The winner of the 2022 Clarence W. Sorensen Distinguished Dissertation Award is Dr. Maggie DeMaegd Ph.D. ’21, who earned her doctorate in the College of Applied Science, School of Biological Sciences. Her dissertation, Physiological Consequences of Neuromodulation and the Cellular Properties That Underlie Them, explores neuronal activity and how it is influenced. Dr. Wolfgang Stein elaborated on the importance of DeMaegd’s research.

Dr. Wolfgang Stein: “Dr. DeMaegd’s research examined how environmental temperature changes affect neurons and communications in the brain. This is a particularly important topic given the ever-rising temperatures animals face during the current global climate crisis. Dr. DeMaegd’s most important finding is that a protein-like substance released by neurons that measure temperature protects other neurons from the effects of high temperatures. This finding bears particular intellectual merit because it is fundamental to many neuronal processes in health and disease, and impactful to a large scientific community. Accordingly, Dr. DeMaegd has received several international awards and published seven scientific papers at ISU with an eighth currently in press. Maggie, I am very proud of your achievements; congratulations again.”

“Neuronal activity is a product of more than the underlying neuronal connections. Modulatory influences like changes in the animal’s environment, the animals’ physiological state, or the release of neuromodulators can dramatically alter neuronal activity. Modulatory influences can be beneficial for the animal because they are a source of neuronal and behavioral plasticity, and they can provide neuronal circuits with the robustness needed to continue to function in new conditions, states, or tasks. However, malfunctions of the modulatory system can disrupt neuronal activity and lead to pathologies. Predicting how modulatory influences will alter neuronal activity is challenging because the underlying cellular and circuit properties are delicately balanced and often respond in nonlinear and multifaceted ways to modulatory influences. In my thesis, I address how several types of modulatory influences affect neuronal activity in the crustacean stomatogastric nervous system, and seek to characterize the circuit and cellular mechanisms that underlie them.”

The Clarence W. Sorensen Distinguished Dissertation Award is a university-wide competition and recognizes completed dissertations of the highest quality. Dissertations are nominated in the fall semester by academic departments/schools. The competition is open to students who have earned a doctorate at ISU during the preceding fall, spring, or summer term. Students who have completed a dissertation but will graduate in a later semester will be eligible for the competition following their graduation. A student does not need to be on campus to be eligible for the competition. At most one dissertation is chosen from among those nominated. Prize money accompanies this award.

The annual Sorensen Distinguished Dissertation Award is sponsored by the Graduate School of Illinois State University.