This thesis, while an individual work, benefited from the insights and directions of several people. First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to my advisor and mentor, Dr. Angela L. Tyner, for all her support, guidance and friendship throughout my graduate studies. I am indebted to her for providing me with a role model. She introduced me to the rigors of scientific research and helped me define my career in science.

To Dr. Harald Saumweber I am indebted for providing me with the opportunity to perform my thesis research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His willingness to contribute insightful comments to my work has been instrumental in making this thesis a reality. I would also like to thank my thesis committee members, Dr. Walter Birchmeier, Dr. Elke Dittmann and Dr. Thomas Börner for taking the time to read this thesis and their support.

I especially would like to acknowledge the members of the Tyner lab for being there for me whenever I needed them. They generated a laboratory atmosphere conducive to study and discovery, and with many helpful discussions shapped this work.

Words fail to express my gratefulness to my fiancé, Martin Kosiankowski, for his love and infinite support. His support in times of trouble, but also his unwavering belief in my potential as a researcher, has always been a motive for me to live up to his expectations.

Last but not least, I would like to dedicate this thesis to my parents, for their never-ending support and the sense of security they have given when I needed it most. They have waited so long for this moment to come true; I am glad that their waiting has finally been rewarded.

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