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Vol. 24, No. 20 April 9, 1999

Four Columbia College Students Named Goldwater Scholars


Four Columbia College students have won prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Awards, given to undergraduates exhibiting excellence in mathematics, science or engineering.

Brandon Dammerman, CC'01; Rachel Knapp, CC'01; Evan Lau, CC'01, and Richard Weinberg, CC'00, each carry at least a 4.0 grade point average, have conducted their own research and are preparing articles for publication in scientific journals. The Goldwater Awards grant each student up to $7,500 every year until they graduate from college.

Professor of Physics Allan Blaer, who chaired the committee that nominated the students, said, "The four Goldwater Scholarship winners have had extraordinary academic accomplishments and, as undergraduates, have already made significant research contributions in biology, chemistry and physics. Their national recognition is well deserved."

Dammerman is pursuing a double major in biology and mathematics and has focused his research in neuroscience. In addition to his rigorous academic demands, Dammerman also plays for Columbia's club squash team and volunteers as a tutor for the Double Discovery Center.

He has spent nearly a year in Biology Professor Stuart Firestein's neuroscience lab studying how rats differentiate between more than a hundred different odors.

"I looked at the specific receptors in the rat olfactory system," he said. "The research is fascinating because scientists know so little about how we detect different odors."

Knapp is a physics major who spent last summer at Columbia's Nevis Laboratories, studying sub-atomic neutral particles called neutrinos. Although she has also worked in astronomy and astrophysics-including studying long-term variations within the orbital periods of binary star systems-she is now fascinated by particle physics.

"It was pretty early in the summer when results supporting the idea of neutrino oscillations were announced," she said, referring to recent experiments that may confirm the theory that neutrinos have mass. "I think that's when I started to realize the exciting new frontiers in particle physics, and I want to head in that direction."

Lau recently declared his biochemistry major.

"My favorite class was an organic chemistry class for first-years instructed by Professor Thomas J. Katz," he said. "The class really turned me on to organic chemistry and the possibility of studying biochemistry."

Lau went on to work in Katz's lab, where he researched organic compound synthesis and helped develop a compound that exhibits a combination of electrical and optical properties and that may be useful in future communications systems. This summer, however, he wants to concentrate on biology, and so will study the development and specialization of heart cells at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center's division of heart failure. Outside his research, Lau has helped charter an Asian-interest fraternity, Lambda Phi Epsilon.

Weinberg is also a biochemistry major. His focus is on bio-organic chemistry, studying artificial enzymes and their role in the human metabolism of steroids and vitamins.

"If we can replicate human enzymes, it may help in disease treatment such as Parkinson's or rickets by supplying an alternate source of vitamins and other biologically active molecules," he said. He plans to continue his chemistry research and then pursue both an M.D. and a Ph.D., with the hope of doing clinical medical research in chemistry.

"Anti-cancer research, which has been centered on genetics, is including chemistry more and more as we learn how to design and replicate new molecules," he said.

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Weinberg also plays on the Columbia men's club volleyball team, is a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and volunteers with Community Impact.

"My undergraduate experience at Columbia has been phenomenal," he said. All four students are also part of Columbia's Rabi Scholars Science Program, named in honor of the Nobel laureate I.I. Rabi, a long-time member of the Columbia faculty. The program, which currently has more than 50 participants, supports a wide variety of student scientific research projects.

Kathleen McDermott, associate dean of student affairs and coordinator of undergraduate scholarships, expressed high praise for the four students, their extensive involvement in research and the exceptionally high quality of their work.

Blaer, the nominating professor who is also director of the Rabi Program, said, "Columbia College has been extremely successful in attracting some of the nation's very best science students and providing them with a stimulating environment in which to flourish."