Undergraduate Sai Gourisankar Named Goldwater Scholar

Sai Gourisankar working in the Johnston lab wearing a lab coat and safety googles in the McKetta Department-of Chemical Engineering at UT Austin.Sophomore Sai Gourisankar was recently awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious undergraduate award that encourages outstanding students to pursue careers and advanced degrees in engineering, mathematics and natural sciences.

Gourisankar was one of 271 recipients selected on academic merit from more than 1,100 applicants nationwide. The one-and two-year scholarships are awarded annually to second and third year students to help with tuition, books, and room and board costs up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

“Sai was in my class and I was very impressed with his performance,” said Professor Grant Willson, recent Japan Prize winner and professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at UT Austin.  “We’ve had many discussions about science and life and have become good friends.  I wrote him a support letter, assuring the Goldwater Foundation that he walks on water-which he does. I’m very proud of him. He will go on to be a terrific representative of all that is good at UT Austin.”

Gourisankar currently works in Professor Keith Johnston’s lab designing gold nanoclusters for biomedical imaging and therapy. Techniques the lab is developing will help identify, target and treat individual biomolecules associated with cancer and other diseases. Their assembled gold nanoclusters will provide necessary strong contrast for imaging while also having the ability to degrade biologically within the body and present no long-term toxicity.

They are collaborating with Kostia Sokolov and Stanislav Emelianov in biomedical engineering, Tom Truskett in chemical engineering, and with two graduate students, Avi Murthy and Bobby Stover, and undergraduate student Golay Nie.

Together, the researchers hope to develop a robust, flexible assembly process that achieves strong imaging characteristics and biocompatibility. This development would greatly aid in cancer detection and treatment. It would introduce the ability to localize therapy to only a small number of affected cells while only minimally impacting surrounding healthy tissues.

“The Goldwater Award provides a great starting platform for my future endeavors,” Gourisankar said. “The financial support it gives will allow me to focus on my education, and the tremendous recognition it gives confirms the merit of my work while encouraging me further.”

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields. Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed more than 6,550 scholarships worth approximately $40 million.

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