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Honors student named Goldwater Scholar

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.

Professor Dagmar Sternad, left, and third-year student Julia Ebert set up an electrode cap on bioengineering PhD student Chi-Yin Tse in the Action Lab.

Professor Dagmar Sternad, left, and third-year student Julia Ebert set up an electrode cap on bioengineering PhD student Chi-Yin Tse in the Action Lab.

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.”

Julia Ebert and Professor Dagmar Sternad meet with President Joseph E. Aoun at a reception following the 2013 Academic Honors Convocation.

Julia Ebert and Professor Dagmar Sternad meet with President Joseph E. Aoun at a reception following the 2013 Academic Honors Convocation.

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.”