One Goldwater Scholar, Three Honorable Mentions Named
Four Syracuse University nominees for the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship were recently recognized.
Jessica Toothaker, a junior majoring in biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, was named as a 2016 Goldwater Scholar. Three students were recognized with Goldwater Honorable Mentions. They are Jordan Barrett, a sophomore majoring in math and physics in the College of Arts and Sciences; Snigdha Chatterjee, a junior majoring in biotechnology and biophysical science in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Geoffrey Vaartstra, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Sen. Barry Goldwater, the five-term United States senator from Arizona. The purpose of the program is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields.
The Goldwater Foundation received 1,150 nominations this year—252 Scholars were named and 256 Honorable Mentions were awarded.
James Spencer, professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the Syracuse Goldwater faculty advisor. The Center for Fellowship and Scholarship advising assisted the nominees in preparing their final applications and essays.
Toothaker, of Ellsworth, Me., is also a participant in the Renée Crown University Honors Program. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in cell biology, microbiology or immunology, with the goal of becoming a principal research investigator at a federal biomedical research facility.
Under the mentorship of Melissa Pepling, associate professor of biology, Toothaker is studying fetal oocyte and ovarian follicle development associated with female infertility in mice. Through her study of these biological processes, she hopes to further study fetal development progression and maternal conditions associated with pregnancy. Upon completion of a Ph.D., she plans to focus her work on how infectious diseases impact maternal and child health in both the prenatal and postnatal development stages.
Toothaker says growing up in her hometown, in a small community in coastal Maine, inspired the path she is currently on. She grew up near the Jackson Laboratory, a biomedical research institution in Bar Harbor, and meeting a woman who was a core researcher at the lab inspired her to move toward a research career. She also has had strong maternal role models and worked closely with young children as a nanny and a coach.
“Through these experiences, I have felt and witnessed the bond between mother and a child,” she says. “This is something that I believe every woman has the right to. My exposure to maternal figures and my background in caretaking is what motivates me to research women’s health and fertility.”
Barrett, of South Paris, Me., is also a participant in the Renée Crown University Honors Program. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and conduct research as a professor. He also wants to contribute to the field of pure and applied mathematics.
During his time at Syracuse, he has participated in a mechanical engineering internship at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées in Strasbourg, France. He works with the University’s High Energy Physics Group.
Barrett has studied applied topology and graph theory through the Upward Bound Math/Science program at the University of Maine since his junior year in high school. There, he had the opportunity to dig deep into the discipline of his choice.
During his third and final summer with the program, he wrote a paper, “Determining Topological Relations Between Digital 3D Objects From Qualitative Metric Information.” This paper became the basis for his presentation at the international Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT) in October 2015.
Upward Bound also gave Barrett experience as a teacher. He participated in the program last summer as a calculus and pre-calculus lecturer and teacher and a mentor for high school students. He has worked with one of his students to expand a summer project into something that can be published. “This has been a fantastic exercise in preparation for my intended future as a professor and research scientist,” he says.
Chatterjee, of East Syracuse, is a participant in the Renée Crown University Honors Program. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology and perform research and teach on the university level. She plans to study epigenetics, the heritable change in gene expression that is not due to a change in the actual DNA sequence, and apply the knowledge she gains to agriculture, particularly in India.
She has been engaged in research in the lab of Ramesh Raina, associate professor and chair of biology. “Through my lab work and classes, I am discovering ways to potentially prevent crop loss, which will aid in securing our global food system,” she says. “Epigenetics allows a plant to respond to different stresses without changing its DNA sequence. This allows a plant to defend itself more quickly and effectively. … Epigenetics allows us to look at the molecular marks that regulate growth and defense, thus enabling us to fine tune the balance between growth and defense.”
This kind of research has the potential to help farmers around the globe, particularly where crop loss is common. “Such concerns are of increasing humanitarian importance because of changing global environmental conditions, along with the rise in the world population,” Chatterjee says.
Chatterjee also coauthored a recently published piece and has been a mentor for other undergraduate students in the lab.
Vaartstra, of Nampa, Idaho, is a participant in the Renée Crown University Honors Program. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, conduct nanoscience research and help develop advanced materials for water and energy applications.
He plans to focus his research and work on the water and energy nexus, specifically water purification and energy systems.
At Syracuse, Vaartsrta has worked in the lab of Shalabh Maroo, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. He has investigated water transport phenomena in the sub-nanometer pores of MFI zeolites via molecular dynamics simulations. He is planning research on enhanced pool boiling surfaces with nanopattering. He has coauthored a paper on the zeolite research and is preparing it for publication.
Vaartstra went on trips to Mexico in 2013 and 2014, and learned that the tap water was not safe to drink in any of the cities that he visited. “Having lived my entire life in the United States, where potable water is always as close as the nearest faucet, the first-hand experience of having to pay for every sip of such a basic human necessity struck me profoundly,” he says. “I have listened to my friends from Puebla talk about the related social impacts, such as high levels of childhood obesity and a range of common health problems among poor communities in Mexico.”
Motivated by this experience, Vaaststra has been involved in research focusing on desalination, a process that separates salt from ocean water to provide clean water for drinking.
Vaartstra is also minoring in Spanish in the College of Arts and Sciences. This semester, he studied abroad in Santiago, Chilé, studying engineering challenges the local communities are facing.