Barathwaj Murali

Two CU Denver Graduate Students Named National Science Foundation Fellows

November 29, 2022

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently announced its prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) and the awardees include a student looking to revolutionize upper limb prosthesis control design and another researching how to help doctors treat patients with eating disorders. 

The award includes a three-year annual stipend of $37,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees and allows doctoral students to continue their work at an accredited institution of their choice. These students chose to pursue their studies at CU Denver because of the quality of the faculty, the unique nature of its interdisciplinary programs, and the hands-on opportunities to turn their research into action. 

The fellowships are highly competitive with approximately 2,100 awarded nationally out of 12,000 applications in 2022. 

Murali unites the human experience with prosthetic technology 

Barathwaj Murali

“I have always liked tinkering with things, building things,” said Barathwaj Murali, who is pursuing a PhD in Bioengineering. A TED Talk video he watched in high school spurred him to explore bioengineering as a career choice and CU Denver has one of the top-ranked programs. “Since my interests have always been towards things that can have an impact outside of the lab, medical devices seemed like a great fit.” 

Murali’s goal is to develop controls for prosthetic devices that can match the motion and dexterity of a hand and fingers, not just the open and close function most current prosthetics offer. He is focusing his research on upper limb prosthetics, specifically the myoelectric controls of those devices by combining surface electromyography (EMG) processing with musculoskeletal modeling.  

I started down this path for the technical challenge, but I am staying in this field for the people it will help.”

—Barathwaj Murali

Murali has studied with, and worked for, his faculty mentor, Richard Weir, PhD, associate research professor and Director of the Biomechatronic Development Laboratory, since 2016. This includes collaborating with a team that received a patent at Point Designs LLC, where Dr. Weir is President and Co-Founder. Murali initially attained the fellowship while at Rice University and working with Marcia O’Malley, PhD. He then decided to transfer and complete the program with CU Denver’s Dr. Weir on University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

“He came in as a young, bright and enthusiastic student who wanted to work in the field of prosthetics,” said Dr. Weir. “He is really very talented and is the right person for this line of work.” 

Wright looks to improve eating disorders treatment with interdisciplinary approach 

Spenser Wright is working towards her PhD within Health & Behavioral Sciences and is also driven to find ways to help others. She became interested in researching how treatment teams make decisions, and how patients are included in the process, while working in eating disorder treatment facilities after graduating from Tufts University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Women’s Studies. 

Spenser Wright

“Eating disorders are shockingly common, but because they can be stigmatizing, we don’t realize how common they are,” said Wright. She hopes her research will help guide providers and patients to make more effective treatment decisions as well as understand the impact of involuntary treatment.  

Wright chose CU Denver so she could work with professor Karen Spencer because of her expertise in factors that influence medical decisions. She also appreciates that the combination of anthropology, sociology, and public health within the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences melds together all the elements she needs to do her research. 

Often times people in the social sciences think this type of funding isn’t for them. I just want to encourage those that are considering the GRFP. The opportunity is there.” 

—Spenser Wright

GRFP supports quality, vitality, and diversity of scientific and engineering workforce 

Since 1952, NSF has funded more than 60,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. CU Denver has had at least a dozen NSF fellows to date. Fellowships may only be used for an eligible graduate degree program at an academic institution accredited in, and having a campus located in, the US, its territories, possessions, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.   

“The NSF GRFP is a highly competitive program, and our student fellows are a testament to the high-quality research programs our CU Denver faculty are building,” praised Phillip L. De Leon, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research & Creative Activities.