2020 Undergraduate Researchers of the Year University of Maryland

Each year we honor the exceptional achievements of some of Maryland’s top undergraduate researchers. This year, seven students will receive $1,000 awards. Here, we celebrate their substantial accomplishments and intellectual passion.

Mark Zic


Mark Zic, a member of the UMD Honors College, completed a degree in Physics in May 2020. Under the mentorship of Dr. Johnpierre Paglione, he has been engaged in research focused on the irradiation of superconducting samples since his freshman year.

“Mark has helped us discover a new potential superconducting compound, LaAlGe, which is also predicted to be an exotic topological material. This project has much potential to turn into an extensive research project, and was essentially initiated by Mark’s work! Overall, Mark has continued to surprise me by his abilities, initiative and advance." - Dr. Paglione

For his research and academic achievements, Mark received a Goldwater Scholarship, a President’s Scholarship, a Bardasis Scholarship, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Additionally, Mark’s research has resulted in two co-authored academic articles.

In Fall 2020, Mark will be attending Stanford University to pursue a PhD in Physics, focused on experimental condensed matter physics.

Kayla Petrover

Mechanical Engineering

Under the guidance of Dr. Amr Baz, Kayla completed a senior capstone project where she designed and tested an exoskeleton equipped with actuators and sensors to help people walk and step independently and safely. A member of UMD’s Honors College, Kayla also participated in the QUEST honors program and served as Vice President of Sponsorship for JHacks Hackathon.

“Ms. Petrover comes across as a very hard working, intelligent, and focused young engineer who has unique leadership talents. She is self-motivated and is of the type who gets things done. I am very impressed by her outstanding technical abilities, potential, and most importantly by her reliable and amiable personality.” - Dr. Amr Baz

During the summers she continued her research involvement at Root3 Labs, Parsons, and the Department of Defense. Kayla’s research has resulted in two co-authored academic articles in the Journal of the Acoustic Society of America and Applied Acoustics.

Upon graduation, she plans to begin working with the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Bethesda.

Jacob Silverman

Government and Politics and Mechanical Engineering

Jacob Silverman, a member of the UMD University Honors program, completed a double degree in Government and Politics and Mechanical Engineering in May 2020.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Sarah Croco, Jacob received a BSOS Summer Scholars award and completed research that began as an analysis of President Trump’s tweets about various people, and transformed into analyzing civility in American politics.

This project resulted in a publication in The Washington Post entitled “Trump Didn’t Shake Hands. Pelosi Ripped Up His Speech. Do Americans Care About Civility?” and is in development for submission to an academic journal.

“He has been a full partner on our project, and I absolutely could not have done it without him. I often forget he’s an undergrad because I have to give him such little instruction. He comes up with ideas and contributes. He takes the initiative... He is on the lookout for relevant research. I could not have asked for a better collaborator.” - Dr. Croco

In the future, Jacob plans to begin law school in Fall 2020 and is still deciding between institutions such as Harvard, Columbia, and Penn.

Erica Puentes Martínez

African American Studies and American Studies and minor in U.S. Latino/a Studies

Erica Puentes Martínez completed degrees in African American Studies and American Studies, with a minor in U.S. Latino/a Studies, in May 2020. Under the guidance of Dr. Bayley Marquez, Dr. Robert Chester, Dr. Sharon Harley, and Dr. Nancy Mirabal she completed three senior capstone projects in both her majors and minor focusing on the intersections of gender, labor, and race by exploring the voices and experiences of marginalized populations.

In addition to her academic work, she helped to reestablish Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS) and was involved in campus organizations like the Protect UMD coalition and the UMD Social Justice Coalition.

Erica helped to reestablish Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS).

Erica’s research interests, leadership, and community service all center around her commitment to transformative scholarship and the intersection of research and work in social justice and activism. She has completed two honors theses for both degrees: American studies thesis mentored by Dr. Bayley Marquez and Dr. Robert Chester and African American studies thesis mentored by Dr. Sharon Harley (who she has also been working with as a research assistant).

“Erica provides translation services for campus Latinx and other workers as well as educating them about tuition remission benefits for their children, and helping to mediate conflicts workers may have with their supervisors, especially those deriving from language and communication issues.” - Mary Corbin Sies 

In the future, Erica plans to pursue a PhD in American Studies or African American Studies.

Morgan Anvari


Morgan Anvari, a member of the College Park Scholars, completed a degree in Psychology in May 2020. Under the mentorship of Dr. Clara Hill, her honors thesis focused on the exploration of feelings in individual psychotherapy. Morgan received a BSOS Summer Scholar award and has worked with the Maryland Psychotherapy Clinic and Research Lab and the Global Mental Health and Addiction Program at UMD. Her nominator, Dr. Jessica Magidson, said:

“We have yet to come across a student who held important leadership roles in two research labs simultaneously (GMAP and MPCRL), while also maintaining such consistent involvement in service activities. Her volunteer efforts in staffing a variety of crisis lines and starting a new chapter of Helping Give Away Psychological Science show that Ms. Anvari is passionate about applying what she has learned in research contexts to helping others.”

Morgan has co-authored two journal articles published in Psychotherapy and Psychotherapy Research based on her research.

In the future, she plans to pursue a post-baccalaureate research position and then a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Nicholas Poniatowski


Nicholas Poniatowski completed a degree in Physics in May 2020 under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Greene. For his research and academic achievements, Nicholas received a Goldwater Scholarship, a ICAM QuantEmX Travel Award for experiment at Stanford University, a Philip Merrill Presidential Scholarship, a Ralph Meyer and Friends of Physics Award for Excellence in Teaching, and a NDSEG award.

His research interests are in the transport properties of the electron-doped cuprate superconductor LCCO at high temperatures and applied magnetic field.

Nicholas co-authored three publications in academic journals and a solely authored an article in the American Journal of Physics. His mentor Dr. Richard Greene said:

“He is the best undergraduate Physics student that I have ever seen at the University of Maryland. He is extraordinary at both theory and experiment, a combination of skills that is very rarely seen. Moreover, his enthusiasm and drive for understanding physics at the highest level is unmatched in any undergraduate that I have ever known.”

In Fall 2020, Nicholas will be attending Harvard University to pursue a PhD in Physics.

Tanay Wakhare

Mathematics and Computer Science and minor in Archaelology

Tanay Wakhare, a member of the UMD Honors College, completed a double degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, with a minor in Archaeology, in May 2020.

Throughout his undergraduate career, Tanay has participated in multiple research projects in collaboration with Dr. Christophe Vignat of the University Paris D’Orsay and Tulane University, and published multiple academic articles.

Tanay “is already a very productive researcher, with more papers than I have ever seen by any undergraduate or graduate student in mathematics. He has 19 preprints posted on the mathematics preprint server, and five have already been published in research journals (he was the sole author on three of them). Having read a substantial amount of Tanay’s work, I am impressed with the clarity and sophistication of his writing.” - Dr. Lawrence Washington

Tanay has received multiple prestigious awards for his research and academic accomplishments, such as the Banneker/Key Scholarship, the Goldwater Scholarship, the Churchill Scholarship, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

In the fall, Tanay will begin a one year masters program in Artificial Intelligence Group at the University of Cambridge, and afterwards will pursue a PhD in Theoretical Computer Science at MIT.

Congratulations to all! The university is incredibly proud of your accomplishments. Thank you to every mentor, thesis advisor, faculty member and staff who provided materials about students and supported their outstanding research.

About the awards

All candidates were nominated by their mentors. They were selected by a panel of faculty and staff on the basis of:

  • A substantial track record of research accomplishment;
  • A very high level of intellectual/ technical competence;
  • Demonstrated ability and willingness to take substantial initiative and responsibility for key aspects of the research projects in which he/she has been involved, including developing research ideas/ hypotheses/ approaches, design, problem solving, and implementation, etc.;
  • A high level of ability to work collaboratively either with fellow researchers, or with mentors, as appropriate to the candidate’s field;
  • Demonstrated experience communicating the results of their research, as appropriate to their field, through posters, presentations, publications, etc., as this is an integral aspect of the research enterprise. It is understood that there are substantial differences regarding opportunities for such communication among widely different disciplines.


Created with images by João Silas - "Cianorte desktop" • Drew Hays - "Scientist with a Petri dish" • Ashim D’Silva - "untitled image" • Patrick Tomasso - "untitled image" • Green Chameleon - "Designer sketching Wireframes" • Kelly Sikkema - "untitled image" • Guillermo Latorre - "20:00 in Spain. Quarantine. COVID."