Filling the gaps in sensory ecology research: Former USCA student chosen for esteemed research program for insights on mosquitoes' interactions with birds

Richardson earned a USCA degree in biology, focusing on organic chemistry, physics, and minoring in psychology.

A former University of South Carolina Aiken graduate, Nalany Richardson was named a candidate in the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP).  


The program is one of the most prestigious in the United States, awarded to outstanding students in the STEM fields who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. The five-year program is awarded to senior undergraduates and first- and second-year graduate STEM students. It also provides three years of financial support through an annual stipend of $37,000.  


Securing the NSF GRFP is a significant achievement for anyone, but particularly for Richardson, a first-generation Latina college student. “I didn’t expect to receive this grant because it’s so competitive,” said Richardson. “The fact that I did is a very big deal for me personally, especially while as an undergraduate student.”  


From left to right: Richardson, USCA alumnus Madison Zimmerman, USCA graduate Breanna Kennedy, and Dr. Kristina Ramstad 

Richardson says she learned about the NSF GRFP after speaking with Dr. Daniel Peach from the 

University of Georgia, who asked if she would be interested in graduate school through the College of Veterinary Medicine.  


To qualify for the NSF GRFP, Richardson explained why she would be the best candidate and what impact her research project has on the field of science. “For my project, I focused on a specific species of mosquitoes and their attraction to avian hosts acoustic and olfactory cues,” she said. “When I was looking at a potential project, I found that there was a gap in this area of research I was interested in. It’s important because a greater understanding of mosquito-bird interactions could aid in vector control and pest management, but there was no information out there.”  


Richardson’s project focused on three different objectives such as what volatile organic compounds scents play a role in mosquitoes to be attracted to birds, what mosquitoes' organs are picking up the scent of birds, and a look at synthetic attractants of mosquito organs. “My overall goal is to create traps that can attract these mosquitos and add to current knowledge in vector control,” said Richardson.  

“I’m over the moon that Nalany has been awarded this grant,” said Dr. Kristina Ramstad, an associate professor at USCA. “It shows other students at USCA are just as capable of competing for and obtaining highly competitive and prestigious grants as anyone else.”


Richardson joined Dr. Ramstad’s conservation genomics lab in August of 2021 and credits Dr. Ramstad for pushing her to excel, as well as Dr. Peach for his optimism regarding the NSF GRFP. “Nalany is extremely bright and hardworking. She’s an excellent and creative problem solver in the lab and field,” Dr. Ramstad added.  


This year, 2,037 fellowships were awarded out of more than 13,000 applicants to the program, with many awardees being current graduate students. Richardson has genuinely distinguished herself as the sole USCA graduate to achieve this honor before even graduating.  


Richardson will continue her studies at UGA with Dr. Peach’s Vector Ecology Lab, as a master’s student studying Comparative Biomedical Sciences.


Richardson graduated from USCA with a degree in general biology with a concentration in organic chemistry physics including a minor in psychology. 

For more information, contact Angela Saxon,