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Pair of Natural Sciences Undergraduates Selected for Goldwater Scholarships

Pair of Natural Sciences Undergraduates Selected for Goldwater Scholarships

Two University of Texas at Austin seniors, Zoe de Beurs and Cole Maguire, have received Goldwater Scholarships, one of the most prestigious awards for STEM undergraduates.

The Goldwater Scholarship was awarded to 396 college students nationwide for the 2020-2021 academic year. The recipients were chosen from among a pool of more than 5,000 college undergraduates.

A physics and astronomy double major, de Beurs studies the intersection of astrophysics and machine learning. The research that earned her a Goldwater Scholarship focuses on using artificial intelligence to classify the black holes and neutron stars present in X-ray binary star systems, and was conducted at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"Improving our understanding of X-ray binary population statistics can provide insight into the early formation and evolutionary stages of galaxies," she said.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence holds a lot of promise to solve many of the big questions in astrophysics, de Beurs said, and she is in the process of submitting two publications, including one she worked on with UT's Andrew Vanderburg to increase the chances of finding Earth-sized exoplanets.

De Beurs is president of the UT Natural Sciences Council and serves on several committees within the College of Natural Sciences. She helped start the college's Curie Diaries event series to empower women STEM students by connecting them with professors and providing female role models. She eventually hopes to become a principal investigator with her own research group combining cutting-edge machine-learning techniques with high-energy astrophysics.

"I study astrophysics because I want to uncover the mysteries of some of the most curious but critical celestial objects in the universe," de Beurs said. 

Maguire, a biochemistry major, has focused his research on the interplay between the human nervous system and the immune system, with a focus on neurological autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis.

"I'm interested in understanding the effects of environmental factors such as diet, sleep, alcohol and the gut microbiome on influencing disease progression," Maguire said.

He was a co-first author on a study published in December 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper found that moderate alcohol consumption decreased symptoms in male mice with a murine model of Multiple Sclerosis.

After participating in the Freshman Research Initiative during his freshman year, Maguire went on to become a peer mentor for the Urban Ecosystems FRI stream. He also joined the Health Leadership Apprenticeship program at the Dell Medical School and connected with the lab of Esther Melamed, assistant professor of neurology.

Moving forward, he hopes to earn a joint M.D./Ph.D. in neuroscience to continue his work in neuro-immunology.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency founded in 1986. The Goldwater Scholarship was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. 

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Wednesday, 28 October 2020

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