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2024 Honolulu ARCS Scholars

Sixteen STEM doctoral students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa were recognized for outstanding research, and Alika Maunakea of the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) was named 2024 Scientist of the Year for his groundbreaking work in epigenetics.

The awards were presented by the Honolulu chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation in May.

Scientist of the Year: Alika Maunakea

three people smiling
Alika Maunakea receives his award from Cheryl Ernst and Jane Schoonmaker from Honolulu ARCS.

Maunakea, JABSOM associate professor of anatomy, biochemistry and physiology and leading epigeneticist, seeks to understand the gene-environment interactions that underlie the development of diseases of health disparities. His research has garnered over $27 million in funding.

Maunakea’s work is deeply influenced by his cultural heritage and his commitment to addressing health disparities among Indigenous populations. He leads the Epigenomics Core Facility of Hawaiʻi and collaborates on numerous community-based biomedical projects.

Beyond his research, Maunakea actively mentors students and promotes diversity in the scientific community.

Read more about Maunakea at JABSOM.

Honolulu ARCS Scholars

The 2024 Honolulu ARCS Scholars represent a diverse range of disciplines and projects. Two students earned the 2024 ARCS Scholars of the Year—Mason Russo and Nicholas Saunders were honored for their outstanding research presentations. Russo, an entomology PhD student, is investigating the distribution and control of the hala scale and coconut rhinoceros beetles, both of which are invasive species threatening native Hawaiian flora. Saunders, an astronomy PhD student, has discovered more than 10 exoplanets, contributing significantly to the understanding of planetary system evolution.

All award winners receive $6,000 each, and Russo and Saunders receive an additional $1,000 for their achievements.

College of Engineering

  • Saige Dacuycuy: Developing reconfigurable intelligent surfaces to enhance cell phone reception.
  • Jonathan Itokazu: Creating contactless sensors for medical monitoring and security authentication using polarimetric radar.

College of Natural Sciences

  • Julia Douglas (botany): Studying la monjita orchids and epiphytes in Oʻahu’s cloud forests.
  • Melanie Kuʻi Keliipuleole (zoology): Researching shrimp species used traditionally in ʻōpelu fishing.
  • Arianna Bunnell (computer and information science): Developing AI-equipped ultrasound devices for breast cancer screening.
  • Christopher Kang (chemistry): Investigating compounds affecting medication absorption.

Marine Biology Graduate Program

  • James Fumo: Researching an unknown alga forming visible red trails in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology

  • Lucas Ellison (Earth sciences): Comparing climate model simulations with real drought data.
  • Zachary Menzo (atmospheric sciences): Studying the impact of El Niño on extreme weather events.
  • Blake R. Stoner-Osborne (oceanography): Examining the diet of small marine organisms to understand food chains.

Institute for Astronomy

  • Nicholas K. Saunders: Investigating planetary system evolution using data from space and ground-based telescopes.

John A. Burns School of Medicine

  • Thomas Ken Awamura (medical microbiology and pharmacology): Studying immune cell proteins for HIV management and long-COVID risks.
  • Hongwen Wu (developmental and reproductive biology): Researching ovarian development to improve women’s health care.

College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

  • Jordie Ho (tropical plant pathology): Refining techniques to examine plant-virus interactions.
  • Mason Russo (entomology): Research on controlling invasive insect species.
  • Benjamin Wiseman (plant and environmental protection science): Testing cover crops for pest control in agriculture.
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