|Dedication to the Lab Earns Goldwater Scholarships for Two Student Researchers
April 28, 2009
By Zach Bennett '11
Independent research is paying off for Davidson students. Two biology majors who have done extensive research—Natasha Meyer ’10 from Miami and Pallavi Penumetcha ’11 from Atlanta—have been named 2009 Goldwater Scholars. Matthew De Niear ’11 of Mahwah, N.J., received an honorable mention. The prestigious award recognizes academic merit in the sciences, and provides funding for continuing undergraduate education.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Erland Stevens, campus coordinator for the program, said this year’s success was “awesome…fantastic!”
The Goldwater Foundation acts to promote science, mathematics, and engineering by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in those fields.
Though she described herself as “an open book” when she arrived at Davidson, Natasha Meyer discovered an interest in developmental biology in a class with Associate Professor of Biology Barbara Lom in the spring of her freshman year. “I like developmental research because it’s not just affecting the organism at just one time,” said Meyer. “You get to watch it grow and see the effects as the organism develops.” In the summer following her freshman year she conducted research in Lom’s lab, looking at the effects of a pesticide on spinal motor neurons in zebrafish.
After putting the project on hold in her sophomore year to study abroad, Meyer resumed her research, and this year has been developing it as an honors thesis. After leaving Davidson, Meyer plans to attend graduate school, where she plans to branch out from neuroscience and conduct developmental research.
Pallavi Penumetcha’s research at Davidson began serendipitously when Professor of Biology Malcolm Campbell was assigned as her pre-major advisor. Already interested in biology, she had heard about the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) project at Davidson led by Campbell and Associate Professor of Mathematics Laurie Heyer. Penumetcha won a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to conduct research for the iGEM project with Campbell in summer 2008.
Penumetcha and the team of student and faculty researchers worked to engineer a logic gate with bacteria that might be applicable in creating medically beneficial substances.
|Pallavi Penumetcha |
While working on that project, Penumetcha began thinking about new research that could improve a widely used regulatory system in synthetic biology, and worked on that with Campbell last fall. She explained, “Regulatory systems are important because you don’t want things to be produced by genetic circuits in bacteria when they don’t need to be produced.”
The study of regulatory systems might also be helpful in medical research, and in testing for contamination of water, for example. Penumetcha’s research culminated in a manuscript that she has submitted to BIOS Quarterly Journal of Biology.
Penumetcha said, “I feel honored to be recognized by the Goldwater Foundation at a national level for my application. It was very unexpected, and was a nice surprise.”
Scholarship coordinator Erland Stevens noted, “There are very few undergraduate awards like this in the sciences.”
In addition to being an honor in itself, Stevens noted that the Goldwater Award can be a springboard to graduate fellowships.
Stevens said extensive research experience was instumental in Meyer’s and Penumchetka’s success. “They look for research experience and a strong GPA. But I think research experience is most important,” he said.
However, this year’s winners are also active outside the laboratory. Meyer sings in the Davidson College Chorale, serves as a freshman hall counselor, and is a member of Rusk Eating House. Penumetcha has served as secretary of the Asian American Cultural Awareness Association and volunteers at the Concord Free Clinic, with Habitat for Humanity, and at the Florence Crittenton home for teen mothers.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz