Four UNT students from have been named 2009 Barry M. Goldwater Scholars, more than any other Texas college or university.
Goldwaters are considered to be among the country's most prestigious scholarships awarded to students planning careers in mathematics, science and engineering. All college sophomores and juniors are eligible to compete for the scholarships, which provide a maximum of $7,500 each year for one or two years to cover tuition, fees, books and room and board.
Universities may nominate up to four students for the award, and students are chosen on the basis of their scientific research, grade point averages and other achievements.
UNT was one of only five schools nationwide to have the maximum number of scholars. The others were Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Calvin College and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. In Texas, Rice University had three scholars, and the University of Texas-Austin had two.
The Goldwater Foundation, a federally endowed agency established in 1986 to honor the former senator, awarded 278 scholarships from a field of 1,097 mathematics, science and engineering students.
This year's scholars from UNT — Irene Cai, Wen Chyan, Jonathan Dau and Jeremy Lai —are all students at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a two-year residential program at UNT that allows talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college while earning their high school diplomas.
Richard Sinclair, dean of TAMS, says, "I was delighted, but not surprised at the news of these four awards. The winners are some of the brightest, most highly motivated students I've ever known."
James Duban, director of UNT's Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships and chair of the Goldwater Faculty Nominating and Mentoring Committee, says the success of the students bodes well for UNT.
"The results are just stunning, and I join my colleagues in celebrating the grand-slam accomplishments of these students," Duban says. "They have brought added distinction to TAMS, and to UNT. The Goldwater outcome admirably reflects the success of research-based undergraduate education at UNT."
Irene Cai, of Mansfield, used computational models to examine how muscle protein is affected by mutations associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or enlarged heart-muscle disease, one of the primary precursors of sudden cardiac death in young adults. Cai worked with Douglas Root, UNT professor of biology, on her research.
Cai plans to major in molecular biophysics or chemistry in the fall. At TAMS, she is vice president of the Junior Engineering Technical Society, a member of Mu Alpha Theta, which is the TAMS math club, and an honors society member of Research Organization.
"Being selected for a Goldwater scholarship is certainly an honor, but beyond that, having the opportunity to conduct research at UNT has been a rewarding experience which I will be able to take with me wherever I go," Cai says.
Wen Chyan, of Denton, engineered new antimicrobial coatings for medical devices that prevent common and sometimes deadly hospital infections. Working with Richard Timmons, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, Chyan created a polymer that prevents and kills bacterial biofilms. The polymer can be used on catheters, breathing tubes and other medical devices that have direct contact with patients.
Chyan's work has already received national attention. In December, he won the top prize and a $100,000 scholarship at the national Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Chyan hopes to major in chemistry or chemical engineering next year at Harvard or MIT.
Chyan says his parents, who are both scientists, spurred his interest in science at an early age. He was home schooled by his mother, Jin-Jian, before arriving at TAMS, and his father, Oliver, is a chemistry professor at UNT.
Jonathan Dau, of Colleyville, studied the maturation of stem cells. He developed methods, using mathematical models, to classify and characterize the neural stem cells by their morphological characteristics, which provides a new, useful and complementary tool for applications in stem cell research. Dau worked with Jannon Fuchs, UNT professor of biology, on his research.
Dau plans to major in biology at Stanford University and eventually earn medical and doctoral degrees to combine a medical career with research.
He is a member of National Honor Society and Helping Other People Everywhere and is a volunteer tutor for the UNT Learning Center in Math and at Denton High School.
Jeremy Lai, of Houston, developed new, faster methods for computational chemistry. Lai assisted in the creation of a new method of computation capable of modeling large-sized molecules, which would allow the study of previously impractical molecules such as carbon nanotubes, next-generation fuels and proteins associated with deadly diseases. Lai worked with Angela Wilson, UNT associate professor of chemistry.
"I checked the Goldwater web page while cramming for a test and noticed that the results were there. I clicked on the link, scrolled down to Texas, and when I read my name, pure adrenaline just rushed through me," Lai says. "It's a great honor to be recognized by the Goldwater Foundation for my research, and it has really confirmed my desire to become a research professor."
Lai, who is the president of the Junior Engineering Technical Society, plans to major in chemistry or biochemistry at Stanford University or Rice University.
In applying for the Goldwater scholarship, all four students received guidance from UNT's Goldwater Faculty Nominating and Mentoring Committee. Committee members also include Sushama Dandekar, lecturer of chemistry; Jannon Fuchs, professor of biology; Sam Matteson, professor of physics; and Elizabeth Bator, associate professor of mathematics.
Sarah Bahari with UNT News Service can be reached at Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org.