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Chemical engineering student named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar

Published: May 02, 2022
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Auburn University junior Peter Abraham is a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, an honor bestowed on only 496 students nationwide. The scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Abraham, from Auburn, is majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in computer science in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and was chosen in April from a field of nearly 5,000 college students.

Currently, Abraham is involved in two areas of research: developing more effective cancer drug testing models and understanding the link between colorectal cancer and obesity.

According to Abraham, when developing cancer drugs, companies start by finding a suitable drug, testing it on mice and other models and then eventually testing it on humans as well. Yet, most cancer drugs that enter human clinical trials are not approved for use, resulting in very large drug development costs. His research goal is to develop a better model for testing and screening drug safety and efficacy prior to clinical trials.

Obesity is a known risk factor for colorectal cancer, but scientists are not sure why this is the case.

According to Abraham, part of the reason is that colorectal cancer tumors are different between people at the DNA/RNA level. Many scientists have proposed ways to group colorectal tumors into “subtypes.”

Abraham is looking at one prominent set of subtypes and seeing if obesity affects the subtypes differently.

“That way, we can understand how obesity and colorectal cancer are related and, when a patient gets colorectal cancer, we can check their obesity status and hopefully tailor their cancer treatment to their specific needs,” said Abraham.

Abraham works with Elizabeth Lipke, the Mary and John H. Sanders Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Michael W. Greene, associate professor of nutrition in the College of Human Sciences.

“This is a huge honor, and I hope to build connections through the Goldwater network and solidify my future endeavors in research,” said Abraham.

Abraham recently won the AIChE Donald F. Othmer Sophomore Academic Excellence Award, an award presented to a single sophomore within Auburn’s AIChE chapter based on academic achievement, and he placed first in the technical presentations at the AIChE Southern Regional Conference. AlChE is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals.

When not in the lab, Abraham spends his time as an AIChE officer, as the captain of the AIChE jeopardy team and as a member of the AIChE ChemE Car Team.

“Peter is to be congratulated for this exceptional honor and for the rigor and importance of his research,” said Tiffany Sippial, director of the Honors College. “His findings have the potential to revolutionize current models for testing and screening drugs and to shed important new light on our understanding of the link between colorectal cancer and obesity. His work is positioned at the frontier of innovation, and he is extremely deserving of this most distinguished of undergraduate awards for STEM students. I could not be prouder of his accomplishments.”

“I’m extremely proud of Peter’s accomplishments, and I’m happy to see the Barry Goldwater Foundation recognizing his potential for greatness in his field,” added Alex Sauer, coordinator for scholarship and research with the Honors College and Auburn’s National Prestigious Scholarship office. “I have no doubt that Peter will continue to thrive as a researcher, and I’m excited to see the amazing impact his work will have on the world.”

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 help them identify and pursue prestigious scholarships and other national and international awards through information sessions and one-on-one support during the application process.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.

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