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NCSA Awards 20 Fiddler Innovation Fellowships to Illinois Students and Faculty

Abstract blue, grey and pink halftone pattern with a centered Block I logo and navy Fiddler Innovation text. A navy rectangle contains the word Fellowship in white text.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has a long-standing record of promoting and supporting endeavors that transcend traditional academic research boundaries. Twenty Illinois undergraduate and graduate students and faculty were named and recognized during the 2021 Fiddler Innovation Award virtual ceremony in November.

Each year, students from NCSA’s  SPIN, REU-INCLUSION, and Design for America programs have the opportunity to participate in the Fiddler Innovation Undergraduate Fellowship. Undergraduate Fiddler Fellows are selected for their exceptional contributions to interdisciplinary research projects that explore new topics and innovation in their respective programs. Seventeen undergraduates from various fields  – spanning biology, chemistry, engineering, computer science, health sciences, information sciences and physics – received a $1,500 Fiddler gift award and recognition for their achievements. Two Fiddler Innovation Graduate Fellowships and one Fiddler Innovation Faculty Fellowship were also awarded and recognized during the ceremony.

This year’s fellows contributed to various projects that addressed a multitude of challenges. From using high-performance computing to address healthcare disparities to using satellite data for large-scale crop monitoring to detecting gravitational waveforms, Fiddler Innovation Fellows are dedicated to impacting and improving the world around them. Although their projects and experiences differ, their commonality is leveraging collaboration and technology to connect science, art, humanities, engineering, education and research with creative expression to forge innovative solutions for real challenges.

Earlier this April, Carle Illinois College of Medicine student Ariana Barreau won a $10,000 Fiddler Innovation Fellowship during the Illinois Innovation Prize competition for ProteCKD. This program is dedicated to addressing renal healthcare disparities by providing chronic kidney disease pre-screening kits and information to vulnerable populations. Working alongside community organizations, ProteCKD hopes to make CKD screening more accessible, increasing overall early diagnosis and getting people the treatment and care they need as soon as possible.

The ideas and innovation demonstrated by students, faculty, and researchers through this fellowship program never cease to amaze me. The Fiddler Innovation Fellowship provides more than funding for interdisciplinary projects. It promotes collaboration, presenting fellows with the unique opportunity to work directly with NCSA’s advanced digital resources and esteemed academic and industry partners. We extend a special thanks to Donna Cox for her years of guidance and dedicated leadership that has laid a strong foundation for these programs. We are very grateful for Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden’s generous contributions and support in accelerating and enabling innovation that bridges creativity, collaboration, and technology to benefit science and society.

William “Bill” Gropp, NCSA Director and Fiddler Innovation Endowment Principal Investigator

The Fiddler Fellowship is part of a generous $2 million endowment from Jerry Fiddler and Melissa Alden to support NCSA’s Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media (eDream) Institute at UIUC. In turn, this institute supports faculty and students who choose to step outside the boundaries to pursue innovation and research at all levels. While the Fiddler Fellowship is a vital component of NCSA’s reputation as an interdisciplinary research hub, the financial award encourages fellows to experiment and offers them funding to continue their abstract thinking that could eventually change the world of research. Efforts, such as the eDream Institute, continue to uphold and add to NCSA’s rich history of enabling innovation and discovery.

Learn more about our fellowship and internship programs. View the complete list of recognized undergraduate and graduate students and faculty awardees below:

Fiddler Innovation Undergraduate Fellowship


  • Quentin Herzig, Crop Sciences: Plant Biotechnology and Molecular Biology and Minor: Computer Science, Visual Analytics Group 3D Biological Network Visualization
  • Yihong Jian, Computer Science, Using Satellite Data for Large-Scale Crop Monitoring
  • Andrew Sunwoo Lee, Chemistry, Multiscale Modeling of the Cell Membrane-Associated Phenomena
  • Yufeng Liu, Physics, Meeting the LSST Data Challenge: Galaxy Detection and Segmentation with Deep Learning
  • Haolin Luo, Biochemistry, Modeling of Complex Environment of the Cell
  • Zhili Luo, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virtual Reality and Ray Tracing for Materials Science Data Visualization
  • Miah (Alistair) Nunn, Information Science, Natural Language Processing
  • Nikil Ravi, Math and Computer Science, Convergence of Physics-Inspired AI and Extreme-Scale Computing for Multi-Messenger Astrophysics
  • Parth Tyagi, Computer Science, On-the-Fly Data Generation for Neural Network Based Gravitational Wave Detection


  • Haihley Connors, Interdisciplinary Health Sciences, Breast Cancer Disparities


  • Ella Dennis, Psychology and English, Breastfeeding Application
  • Elena Escobar, Technical Systems Management, Map the System 
  • Saaniya Kapur, Computer Engineering, Breastfeeding Application
  • Jiho Alexa Park, Mechanical Engineering, Breastfeeding Application
  • Jay Reiter, Math and Computer Science, Breastfeeding Application
  • Rohini Sharma, Computer Science, Racism Untaught

Fiddler Innovation Graduate Fellowship

  • Colter Wehmeier, Ph.D. student, iSchool, Art and Cultural Informatics
  • Jorge Rojas-Alvarez, Ph.D. student, College of Media, Institute of Communications Research

Fiddler Innovation Faculty Fellowship

  • Jill Naiman, Assistant Professor, iSchool


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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