April 04, 2006

Case students win Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships

To continue their studies in the sciences and biomedical engineering

Three Case Western Reserve University third-year students have won prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships to continue their studies in science, mathematics and engineering.

The Goldwater Scholarship recipients are John J. Erickson, a biology major from Massillon, Ohio; Shaan Gandhi, of Battle Creek, Mich., biochemistry major; and Benjamin A. Rellinger, of Ottoville, Ohio, biomedical engineering major.

All honorees aspire to become either medical doctors or earn their doctorates and do research in various fields of science and engineering.

The students are among the 323 Goldwater Scholars chosen from a field of 1,081 candidates, nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Of the recipients, 32 are math majors, 234 from the sciences, 47 in engineering and 10 in computer science related majors. Each recipient, a sophomore or junior from the United States, will receive a one- or two-year scholarship to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by public law in 1986 to honor the late Senator Goldwater through this premier undergraduate award program that encourages the pursuit of science and engineering. For many award recipients, the Goldwater Scholarship is a step toward other honors such as the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships and distinguished fellowships like the Fulbright.

John Erickson

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"I enjoy the creativity it requires to design a good experiment and discover something new that was previously unknown," said Erickson, about why he likes science.

As an undergraduate at Case, he is already a junior research scientist at the Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases in the Case School of Medicine.

Through the Summer Program in Undergraduate Research experience at Case in 2005, Erickson was involved in the project, "Lasers and Parasites."

He learned how to culture malaria, which he describes as a difficult process.

Erickson then said, he "dove into the process of adapting flow cytometry—a machine that uses scanning lasers to measure the size, shape and fluorescence of individual cells—to understanding malaria. That project was followed by undergraduate research last fall and this spring concerning the mutations that confer drug resistance to malaria parasites.

His research work has allowed him to work alongside science mentors and observe world-renowned researchers like Drs. Peter Zimmerman and Brian Grimberg from Case's Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

"My summer research experience in Global Health and Disease opened my eyes to the widespread prevalence of infectious disease in the third world countries," said Erickson.

He added that he felt his research helped "to solve some of the mysteries of malaria and aid in analyzing and treating this terrible disease."

According to Erickson, it also solidified his desire to pursue a career in science research and his understanding about why it is important to prevent infectious diseases.

Dr. Zimmerman has come to serve as a role model for Erickson not only in the lab but also in competitive swimming, a sport the new Goldwater Scholar excels at as a member of Case's varsity team.

Erickson is All-UAA in swimming for the 50-yard freestyle (2004, 2006) and the 200 Medley Relay (2005, 2006), All American in Swimming (2003) and UAA All Academic Recognition (2004, 2005, 2006).

In addition to the Goldwater honor, Erickson has received the Phi Beta Kappa Award, Deans High Honors (all semesters), Robert C. Byrd Scholarship and the Alumni Scholarship.

His future plans include more research and eventually earning his doctorate and medical degree. "I hope my future research will aid in the betterment of human health," said Erickson.

Shaan Gandhi

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Some of Gandhi's earliest memories related to science are about tagging along with his mother, an ultrasonographer, when she was on call at the hospital.

Like most curious children, he pressed his mother with questions about what he was seeing until he got some answers.

Today, Gandhi's is still seeking answers to science questions and hopes someday, as a cancer researcher, he will unravel the mysteries of the molecular mechanisms of cancerous tumor growth that will lead to the development of new chemotherapy medications that are more effective and have fewer side effects.

He is headed in that direction by his past research experiences as a recipient of a Cancer Training Award in 2004 from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health as well as a Summer Undergraduate Research Program grant from the Gerstner Sloan-Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Since his freshman year in high school, Gandhi has been involved in research that relates to patterns in polarization of light emitted from lasers. He also has done studies on genetic mutation implicated in the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria at the University of Michigan to investigate physiological mechanism of drought tolerance in rice and tomatoes at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University.

At Case, he has worked with his mentors Dr. Narendra Narayana and Dr. Michael Weiss in the biochemistry department at the School of Medicine to study the structure of the bacterial enzyme R67 dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR). He describes it as an "interesting enzyme because of its resistance to the antibiotic trimethoprim."

This coming summer, he will gain some additional research experience with Case alum Dr. Bruce Horazdovsky at the Mayo Clinic. The two will study the mechanisms of endocytosis and associated signaling pathways.

The Goldwater Scholarship is just one of many prestigious honors for Gandhi. He is also the 2002 Siemens-Westinghouse Scholar for science research, the 2003 Coca-Cola Scholar for leadership and volunteerism, the 2003 Tylenol Medical Scholar for promise in medicine and a National Merit Scholar in 2003 for academic excellence.

But it is not all academic or lab work for Gandhi.

He is active as the Undergraduate Student Government's Speaker of the Assembly, vice president of Model United Nations Society (won Outstanding Delegate at the 2006 Harvard National Model United Nations Conference), treasurer and captain of the College Trivia Team (placed 5th overall at the national Intercollegiate Championship Tournament in 2005) and a Learning Assistant on campus who assists and counsels first-year students.

When he has a minute of free time, he plays badminton, reads and practices his trumpet.

Benjamin Rellinger

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People take for granted their ability to pick things up and move around their environment. Individuals, who have lost their motor functions due to disease or injuries, may someday thank Rellinger, who has been working in the lab of Dr. Dawn Taylor, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Case School of Engineering, since his first year at Case. The Department of Biomedical Engineering is a joint department of the Case School of Medicine and Case School of Engineering.

He has been working to engineer new biomedical interventions that can return lost functions by using neural interfacing and neural prostheses.

"Basically, that means that I am trying to get the human brain to talk to computers, so that a disabled person can control a wheelchair or even their own paralyzed limbs using only their thoughts," he explains.

As an undergraduate, Rellinger has the opportunity to explore this engineering question by measuring the activity of the brain to understand how it encodes movement intent and then uses this encoding to control assistive devices.

"The big question is 'how?'" he asks.

"The need for speed and high bandwidth in control of assistive devices has to be balanced with the currently available technology," Rellinger explains. "If the current hardware isn't totally up to the task, creative decoding strategies can be devised to pick up the slack."

Rellinger is currently working on that challenge by investigating, in an animal study, how individuals control brain cells. Also he is exploring whether these animals can group their neurons into larger functional units in order that current hardware can more easily detect voluntary signals.

He credits his dad as getting him interested in science through electronics and early on reading Popular Science.

"I like science because it is a consistent way of classifying and explaining the world. There aren't any areas for subjectivity, it doesn't matter who's taking the measurements or where they live," said Rellinger.

At Case, Rellinger is active as the vice president of scholarship for Delta Upsilon fraternity and a teaching assistant for the first-year circuit lab in engineering and a supplemental instructor in mathematics. He also bikes around Cleveland during the summers, paints watercolors and enjoys tinkering with electronics.

In addition to the Goldwater Scholarship, Rellinger has received support for his academic studies as a National Merit Scholar and as a scholarship recipient of the Case Alumni Association and SOURCE for research.

Rellinger said all this hard work at Case is leading toward a future doctorate degree in biomedical engineering and eventually a research position at a university to continue his neural interface work.

Someday he envisions changing the lives of people like Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, and others now confined to wheelchairs and give them back a life with more independence and mobility.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, April 4, 2006 10:50 AM | News Topics: Awards, College of Arts and Sciences, HeadlinesMain, Science

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