Big Thinkers and Doers

Rebekah Scheuerle: Improving Drug Delivery

Four years ago, Austin native Rebekah Scheuerle was a freshman with a plan. Scheuerle, who developed an interest in science and engineering in middle and high school, set her sights on working for Nicholas Peppas, a pioneer in the field of oral drug delivery.

Quote from Rebekah Scheuerle: "There are a lot of cool technologies out there that people have already developed, but if you can find a way to apply it in a better fashion, you can increase its availability”-quote from RebekahIt didn’t take long for the chemical engineering major to earn a coveted spot working in her desired mentor’s lab where she collaborated with chemical and biomedical engineering researchers studying nanoparticles used for oral drug delivery to treat health issues like Crohn’s disease and intestinal cancer.

Along the way, Rebekah found time to be president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for two years, hold offices and memberships in the engineering and chemical engineering honor societies, and played with the Longhorn Band.

What’s next? Rebekah is heading across the pond, to the University of Cambridge, to attack world health issues as a graduate student and researcher. Earlier this year, she received the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship, given to only 39 American students this year. The award will fund her graduate research, which is focused on developing affordable, efficient and novel therapeutics to fight diseases.

“It’s been exciting,” Scheuerle said. “I came to UT, and have had so many opportunities and mentors. Dr. Peppas, as well as a number of other chemical engineering professors, graduate students and peers have been so supportive.” One day, Scheuerle hopes to develop practical and affordable biopharmaceuticals and diagnostics that can be used in developing countries and other resource-limited environments.


Leon Dean: A Moment of Discovery

Leon Dean had been working on “block copolymers,” self-assembling nanomaterials that can be used to pattern silicon wafers, for more than a year. But he knew only failure in trying to get them them to self-assemble into the right pattern — before it finally happened.

Quote from Leon Dean: "You never know if what you do is going to work, because if you did it wouldn’t be science.”“For the first time I saw perpendicular lines everywhere on the surface on the film. I had never seen anything like it. I remember running upstairs, telling Chris [Bates], my graduate student supervisor, ‘Hey, you gotta come see this.’”

It was an extraordinary moment of discovery for the native of Spokane, Washington, who is graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of engineers.

The breakthrough, which was performed in the lab of chemistry and chemical engineering professor C. Grant Willson, led to a few rather significant consequences (read about their collaboration here).

Dean is now co-author on a research paper that was published in Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. The overall process that Willson’s lab has developed is being field-tested by a major manufacturer of hard disk drives and may lead to a fivefold increase in the disk’s storage capacity.

And the record of accomplishment probably won’t hurt when it’s time for Dean to apply to graduate school, which he plans to attend in two years, after taking some time to attend bible school.

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