Natural Sciences, Engineering Students Named Goldwater Scholars

May 15, 2012

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 tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

This year’s recipients are William Berdanier, Leslie Chang and Brian Wilson.

Berdanier, a Dean’s Scholars Honors physics and mathematics major from Boulder, Colo., is being recognized for his work in “inertial confinement fusion,” which seeks to achieve fusion energy by compressing a pellet of fuel to extremely high temperatures and pressures.

Working first at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and then with University of Texas at Austin physicist Gennady Shvets, Berdanier has demonstrated that by propagating an ion beam pulse through a weak background of plasma, the beam can be neutralized very effectively and at a low energy cost.

“Will, who is the only freshman I’ve ever accepted into my lab, started working with me as an unpaid student assistant,” said Shvets. “However, his performance was so overwhelmingly effective that I converted his position into a paid one after one month. Since then he has consistently performed at the level of our best graduate students at the university.”

Chang is a Dean’s Scholars Honors biochemistry and biomedical engineering double major from Toronto. She’s being recognized for her work in the protein engineering laboratory of professors George Georgiou and Brent Iverson. The goal of her work is to engineer an enzyme to be used as a cancer therapeutic against malignancies with metabolic deficiencies.

Her long-term goal is to pursue a master’s/doctorate and eventually to combat pediatric cancers both in the laboratory and in the clinical setting.

Wilson is a chemical engineering student in the Cockrell School of Engineering. His research is focused on developing a new physical form of proteins that could drastically improve treatments for cancer and other diseases, as well as overcome some of the largest challenges in therapeutics: delivering drugs to patients safely, easily and more effectively.

He and chemical engineering faculty members are creating a form of proteins that are packed into highly concentrated, nanometer-size clusters that can pass through a needle into a patient to treat disease — a development that could allow patients to self-administer drugs at home rather than be treated intravenously in a clinic or hospital.

"The Goldwater award is tremendous because it provides both financial support and recognition," Wilson said. "This award affirms the value of research and course work I have done while financially supporting me so that I can focus more on those endeavors in the future."

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 Congress in 1986. The scholarship program honoring Sen. Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

For more information, contact: Daniel Oppenheimer, Hogg Foundation, 512 745 3353.