UMCES Ph.D. candidate Jens Wira receives USM Board of Regents Award

May 1, 2024

The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents has awarded a Student Excellence Scholarship to Jens Wira, a graduate student at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's (UMCES) Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET). This scholarship is highly selective with only four awards given across USM's roughly 37,000 strong graduate students.

A Ph.D. candidate, Wira is recognized in the Innovation and Creative Activity category for his innovative approach to science and artistic collaboration that bridges the gap between complex scientific concepts and public understanding, making science accessible and engaging to all. His innovative thinking allowed him to go beyond the conventional and propel scientific knowledge in revolutionary ways.

In the lab, Wira is working to quantify the swimming behavior of dinoflagellates—a type of one-celled algae primarily responsible for harmful algal blooms, such as red tides—and decipher the environmental cues for the behavior.

"His innovative approach has not only advanced academic research, but also significantly enriched our institute's scientific outreach and public engagement efforts," said Wira’s faculty mentor, Professor Allen Place.

Wira has shown his ability to stay ahead of the curve and emphasize that creativity is key to explaining difficult scientific concepts to the general public. His forward-thinking approach to repurposing a discarded 3D printer, for instance, introduced new and exciting ways to drive research and education. Indeed, he transformed that same printer into a microscope operated by a GameCube controller, allowing people attending IMET events to embark on an interactive "dinoflagellate safari" to explore these microorganisms. Currently, Wira is working to create a holographic display for use in IMET to showcase ongoing research and make it available for public viewing.

An attendee of the 2024 IMET Open House explores Wira's interactive "dinoflagellate safari."

Wira’s collaborative efforts with IMET’s previous artist-in-residence, Dr. Lisa Moren (UMBC), further exemplify his creative contributions. To represent the gold-sputtering required to view dinoflagellates under an electron microscope, he assisted in the additive manufacturing of gold-plated sculptures for multiple exhibitions, while providing technical assistance for Moren’s ongoing exhibition at the Peale Museum where Pyrocystis cells are agitated upon noise, allowing a visual conversation between human and algae.

"I’m happy this award recognizes how fortunate and blessed I am to be working with the people I do," said Wira. "Their support has allowed me to be creative in expressing myself alongside the science we do. These endeavors have been a great and rewarding part of my academic journey, and I hope to be able to continue trying to make science accessible and engaging to all."

The Board of Regents Student Excellence Scholarships recognize exceptionally talented students who are making contributions in various aspects of student life.