Doctoral Candidate Bill Liechty Wins $10,000 Granof Outstanding Graduate Student Award

Bill Liechty (center) stands with his award alongside Michael Granof (far left), Professor Nicholas Peppas, Dean Greg Fenves and Provost Steven Leslie.Doctoral candidate Bill Liechty won the $10,000 Michael H. Granof Outstanding Graduate Student Award at the Graduate School/University Co-op Awards for Excellence in Graduate Education.

The Excellence in Graduate Education Awards recognize and reward outstanding graduate students for distinguished scholarship, research, writing, service and teaching.

“I am tremendously honored to receive this recognition from the university,” said Liechty. “I’ve had a wonderful graduate experience, due in a large part to an incredible thesis advisor in Dr. Peppas, supportive faculty in the department, and an academic environment where opportunities exist to make valuable contributions in many areas.”

Liechty, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow, is completing his dissertation, which involves the development of dual-responsive nanoscale hydrogels for the oral delivery of small interfering RNA.  He has been recognized with numerous awards, including travel grants to conferences, a presentation award from the Society for Biomaterials, and notably the 2011 Excellence in Graduate Research Award from the Graduate School.

“Bill has studied the efficient delivery of small interfering RNA (siRNA) that has been implicated as the major hurdle to widespread clinical applications,” said Professor Nicholas Peppas, Bill’s advisor. “Due to its size and negative charge density, siRNA is unable to efficiently cross cellular membranes and gain access to the cytoplasm.  Bill proposed and developed novel pH-responsive, cationic nanogel carriers to entrap siRNA and facilitate its efficient cytoplasmic delivery to the intestinal epithelial cells by mediating endosomal disruption.

“Successful development of these systems will pave the way for improved treatment of gastrointestinal diseases where current treatment is sub-optimal, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and gastrointestinal carcinomas.” 

Liechty represented UT Austin at the 61st meeting of Nobel Laureates at Lindau last summer as one of 70 delegates from the United States. He has also been instrumental in the development and growth of Texas Venture Labs, where he led several cross-functional deal teams, and helped partner companies raise nearly $8 million.  In 2010 he wrote a research proposal which earned $375,000 in funding from the NSF for three years.

He has served as department representative to the Graduate Student Assembly and as a member of the President’s Student Advisory Committee. Liechty co-founded a summer program in 2011 that provides high-school students, most of whom would be first-generation college students, an internship focused on drug delivery and biomaterials research.  Outreach initiatives like these are critical to improving the diversity of future researchers in science and engineering.

“What characterizes Bill even further is his unparalleled concern for other students-especially his juniors,” said Peppas. “He has supervised six undergraduate students in the laboratory and shows his concern about educational matters by serving as a TA for a large chemical engineering class, even though he does not need to do so as he is an NSF Fellow.”

Liechty earned a bachelor of science in engineering in chemical engineering from the University of Iowa, and as a Gates Cambridge Scholar, received a master of philosophy in chemical engineering from The University of Cambridge. He plans to graduate in May 2013.

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