Three Auburn University students named Goldwater Scholars

Published: April 06, 2016
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Auburn University Honors College juniors Sara Head, Jennifer Kaczmarek and Natasha Narayanan have been chosen as 2016 Barry M. Goldwater Scholars, an honor bestowed to only 252 students nationwide this year. The scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Both Head and Kaczmarek are chemical engineering majors in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. They are undergraduate researchers on a team led by Elizabeth Lipke, the Mary and John H. Sanders Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Head's research aims to create engineered functional cardiac tissues which are structurally, biologically and genetically similar to native human heart tissues by using materials that mimic biological environments to provide structure to cells, forming three dimensional cardiac tissues. Ultimately, the goal is to determine which material or combination of materials provides the best environment for tissue growth that accurately mimics the native human heart. This method of engineering cardiac tissues could be used to better understand human heart development and the effects of drugs on cardiac tissues, as well as for regenerative medicine.

Kaczmarek's research involves the engineering of human cardiac tissue within a lab setting in a way that is as similar to the native heart as possible. Her work involved using these tissues that mimic the human heart in order to model the impact of drugs on human cardiac tissue. Furthermore, she also studies the development and progression of cells as they develop into functioning cardiac cells.

"Sara and Jennifer have the qualities that I know are important to success as researchers in chemical engineering," said Lipke. "They are self-motivated, they have a keen interest in learning and discovery of knowledge beyond what is already known, and they are highly efficient in taking things from idea to implementation. I have mentored numerous undergraduate researchers over the years, almost all of whom have gone on to graduate or medical school or are planning to do so. Sara and Jennifer are among the best and I have little doubt in their becoming highly productive future researchers."

Narayanan, a double major in biochemistry and Spanish in the College of Sciences and Mathematics and the College of Liberal Arts, respectively, has conducted two undergraduate research projects, both under the direction of Bradley Merner, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. As part of the first project, she worked to incorporate a chemical modification into antisense therapeutics drugs, which may lead to better treatments for genetic diseases. Her second research project relates to medicinal chemistry, which she hopes to apply to the synthesis of a natural product known as haouamine A, a product that has shown selective anticancer activity in human colon carcinoma cells.

"Natasha is an exceptionally talented researcher," said Merner. "She has an uncanny ability to retain information and a desire to make experiments work that cannot be taught. A truly gifted student, Natasha embodies all of the qualities that make for a future leader in science."

"We are proud of these extraordinary women, all members of the Honors College, who have each combined academic excellence in the classroom with ingenuity in their research programs, said Melissa Baumann, director of the Auburn University Honors College and assistant provost for Undergraduate Studies. "We look forward to great things from Natasha, Jennifer and Sara and also recognize the pivotal role played by their faculty mentors in their success."

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Program was established to provide scholarships to outstanding students who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. Each scholarship covers eligible expenses up to a maximum of $7,500 annually for undergraduate tuition, fees, books and housing. In awarding scholarships, the foundation of trustees considers the nominee's field of study and career objectives along with the extent to which that individual has the commitment and potential to make a significant contribution to the field of science or engineering.

The National Prestigious Scholarship office at Auburn University, located in the Honors College, works closely with students to identify and help them pursue prestigious scholarship national and international awards through information sessions and one-on-one support during the application process.