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Natural Sciences Graduates Win Mitchell Awards

Natural Sciences Graduates Win Mitchell Awards

Students and recent graduates in the College of Natural Sciences were awarded the George H. Mitchell Award for Academic Excellence this spring. These awards honor students in STEM and other categories, with generous support provided by the University Co-op. The University of Texas at Austin recognized 12 undergraduate students this year for superior scholarly and creative achievements, highlighting the unparalleled dedication and achievement the students showed in their fields of study. 

Awards range from $1,625 to $7,000, for winners of the grand prize in a given category.

Among the winners are: Alex Cao, a recent graduate who majored in finance and in textiles and apparel; Amelia Mercado, a recent graduate who majored in biology with honors and is an incoming medical student at Baylor College of Medicine; Vivek Ramanathan, who is doing a five-year program in computer science (a Graduate of Distinction this year in mathematics and currently earning a bachelor's and master's degree simultaneously in computer science); and Aniket Sanghi, a rising senior majoring in astronomy and in physics.

Ramanathan earned a $5,000 award in the STEM category for a project he worked on for more than two years creating a simulator for rapid single flux quantum circuits. His work potentially has applications for high-speed and high-performance computing, ultrafast routers and networks and quantum computing.

"Throughout my time at UT, I have had access to incredible opportunities that I would not be able to get anywhere else in the world," Ramanathan said, reflecting on support he received in the Department of Computer Science for his project. "I learned so much taking courses with renowned professors, worked with leading researchers in computer science and made connections with faculty and peers that will last well beyond my time on campus. These experiences have taught me the importance of learning and pursuing my interests — lessons that will continue to inspire me throughout my educational and professional career."

Mercado received a $5,000 award in the Social Sciences category for a project where she examined the prevalence of mental health diagnoses in adult patients with congenital heart disease and set out to determine the impact of these diagnoses have on hospitalization characteristics and outcomes. Her work went on to be presented at the American College of Cardiology.

"During the pandemic, I noticed that a lot of people around me (and globally) were beginning to experience mental health issues," Mercado said. "I reflected on how for certain groups of people, mental health is often neglected and poorly researched. After beginning my work at the Texas Center for Pediatrics and Congenital Heart Disease at Dell Children's Hospital, I learned that adults with congenital heart disease are one of these groups."

The study found that of more than 10,000 people with congenital heart disease discharged from a hospital, more than 15 percent had a mental health diagnosis, nearly 9 percent had anxiety, more than 4 percent had depression and 22 percent of patients had more than one mental health diagnosis. Those with mental health diagnoses were more likely to be female, white, non-Hispanic, and insured.

"I had fantastic mentors and was able to develop real life skills, such as creating my own research project and leading it from start to finish," said Mercado, who will be attending Baylor College of Medicine on a full scholarship this fall. "I know I will take those skills with me to medical school and continue to use them as a physician researcher."

Alex Cao and his fellow student share a $5,000 prize in the artistic/creative category for a fashion accessories brand he co-founded called LOREM IPSUM. Cao and his co-founder Caleb Zhang wanted to create "an accessories brand that reprioritizes drawing inspiration from art and culture to formulate stories," Cao said. "LOREM IPSUM's driving objective is to prove that fashion accessories can be both conceptual and capture a wide market. On a grander scale, we hope to inspire fellow young creatives of color to create art that is unfettered by societal pressures and industry norms."

The brand's first collection, "Corporate Cannibal," features accessories inspired by office products, balancing the functional items with the avant garde and turning them into wearable items.

"The professors in the textiles and apparel department were a huge inspiration. (Shoutout to Gail [Chovan] and Eve [Nicols]!)" Cao said. "They really push you to think creatively and will take time out of their own day to talk to you about projects and whatever else. Overall, the biggest thing that I learned at UT is that whatever you want to do in life, do it, and you don't have to do it alone. There are so many people and avenues in and outside of the classroom to learn from. All it takes is some belief in yourself and hard work."

Aniket Sanghi took home the top prize in the STEM category and $7,000 for a project that uses a library of archival observations and the Hubble Space Telescope to accelerate the discoveries of newborn planets outside our solar system that are not visible from ground-based observatories.

"By enabling efficient searchers for newly formed planets, my research sets the foundation for deciphering the mysteries of planet formation," Sanghi said. "The long-term impact of my research demonstrating the capability of this technique to detect faint planets close to their stars is to contribute to a central goal of astronomy – image and characterize an Earth-like planet around a sun-like star."

Sanghi participated in the Freshman Research Initiative and worked on directly imaging exoplanets, exploring variable stars, and studying brown dwarf stars. Through his experience in the Department of Astronomy, he was able to develop an understanding of different methodologies and determine how to apply a multidisciplinary approach towards questions in the science of exoplanets and studying planet formation. He plans to go on to a Ph.D. program in astronomy with the goal of one day becoming an astronomy professor and researcher.

"I look forward to using my acquired skills to unlock the secrets of the universe and share them widely," he said. 

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Thursday, 07 July 2022

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