Senol Utku Annual Awards

Presented annually to the best pre-PhD peer-reviewed journal papers

Senol Utku

The Senol Utku Annual Awards recognize graduate student/faculty adviser teams for intellectual excellence, creativity, and highest-quality work.

The competition promotes early writing of research articles among graduate students by selecting the best pre-Ph.D. peer-reviewed journal papers.

The awards are dedicated to Senol Utku for his exemplary academic achievements and years of service to the department, 1970-2002.

More about Senol Utku »

Award Details


  • Highest Distinction: $300
  • High Distinction: $150


5 pm ET (UTC-5:00), February 2

How to Submit

To be considered, please submit:

  • Four (4) copies of a pre-PhD peer-reviewed journal paper that has been published or accepted for publication between Jan. 31 of the past year and Jan. 31 of the current year
  • A dated letter of acceptance from the journal
  • A recommendation letter from the student's faculty adviser assessing: the contribution of the student to the paper, the predicted impact of the paper, its originality, and the quality of the journal

The deadline is 5 pm ET (UTC-5:00), February 2.

Send submissions to:

  • Duke Campus Box 90287

Review Process

  • Prizes are awarded by a committee, which may decide on a different monetary award distribution yearly, or award none
  • The committee will be an ad hoc Prof. Utku Awards Committee of three faculty, selected each year at a faculty meeting after the submission of papers is known, to avoid conflicts of interest
  • Winners present their papers in Duke CEE Graduate Student Seminars

Award Winners


Highest Distinction

  • Joanna Sipe—“From Bottle to Microplastics: Can We Estimate How Our Plastic Products Are Breaking Down?” Science of The Total Environment 814 (2022): 152460; Advisor: Mark Wiesner

High Distinction

  • Natalia Neal-Walthall—“Utility of Diffusive Gradient in Thin-Film Passive Samplers for Predicting Mercury Methylation Potential and Bioaccumulation in Freshwater Wetlands” Environmental Science & Technology  56 (2022): 1743–1752; Advisor: Heileen Hsu-Kim
  • Hao Zhang—“Stochastic Modeling of Geometrical Uncertainties on Complex Domains, with Application to Additive Manufacturing and Brain Interface Geometries” Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering 385 (2021): 114014; Advisor: Johann Guilleminot


Highest Distinction

  • Boyang Zhang—“Gauss’s Principle with Inequality Constraints for Multi-agent Navigation and Control” IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, VoL. 67, No. 2, February 2022; Advisor: Henri P. Gavin
  • Hanna Varga—Effect of Dust Composition on the Reversibility of Photovoltaic Panel SoilingEnvironmental Science & Technology.; Advisor: Mark R. Wiesner

High Distinction

  • Mohammadreza Momenifar—“Local Analysis of the Clustering, Velocities, and Accelerations of Particles Settling in Turbulence” Physical Review Fluids 5, 034306 (2020); Advisor: Andrew D. Bragg
  • Alexander McCumber—“The Environment Shapes Swine Lung Bacterial Communities” Science of the Total Environment 758 (2021) 143623; Advisor: Claudia Gunsch
  • Tongshu Zheng—“Estimating Ground-Level Pm2.5 Using Micro-Satellite Images by a Convolutional Neural Network and Random Forest Approach” Atmospheric Environment 230 (2020) 117451; Advisor: David E. Carlson


Highest Distinction

High Distinction

  • Shanshan Chu—“Stochastic Multiscale Modeling with Random Fields of Material Properties Defined on Nonconvex Domains” Mechanics Research Communications Journal 2019, Volume 97, pg. 39
  • Nabil Atallah—“Analysis of the Shifted Boundary Method for the Stokes Problem” Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering, Volume: 358, January 2020


Highest Distinction

William Gerhard

High Distinction

Masih Eghdami

Stewart Farling


Highest Distinction

Sara Bonetti

Adviser: Amilcare Porporato
"On the Dynamic Smoothing of Mountains" Geophys. Res. Lett., 44, DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073095

High Distinction

Malar Arulraj

Adviser: Ana Barros
"Shallow Precipitation Detection and Classification Using Multifrequency Radar Observations and Model Simulations" J. Atmos. Ocean. Tech., DOI: 10.1175/JTECH-D-17-0060.1

Trisha Dupnock
Adviser: Marc Deshusses
"High-Performance Biogas Upgrading Using a Biotrickling Filter and Hydrogenotrophic Methanogens" Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, 183:488-502. DOI: 10.1007/s12010-017-2569-2


Highest Distinction

  • Lauren Lowman (adviser Ana Barros): "Interplay of Drought and Tropical Cyclone Activity in SE U.S. Gross Primary Productivity." Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
  • Andrew Stershic (adviser John Dolbow, with N. Moes): "The Thick Level-Set Model for Dynamic Fragmentation." Engineering Fracture Mechanics. 172, 39-60. (2017)
  • Ross Taggart (co-authors Ross K. Taggart, James C. Hower, Gary S. Dwyer, and Heileen Hsu-Kim): "Trends in the Rare Earth Element Content of U.S.-Based Coal Combustion Fly Ashes."


Highest Distinction

  • Osman Karatum (adviser Desiree Plata) "Flexible, Mechanically Durable Aerogel Composites for Oil Capture and Recovery." Applied Materials and Interfaces.
  • Norman Pelak (adviser Amilcare Porporato) "Bistable Plant-Soil Dynamics and Biogenic Controls on the Soil Production Function." Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.


Highest Distinction

  • Curtis Lee (adviser John Dolbow, with Peter J. Mucha) (2014) “A narrow-band gradient-augmented level set method for multiphase incompressible flow.” Journal of Computation Physics. 273, 12-37.
  • Anna Wilson (adviser Ana P. Barros) (2014) “An Investigation of Warm Rainfall Microphysics in the Southern Appalachians: Orographic Enhancement via Low-Level Seeder–Feeder Interactions.” Journal of Atmospheric Sciences. 71, 1783-1805.


Highest Distinction

  • Chandrasekhar Annavarapu (adviser John Dolbow, with M. Hautefeuille), for  “A Robust Nitsche’s Formulation for Interface Problems.”  Computational Methods Applied Mechanical Engineering. 225-228, 44-54. (2012)
  • Xue Feng (adviser Amilcare Porporato, with G. Vico), for “On the Effects of Seasonality on Water Balance and Plant Growth.”  Water Resources Research, 48, 1-12 (2012)


Highest Distinction

  • Ian Cassidy (advisor Henri Gavin)

High Distinction

  • Tong Zhang (advisor Helen Hsu-Kim)
  • Andreas Gondikas (advisor Helen Hsu-Kim)


Highest Distinction

  • Tong Zhang (with Helen Hsu-Kim) for “Photolytic degradation of Methylmercury Enhanced by Binding to Natural Organic Ligands”  Nature Geoscience, 3(7), 473-476

High Distinction

  • David Jassby (with Mark Wiesner), for “Characterization of ZnS Nanoparticle Aggregation Using Photoluminescence,” Langmuir, in press.


Highest Distinction

  • Jing Huang (adviser John Albertson) for “Analysis of Coherent Structures within the Atmospheric Boundary Layer”

High Distinction

  • Amrika Deonarine (adviser Helen Hsu-Kim) for “Precipitation of Mercuric Sulfide Nanoparticles in NOM-Containing Water:  Implications for the Natural  Environment”
  • Rawad Saleh (adviser Andrey Khlystov) for “Determination of Evaporation Coefficients of Semi-Volatile Organic Aerosols Using an Integrated Volume-Tandem Differential Mobility Analysis Method”


Highest Distinction2009 Utku Award Winners

  • James Rigby and A. Porporato: “Spring Frost Risk in a Changing Climate,” journal - Geophysical Research Letters (May 2, 2008) 

High Distinction

  • Zachary Hendren  J. Brant and M.Wiesner: “Surface Modification of Nanostructured Ceramic Membranes for Direct Contact Membrane Distillation”, Journal of Membrane Science (November 2008) JMS-081126R1
  • Jessica Sanders  J. Dolbow and T. Laursen: “On Methods for Stabilizing Constraints over Enriched Interfaces in Elasticity” International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering (2008) NME 2514


From left, Stefano Manzoni, Shuyi Wang and Liangbo HuHighest Distinction

  • Liangbo Hu and T. Hueckel: “Coupled Chemo-Mechanics- of Intergranular Contact: Towards a Three Scale Model,” Computers and Geotechnics (2007) 34, 4, 306-327

High Distinction

  • Stefano Manzoni A. Porporato and J.P. Schimel: “Soil Heterogeneity in Lumped Mineralization-Immobilization Models”, Soil Biology & Biochemistry (2008) 40, 5, 1137 - 1148
  • Shuyi Wang R.M. Holzem and C. Gunsch: “Effects of Pharmaceutically Active Compounds on a Mixed Microbial Community Originating from Wastewater Treatment Plant” Environmental Science and Technology (2008) 42(4); 1091-1095


  • 2007 Senol Utku Winners, Darren Drewry, Stefano Manzoni and Gil BohrerStefano Manzoni & Amilcare Porporato for "A theoretical analysis of nonlinearities and feedbacks in soil carbon and nitrogen cycles" in Journal of Soil Biology & Biochemistry
  • Gil Bohrer, M. Wolosin, R. Brady & R. Avissar for "A virtual canopy generator (V-CaGe) for modeling complex heterogeneous forest canopies at high resolution" in Tellus
  • Darren Drewry & J. Albertson for "Diagnosing model error in canopy-atmosphere exchange using empirical orthogonal function analysis" in Water Resources Research