Solid Gold

College ScaholarsWhat do Harvard, MIT, and UT Knoxville have in common? One thing is the number of recipients of this year’s Goldwater Scholarships. This year our campus had its best showing ever, with three Goldwater recipients and one honorable mention.

The Goldwater Scholarship, federally funded and nationally competitive, is the premier undergraduate scholarship in the fields of mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences. This year our campus had its best showing ever, with three Goldwater recipients and one honorable mention. All four are College Scholars.

Closely guided by a faculty mentor in their chosen field, College Scholars students with a driving interest in a particular subject can create their own specialized academic program. This undergraduate program is structured not unlike a master’s-level program, culminating in a senior thesis or project involving faculty review and a public defense. The program is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“College Scholars is one of the oldest, most prestigious honors programs on campus,” said Christopher Craig, a professor of classics and director of the College Scholars program. “It exists solely for highly motivated, highly achieving students who know what they want and cannot get there using any of the existing programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Currently only 40 of the university’s very best students are enrolled in the “custom-design-your-own-major” College Scholars program. Among them are the three UT Knoxville Goldwater Scholarship recipients and one honorable mention:

Jamie TroupeJamie Troupe, a senior from Tullahoma, Tennessee, studies animal behavior (ethology) and cognition with her mentor Susan Riechert, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. She is the latest in a succession of Riechert’s College Scholars who have earned Goldwater Scholarships. “Dr. Riechert has been a tireless champion for me,” said Troupe. “She has encouraged me to take risks like applying to College Scholars and Goldwater Scholars—things I wouldn’t have done without her support. She has incredibly high expectations that I am always striving to meet.”

A gifted researcher and an animal-lover, Troupe has logged many hours in the lab investigating the link between body mass and aggression, the effects of population density in spiders, and animal learning. After graduation in May, she plans to enter either medical school or a Ph.D. program.

Outside the lab, Troupe has amassed almost a decade of volunteer work with Horse Play, the therapeutic riding program for physically challenged children. She also enjoys being an instructor for the Knoxville Swing Dance Association.

Casey WilliamsCasey Williams is a junior from Kingsport, Tennessee. His program in medicinal and synthetic organic chemistry under faculty mentor Shane Foister involves courses in both chemistry and biochemistry to provide a research-oriented curriculum rooted in organic chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry for medicinal applications. The research is based on the synthesis and evaluation of compounds helpful for the prevention, detection, or treatment of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Williams’s research experience includes a Chancellor’s Summer Research Internship with R. J. Hinde, another stint with Hinde last fall, lab work with Foister in spring 2008, and a second Chancellor’s Summer Research Internship with Foister this past summer. Other academic interests include public writing, philosophy (especially of science), history, environmental biology, and astro- and particle physics. On campus, Williams has been an SI leader for Chemistry 120 and a science writer for The Daily Beacon, and he is now UT club baseball president and part of Student Affiliates of the American Chemistry Society. He also enjoys percussion, the outdoors, traveling, tennis, and golf. After graduating in May 2010, Williams plans to complete a Ph.D. or an M.D.–Ph.D. and start a research group in medicinal and synthetic organic chemistry at a major research university.

Brad O'DellBrad O’Dell is a senior from Newport, Tennessee. His program in structural chemistry under the mentorship of Fred Schell and David C. Baker emphasizes chemistry, physics, and mathematics. O’Dell’s research is currently focused on the structures, solution-state conformations, and hydration characteristics of model cellulose compounds and involves synthetic and structural characterization techniques with particular emphasis on nuclear-magnetic-resonance and neutron-scattering experiments.

Besides being an undergraduate researcher in the Baker group and the former Turner group in the Department of Chemistry, O’Dell is affiliated with the Center for Molecular Biophysics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is a member of the users’ groups at the ISIS and Spallation Neutron Source facilities there. O’Dell is part of the Chancellor’s Honors program and the UT Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society.

“UT has prepared me for my career aspirations to a degree unmatchable by any other school,” O’Dell said. “I have had the opportunity to create my own curriculum, undertake independent scientific research, and collaborate with the best scientists in the field of neutron scattering, both here with the Spallation Neutron Source and abroad through international research activities.”

Recently named a National Institutes of Health/Oxford–Cambridge Scholar, O’Dell will do his graduate work in chemistry at Cambridge University.

Elizabeth JacobsGoldwater honorable mention Elizabeth Jacobs is a senior from Knoxville, Tennessee, who had her first scientific publication as a sophomore. Under the guidance of Fred Schell, she is pursuing a program in solid-state chemistry and condensed-matter physics, focusing on chemistry, math, and physics. Her aspiration is to identify the structure–property relations of the silver fluoride Cs2AgF4 and its barium-doped derivatives using particle physics. This includes sample synthesis, along with X-ray powder diffraction, muon spin resonance, and superconducting quantum interference device-characterization techniques.

Jacobs has been involved in undergraduate research in UT’s Department of Chemistry since summer 2006; she participated in an ORNL Chancellor’s Internship at the High Temperature Materials facility in summer 2007; she traveled to Brookhaven National Lab for X-ray powder diffraction data; and she has made good use of facilities abroad. She spent this past summer working with the Turner group at Sussex (UK) and with colleagues at the University of Glasgow.

In her spare time, Jacobs teaches clarinet and drum-majoring. After graduating in May, she plans to obtain a Ph.D. in synthetic inorganic chemistry—followed by one or two post-docs—and then build a career in research at a university.

—Leigh Powell with Christopher Craig