Goldwater Foundation Recognizes Three Undergrad Researchers

Maria Burbano

Maria Burbano, a bioengineering junior, is the ninth UT Dallas student since 2005 to win a Goldwater Scholarship.

UT Dallas junior Maria Burbano always thought she would be a doctor one day.

Both of her parents were electrical engineers, and Burbano was naturally drawn to science, math and problem-solving. But she figured a medical career would give her more opportunity to interact with people.

She found the perfect niche when she transferred to UT Dallas her sophomore year. As an undergraduate researcher in a biomedical engineering lab, she helps to improve prosthetics and implants for surgeons to use.

“I love the problem-solving, and I’m working with surgeons who give me implants to work on. It made me realize I really do enjoy biomedical engineering,” Burbano said. 

Burbano’s accomplishments have been recognized this year by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. The biomedical engineering student is one of 283 students selected to receive the scholarship from a field of 1,166 top students nominated by faculty at universities nationwide.

Burbano is the ninth UT Dallas student since 2005 to win a Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to students who intend to pursue careers in science, mathematics and engineering.

The program also gave honorable mentions to UT Dallas nominees Melanie Maurer and Michael Lau.

Melanie Maurer

Melanie Maurer received an honorable mention from the Goldwater program.

“This is one of our best years for Goldwaters, with three of our four nominees being recognized,” said Dr. Douglas Dow, coordinator of the Office of Distinguished Scholarships and associate director of the University’s Collegium V Honors Program. “It shows the deepening level of engagement at the University in giving students research opportunities.”

In 2012, UT Dallas had two full Goldwater wins and one honorable mention.

The Goldwater program often opens doors to other fellowships and the top-ranking graduate schools in the country. Many of these promising undergraduate researchers also are rewarded with highly competitive scholarships.

Burbano is a native of Colombia, whose family followed her father’s career moves to Spain, England and Sweden. She is the University’s first “permanent resident” student to win a Goldwater.

“I think I see things differently,” Burbano said of her international experience. “I know the wonderful opportunities I have here, and I understand that other people may know a lot more than I do. It humbles you, but it also gives you room to learn.”

Since joining the Biomaterials for Osseointegration and Novel Engineering (BONE) lab in her sophomore year, Burbano has worked on several collaborative projects with UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry. Her commitment to her research projects has resulted in multiple conference papers, podium presentations and authorship in peer-reviewed journals.

Michael Lau

Michael Lau received an honorable mention for the second year in a row.

Burbano eventually wants to research orthopedic implants and tissue grafts in the industrial setting, and earn a PhD in biomedical engineering with a focus on biomaterials.

Both Burbano and Lau are undergraduate researchers in the lab of Dr. Danieli Rodrigues, assistant professor of bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I am very proud of Maria’s accomplishments as an undergraduate student and researcher,” Rodrigues said. “It is inspiring to see a student at such a young age be so determined and focused in achieving her career goals. Receiving the Goldwater Scholarship is the recognition for her dedication and passion for research.”

This is the second year in a row for Lau to receive an honorable mention from the Goldwater Foundation. In his freshman year at UT Arlington, Lau researched microfluidics and the manipulation of cancer cells by using nanoparticles to channel or block their movement.

Since spring 2013, Lau has been researching a drug delivery system for root canal treatment in Rodrigues’ lab. He has presented the results of his research in several conferences and is collaborating with an international institution on this project. He plans to pursue a graduate degree in bioengineering.

Goldwater Scholarship
UT Dallas Recipients

Since 2005, nine UT Dallas students have received nationally competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, and five others have received honorable mention:

Maria Burbano
Michael Lau (honorable mention)
Melanie Maurer (honorable mention)

Matthew Krenik
Michael Lau (honorable mention)

Truc Do
Abhishek Raj
Elizabeth Hanacik (honorable mention)

Philip Campbell
Truc Do (honorable mention)

Mary Gurak
Alex Palmer

Austin Swafford

Kassandra McLean

“It is an honor to have two of my students recognized by the Goldwater Scholarship,” Rodrigues said. “Michael, for the second year, has received recognition for his outstanding academic and research achievements. He is very enthusiastic to carry on his research into graduate school and wishes to continue exploring solutions that can improve patient health.”      

Lau, who encouraged his lab colleague Burbano to apply this year for the Goldwater, credited Rodrigues’ expertise and ability to motivate her students to do their best.

“Dr. Rodrigues knows how to relate to students and knows how to drive us. We get good work done. So to be able to represent UT Dallas, the Department of Bioengineering and then Dr. Rodrigues’ lab is something that brings joy to my heart,” Lau said.

Maurer, a bioengineering sophomore and a McDermott Scholar, worked on flexible electronics in Dr. Walter Voit’s Advanced Polymer Research Lab her freshman year, and this year researched the tumor microenvironment of breast cancer cells in the lab of Dr. Jung-whan Kim, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology. She spent last summer researching stem cell engineering at Georgia Tech and will be doing biomaterials research this summer in Germany.

“Melanie has always shown meticulous attention to detail and is a clever problem solver. She is a terrific student, a pleasure to teach and learn from, and a hard-working scholar,” said Voit, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering. “Melanie’s dedication, calm competence and outside-the-box thought processes, combined with her proactive spirit to roll up her sleeves and make things happen, make her an ideal ambassador for UT Dallas.”

Maurer plans to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering and conduct research in stem cell engineering applied to cancer therapeutics.  

“What really intrigues me is that you can take an engineering approach to a biological problem and solve bioproblems in a different way,” Maurer said. “Coming to UT Dallas gave me opportunities to get into labs as an undergraduate. Right off the bat as a freshman, I began working in a lab. You don’t get that same opportunity at other universities.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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