NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Samantha Linn awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Recognition from the NSF feels like a pat on the back from one of your greatest role models,” said Linn. “It means “well done,” but it also means, “keep up the good work.” I am grateful because the fellowship gives me more freedom to focus on research and continue my participation in organizations that I care a lot about, such as the Association for Women in Mathematics, the Prison Mathematics Project, and the Living Room Exchange of Mathematics.”

The fellowship provides three years of support over a five-year fellowship period for individuals working on a graduate degree who have demonstrated potential for significant research achievements in STEM or STEM education.

Linn’s research is focused on understanding randomness in various biological processes. In particular, she has spent time thinking about what is known as the “redundancy principle,” which is about the need of many copies of the same entity (think cells, molecules, or ions, for example) to fulfill a biological function. The redundancy principle states that while these copies may seem energetically wasteful, this redundancy is necessary for certain tasks to occur sufficiently fast. Such a task might be neurotransmitters, which we think of as random searchers, looking for postsynaptic receptors, which we think of as targets.

Samantha Linn

“Recognition from the NSF feels like a pat on the back from one of your greatest role models,” said Linn. “It means “well done,” but it also means, “keep up the good work.”


Linn has been working on characterizing what might be expected from the fastest searcher. “One advantage of my work is that the application doesn’t need to be solely centered on biology,” she said. “In fact, the questions I ask are often relevant to many areas of physics, chemistry, and sociology. There are many more questions to be asked, with specific applications in mind, so I’m sure this work will keep me busy for a while!”

Linn grew up loving math, and she spent a lot of her free time doing sudoku puzzles and other math games. It wasn’t until halfway through college that she became aware of the possibility of pursuing a career in mathematics.

Before moving to Utah for graduate school, she studied biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota. She had planned to study medicine, but became concerned by the lack of math in her pre-med classes. With the help of mentors, she realized that she would be happier pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Samantha wasn’t sure where she wanted to go for graduate school—she had flights booked for graduate program visits, but everything was canceled at the last minute with the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020. After participating in Zoom calls with at least 50 graduate students and faculty at various programs, she decided that the people in Utah were the happiest. She had never been to Salt Lake City until the day she moved here, but  it has worked out well. Linn likes the graduate program, finds it fun, and she’s very happy she made the decision to come to the U. After graduate school, she hopes to continue her research as a postdoc and, ultimately, have a career in academia as a full professor.

by Michele Swaner, first published @ math.utah.edu