University News

Two Students Win Goldwater Scholarships

Chemistry & Biochemistry Computer Science Fellowships & Student Research Mathematics
June 28, 2019

Two Denison University students have received 2019 Goldwater Scholarships, which are awarded to undergraduates with outstanding academic and research credentials. These prestigious scholarships foster and encourage them to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Here is what inspired these students:

Harper “Hoke” Wallace ‘21

From a young age, Harper “Hoke” Wallace has been fascinated with mechanics. However, since learning about neurophysiology, he has become captivated by the realm of cognitive science. Often, he wonders “how humans perform logical operations, and what goes wrong physiologically when we screw up.”

He is now a biochemistry major at Denison, working in Associate Professor Joe Reczek’s lab.

In the Reczek Lab, Wallace has been working on synthesizing novel donor-acceptor columnar liquid crystals and interrogating their properties, in order to apply them to new systems. His work involves optimizing the laser-alignment system in the lab. Then, using a property of dichroism to encode information in these films into “bits.” Using an algorithm that he wrote himself, they can read out information stored in the “bits” perfectly by getting them at the right angle of linearly polarized light (LPL).

In the future, Wallace hopes to work in biomedical engineering to develop brain-machine interfaces targeted at treating various disorders.

Hayley LeBlanc ‘20

When she was young, Hayley LeBlanc discovered her passion for science through an interest in biology and environmental science. However, after taking an introductory computer science class her freshman year of high school, she realized she had found her true passion.

She continued to take computer science classes throughout high school, which culminated her senior year with an independent research study project with a teacher where she created a program that could recognize several American Sign Language gestures based on electromyography data. She says this project made her realize she wanted to do more research in college. She also gives credit to her calculus teacher who made her realize that she wanted to study math in college.

At Denison, she is now a mathematics and computer science major.

LeBlanc’s Goldwater application focused primarily on mathematics research that was conducted with Assistant Professor May Mei and two other students at Denison last summer. The project “worked on aperiodic tilings, which are unique patterns of shapes that can cover an infinite plane without much repetition.” She says that “they have many applications in materials science,” but “this is not an easy task.” She and her group developed several algorithms to generate data which could be used for a more in-depth analysis of their structures.

LeBlanc is spending the summer in Germany on a DAAD/RISE internship, where she will be working with an interdisciplinary group of biomedical researchers at the University of Rostock to develop tools to help them share their data.

After she graduates, LeBlanc plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, most likely in the area of operating systems.

The scholarship program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was established by Congress in 1986 in order to inspire scientific research. Denison’s recipients were selected from among 1,223 natural science, engineering and mathematics students nominated by 443 academic institutions to compete for the 2019 Goldwater scholarships.

This year the Goldwater Program increased the number of scholarships it has awarded for the 2019-2020 academic year to 496 college students from across the United States as the result of a partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs. “As it is vitally important that the Nation ensures that it has the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security, we saw partnering with the Goldwater Foundation as a way to help ensure the U.S. is developing this talent,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Director of the NDEP program, as he explained the new partnership. With the 2019 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 8,628 and a scholarship total to over $68M.

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