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Physics and Biology Undergraduates Win Goldwater Scholarships

Physics and Biology Undergraduates Win Goldwater Scholarships
Students recognized for their research studying the Higgs boson and the genetic regulation of single-celled plant hairs.

Goldwater both-kids2013 Goldwater Scholars Bonnie Cole and Victor Rodriguez.

AUSTIN, Texas–Three undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships, the premier undergraduate award of its type in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.

The one- and two-year scholarships, awarded annually to outstanding second- and third-year college students, will cover the cost of undergraduate tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

This year's 271 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,107 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

This year’s recipients from The University of Texas at Austin are Victor A. Rodriguez, Bonnie Cole, and Sai P. Gourisankar.

Rodriguez, an honors physics and mathematics major from El Paso, Texas, was recognized for his work in experimental high energy physics, and in particular for his participation in the global effort to find the Higgs boson particle.

In the summer of 2011 Rodriguez interned at the Frascati National Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, helping to test algorithms that were being used to interpret data from the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland.

The following summer he was at CERN itself, working in one of the subgroups searching for the Higgs boson.

“Victor searched for first signs of the Higgs via its decay to pairs of ‘W-bosons,’ which is one of the main Higgs discovery channels,” said Richard Teuscher, an associate professor of physics at the University of Toronto and Rodriguez’s supervisor at CERN. “He successfully completed a multi-dimensional optimization of the analysis, and presented this in an excellent talk at a group meeting of experienced physicists at CERN. When his term at CERN came to an end, his analysis was continued by a postdoctoral fellow.”

Rodriguez was present in the auditorium on the morning of July 4, 2012, when it was announced to the world that the Higgs boson had been observed.

“I had to get in line at four in the morning to get a seat,” he said, “but it was worth it. It was really exciting.”

During his time at the university Rodriguez has done research with physics professors John Markert, Christina Markert, and Peter Onyisi. He’s fluent in three languages (English, Spanish and French), plays guitar, and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics.

Bonnie Cole is a Dean’s Scholars Honors biology major from Bastrop, Texas. She was recognized for her work in the molecular biology lab of professor Alan Lloyd. The goal of her research was to better characterize a regulator that plays a role in the development of “trichomes,” which are small, single-celled branched plant hairs that are natural insect deterrents.

“I am honored to receive the Goldwater,” said Cole. “Being awarded this further inspires me to pursue a successful and beneficial research career.”

This semester Cole has been working the lab of biology professor John Wallingford, studying early thyroid gland development in the African clawed frog.

Cole has twice won the New England Biolabs Award for Excellence in Molecular Biology Research at the college’s Undergraduate Research Forum, and has won two research fellowships. She is a teaching assistant in the general chemistry course taught by Senior Vice Provost David Laude, and is a member of the Natural Sciences Council as well as Committee Chair of the council’s Student/Faculty Relations Committee. She plans to pusue a Ph.D. in biology.

Sai Gourisankar is an honors chemical engineering and Plan II double major from Fort Worth, Texas. He was recognized for innovative biomedical research he’s conducting under the guidance of chemical engineering professor Keith P. Johnston.

Gourisankar is helping Johnston’s lab design gold nanoclusters for biomedical therapy and imaging. Molecular and cellular imaging techniques can reveal real-time changes of various biomolecules associated with cancer and other diseases.

“Imagine the ability to localize therapy to a small number of malignant cells, with minimal impact on surrounding healthy tissue,” Gourisankar said.

Gourisankar said his long-term goal is pursue a Ph.D. in materials science.

“I’d like to conduct research in nanomaterials and teach at the university level,” he said. “I am interested in applying fundamental research in surface physics to develop novel technologies.”

The 275 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from 1,095 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law in 1986. The scholarship program honoring Senator Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

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