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  • From left: Pradeep Ramesh, Xiao Peng, Aadel Chaudhuri, Philip Bulterys, and Andrey Poletayev.
06/17/2011 07:00:00

Caltech Students Win National and International Prizes

PASADENA, Calif.—Students from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) won a large number of awards this spring, including a Fulbright grant, a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, three Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, two Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, a Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship, and 36 National Science Foundation Fellowships.

Recipients include a student who will travel to the University of Copenhagen to work in an experimental biophysics lab and a Russian émigré who will study organic solar cells at the University of Cambridge.

Fulbright Scholar Program

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government's premier scholarship program. Set up by Congress in 1946 to foster mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges, Fulbright Awards enable U.S. students and artists to benefit from unique resources in every corner of the world. Each year more than 800 Americans study or conduct research in more than 140 nations through the Fulbright Program.

Graduating senior Pradeep Ramesh received a Fulbright fellowship to work in an experimental biophysics lab at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, where he will work on visualizing and characterizing the queuing of RNA polymerase at the onset of transcription. "The goal," says Ramesh, "is to quantitatively understand transcription dynamics by using single-molecule techniques such as optical tweezers and atomic-force microscopes to visualize the process in real time. I chose to attend the institute since their biophysics department is renowned for their expertise in single-molecule techniques, and they have worked very hard to develop clever experimental methods to probe biological processes in real time at high resolutions.

Ramesh, who was born in India but moved to California in 2000 and recently became a U.S. citizen, spent the bulk of his childhood growing up in East and Southeast Asia. "I traveled extensively with my family for long stretches of time to Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan," Ramesh says, "and I felt that these cultural experiences early on in my life radically influenced my vision of the world. I am truly blessed in that I got to experience an array of socioeconomic lifestyles early on in my childhood, and the early hardships that we faced taught me a lot of valuable life lessons that I carry with me to this day.

"In this light," he says, "I am driven by a desire to improve the socioeconomic circumstances in South and Southeast Asia. I simply cannot forget the circumstances from which my family arose, and I, like many others, believe that the bulk of the challenges facing the developing world can be resolved with science."

"That said," he adds, "I am still struggling to unite my intellectual and social goals, but these are precisely the sort of philosophical and personal issues that I intend to sort out while on my Fulbright."

After completing his Fulbright, Ramesh will teach math and science as a volunteer at a high school in India for one month and will then return to California to pursue a PhD in biophysics at UC Berkeley.

Gates Cambridge Scholars Scholarship

The Gates Cambridge Scholars Scholarship program, set up in 2000 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, enables academically gifted postgraduates with a strong interest in social leadership and responsibility to study at the University of Cambridge. Each year, a total of 90 students, including 60 international students from 29 countries, were selected to receive the one-year, full-cost scholarship.

Among the recipients is graduating Caltech senior Andrey Poletayev, who earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and will be doing a one-year master's in philosophy program in physics at Cambridge. At Caltech, Poletayev—whose research interest is in solar energy—worked in the laboratories of Nate Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry, and Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science.

"My work at Cambridge will be in line with my interest in solar energy, and I will be exploring the physics of a system I was not able to study at Caltech, which has no research in organic solar cells," he says. Poletayev, who emigrated with his parents to the U.S. from Russia in 2002, says he is "excited to live in Europe, as I am told there is more history than space there."

Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans

Three of this year's 30 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans went to students with Caltech associations. The unrestricted fellowships, which are awarded annually to the most accomplished and promising immigrants and children of immigrants in American graduate education, are each worth about $40,000 in tuition support and $50,000 in maintenance.

Philip Bulterys, born in Los Angeles to a Belgian father and Chinese mother, is currently a first-year candidate for combined MD and PhD degrees from the UCLA/Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program. He hopes to pursue research on infectious disease transmission and to serve disadvantaged populations as a physician focusing on children's health.

Aadel Chaudhuri, who was born in California to parents from Bangladesh and India, is currently finishing his PhD in biology at Caltech, working in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology. Chaudhuri, whose research focuses on small RNAs in cancer and the immune system, has won two major teaching awards at Caltech, mentors undergraduates as a resident associate, and also volunteers teaching science to inner-city students at Hollenbeck Middle School in Southeast Los Angeles.

Xiao Peng, who received a bachelor's in chemistry in 2005 from Caltech, is currently a fourth-year student in the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program, where she works on developmental gene regulation. Peng came to America at the age of five to join her parents, who were among the first Chinese graduate students awarded visiting scholarships.

Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, created in honor of the late Senator Barry M. Goldwater, is a federally funded program designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.

This year, two Caltech sophomores were recipients of the academic merit scholarship: Jeffrey Kowalski, a chemical engineering major from Trenton, New Jersey, and Matthew Mayers, a mathematics major from Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Physics major Samuel Goldberg from Lancaster, California, received honorable mention.

Josephine de Kármán Fellowship

Graduating Caltech senior Erik Madsen, who double majored in physics and economics, was awarded a Josephine de Kármán Fellowship. The fellowship was established in 1954 by the late Theodore von Kármán, a world-renowned aeronautics expert and teacher and the first director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, in memory of his sister, Josephine. The purpose of this fellowship program is to recognize and assist students whose scholastic achievements reflect professor von Kármán's high standards.

Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship

Sean Choi, a senior graduating with a degree in computer science, was awarded a Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship. The scholarship, which will help to cover tuition costs for the 2011–12 academic year, was granted to 125 graduate and undergraduate students in recognition of their high academic achievement in the fields of science, engineering, and technology. Choi will be attending Stanford University in the fall.

National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship

As of publication, there were two confirmed winners of a three-year Department of Defense (DOD) National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) fellowship: Xun (Wendy) Gu and Enoch H. Yeung. The NDSEG award is given to applicants who have demonstrated the ability and special aptitude for advanced training in science and engineering and will pursue a doctoral degree in, or closely related to, an area of interest to the DOD.

National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships

Each spring, the National Science Foundation awards approximately 1,000 Graduate Fellowships and Minority Graduate Fellowships to students at or near the beginning of their graduate studies in science, mathematics, or engineering. NSF Fellows are expected to contribute significantly to the continued vitality of research, teaching, and industrial applications in their fields.

Eighteen Caltech graduating seniors—including Fulbright winner Pradeep Ramesh and Gates recipient Andrey Poletayev—and 18 graduate students have accepted NSF Fellowships for next year: seniors Yakov Berchenk-Kogon, Deboki Chakravati, Fei Chen, Tina Ding, Luke Guo, Asif Khan, Erik Madsen, Albert Ng, Jeanne Peng, Andrey Poletayev, Pradeep Ramesh, Arjun Ravikumar, Gregory Rubenstein, Marland Sitt, Richard Wang Patrick Xia, and Samuel Yang; and graduate students Timothy Blasius, Vanessa Evoen, Katherine Fountaine, Nathaniel Glasser, Matthew Griffin, Naeem Husain, Jena Johnson, Jacob Kanady, Madeleine Kieffer, Naomi Kreamer, Andrew Lim, Jessica Ricci, Jonathan Rittle, Christopher Roske, Joel Scheingross, Adam Shai, Noelle R. B. Stiles, and Enoch Yeung.

Written by Kathy Svitil