2 Undergrad Researchers Win Goldwater Scholarships

Scholars Plan to Conduct Doctoral Studies in Molecular Genetics and Biomedical Engineering

May 17, 2012

Truc Do doesn’t give up easily.

As a sophomore in biochemistry last year at UT Dallas, her research on mitochondrial gene expression in Dr. Dennis Miller’s molecular biology/genetics lab caught the attention of the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program.

Truc Do

Truc Do helped sequence influenza viruses during a summer internship.

The program awards scholarships to about 300 top students from a field of 1,000 nominated by faculty at universities nationwide. Do received an honorable mention. Though quite a national recognition in itself, she was hoping for a full scholarship.

Undaunted, she completed a second summer internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where she helped sequence influenza viruses, and applied again for the Goldwater program.

Her perseverance has paid off. This year, she garnered a scholarship, along with Abhishek Raj, a sophomore electrical engineering student who researched the application of shape-memory polymers to flexible electronics.

Abhishek Raj

Abhishek Raj researched the application of shape memory polymers in flexible electronics.

It’s the first time since 2009 that two UT Dallas students have won Goldwater Scholarships in the same year.

“When I got the notification of winning the scholarship, I immediately speed-dialed my parents' number,” Do said. “I had a lot of people to thank, especially my mentors Dr. Miller, Dr. Ernest Hannig, and Dr. Juan Gonzalez. It's a humbling and incredibly happy feeling.”

A third UT Dallas student, Elizabeth Hanacik, a junior in the School of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, received an honorable mention.

Having such a prestigious program recognize three UT Dallas students makes it a “banner year” for the University, said Dr. Douglas Dow, coordinator of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships and associate director of the University’s Collegium V honors program.

Elizabeth Hanacik

Elizabeth Hanacik, a junior in the School of Brain and Behavorial Sciences, earned honorable mention in the Goldwater Program.

“Twenty years ago, these awards were the monopoly of the Ivy League schools. We are competing at that level now,” Dow said.

All three honorees are McDermott Scholars, and Do and Hanacik also have Green Fellowships, which enables them to dedicate a full semester to individual research in labs at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Do researched obesity and the role of the Sim1 gene in Dr. Andrew Zinn’s lab. Hanacik focused on researching membrane trafficking in neurons in Dr. Robin Hiesinger’s lab.

The Goldwater program is designed to identify and encourage top students nationwide who want to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. Dr. Dow said it becomes a golden key to fellowships and the top-ranking graduate schools in the country. Many of these promising undergraduate researchers also are rewarded with highly competitive scholarships.

“Abhi has been a true ambassador for UT Dallas and undergraduate research. He is a Renaissance man who understands both leadership and scholarship. His spirit and work ethic are representative of talented undergraduate researchers here that will continue to change the world in the elite graduate programs and beyond.”

Dr. Walter Voit,
Asst. Professor of Material Science Engineering

Raj, who has worked in the Advanced Polymer Research Lab with Dr. Walter Voit since the summer before his freshman year, intends to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering to eventually teach at the university level. He also plans to focus his research on the application of flexible electronics to the body, exploring how flexible electronics coupled with emerging technologies can be used in multi-electrode sensing arrays, cortical brain probes, cochlear implants and prosthetics.

“These biotechnologies will soon realize their immense potential in empowering doctors to improve patient diagnosis and treatment while empowering patients to interact with their world in new ways,” Raj said.

Dr. Voit, an assistant professor of material science and engineering, said Raj has given presentations at major national and international conferences, and completed a summer research experience at Princeton University.

“Abhi has been a true ambassador for UT Dallas and undergraduate research,” Dr. Voit said. “He is a Renaissance man who understands both leadership and scholarship. His spirit and work ethic are representative of talented undergraduate researchers here that will continue to change the world in the elite graduate programs and beyond.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Do plans to work on a PhD in molecular genetics and eventually enter academia as well as continue her research.

Dr. Miller described Do, one of his undergraduate researchers, as an “outstanding” choice for the scholarship.

“Truc is bright, enthusiastic and creative, and she loves a challenge,” he said. “Although she was an undergraduate, it was like having an extra graduate student in my lab.”

Hanacik, who researched tinnitus in Dr. Michael Kilgard’s neuroscience lab at UT Dallas and also explored potential therapies for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, during a summer internship with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, plans to graduate with a neuroscience degree and then pursue a PhD in neuroscience.

Since 2005, seven UT Dallas students have received Goldwater Scholarships. The nationally competitive award is considered the premier undergraduate honor of its type. It’s also a good harbinger of future success. More than 75 recent of Goldwater scholars have gone on to win Rhodes Scholarships for postgraduate study.


Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, robin.russell@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.
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