in the socio-politico-economic history of the 20th century and trying new culinary recipes.

Name: Emily Willson
PhD Program: PhD in Computer Science
Hometown: Appleton, WI
Education: Wheaton College (IL); B.S. Mathematics and Physics
Research: I graduated from Wheaton in 2016 and was employed for several years as an applied research mathematician for the Department of Defense. My work there touched a variety of areas ranging from quantum computing to machine learning to blockchain technology. In my PhD studies at UChicago, I will pursue my research interests in applied machine learning and blockchain technologies through my work with Dr. Ben Zhao. Once I graduate, I hope to serve as a leader in a government, corporate, or academic research institution. In my spare time, I enjoy running, reading, and searching for the best pancake restaurant in the Chicagoland area.

Name: Chih-Hsuan Wu
PhD Program: Statistics
Hometown: Taiwan
Education: National Taiwan University, Taiwan, MA, Mathematical Statistics; B.A., Mathematics
Research: During my graduate school study, I accumulated research experiences by probing into a robust regression method, Self-Updating Process (SUP), with Dr. Ting-Li Chen. In the future, I hope to do more research on  high-dimensional data and robust methods with faculties in UChicago.

Name: Angela Zorro Medina
PhD Program: PhD program in Sociology
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
B.A. Economics Universidad de los Andes, LL.B Universidad de los Andes. LL.M. Yale Law   School, JSD Candidate Yale Law School
Research: My research focuses on the criminal justice system and the way it produces and reproduces inequality in Latin America and the United States. For the Latin American case, I study the impact of carceral outcomes in inequality, and the factors that influence the prison population. For the U.S. case, I study the impact of non-carceral outcomes in inequality at the sub-felony justice level.