Graduate student Diegmiller receives two-year grant from the NIH

Thursday, Oct 29, 2020
by Tom Garlinghouse

Rocky Diegmiller, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has received a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that will fund his doctoral research for two years.

Known as an F31 Fellowship grant, it assists promising doctoral candidates whose dissertations focus on scientific studies in health-related research fields. It is funded through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Diegmiller received the award in early September after a lengthy application process that began in the summer of 2019. 

“I was really shocked, honestly, and ecstatic,” said Diegmiller after hearing he had received the award. “The first thing I did was ask my principal investigator if he could confirm the grant. The second thing I did was call my parents.”

Diegmiller is examining the mechanics of oogenesis—the process by which female egg cells differentiate and develop. He is studying this process in Drosophilia—the common fruit fly. Oogenesis has been studied extensively, but many details about it remain poorly understood. Using experimental, modeling and computational approaches, Diegmiller’s aim is to understand how, on the cellular level, a single cell is selected from a cluster of cells and develops into what is known as an oocyte, the future egg. He is also studying how the oocyte’s sister cells assist in its development by exchanging molecules and organelles.

“Rocky is a very thoughtful researcher who is interested in combining his passion for math with important biological questions,” said Stanislav Shvartsman, professor in chemical and biological engineering and Diegmiller’s Ph.D. advisor. “He’s studying some of the most basic mysteries and questions that have to do with the development of something that some people say is the most important cell.”  

Diegmiller arrived at Princeton in 2016 after receiving his master’s degree in applied math from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. But he also has an extensive background in chemistry and biology. Originally from Wheeling, West Virginia, he attended the University of Pennsylvania where he got a degree in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

This dual background has served him well and he is a strong advocate for using applied math and engineering tools in understanding biological problems.  

“I like looking at biological problems from a modeling perspective,” he said. “This is very useful because biology can be ‘noisy’ or seemingly random at times. Modeling things in a coarse way helps us understand what is really important in all this noise.”