Sai Gourisankar Named Rhodes 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.Sai Gourisankar, a Plan II and chemical engineering senior, has been awarded a 2015 Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most distinguished graduate scholarships in the world. He becomes the 30th UT Austin student to receive the award and the second this year.

Established in 1903, Rhodes Scholarships are postgraduate awards supporting outstanding students for two years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Approximately 80 scholarships are awarded to exceptional students across the world each year.

As a Rhodes scholar, Gourisankar will focus on mathematical modeling, scientific computing and theoretical physics. After completing his two years at Oxford, Gourisankar plans to return to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. He is particularly interested in understanding and solving problems at the intersection of chemical engineering and mathematics.

“We are incredibly proud of Sai and excited about what he will accomplish over the next two years at Oxford,” said Sharon L. Wood, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “He is one of the Cockrell School’s most outstanding students, and he has exemplified the value of a multidisciplinary engineering education.”

A past recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and a Churchill Scholarship from the British Studies Department at UT Austin, he has been celebrated and published for his work in nanotechnology. Gourisankar conducts research helping chemical engineering faculty members design gold nanoclusters for biomedical therapy and imaging, techniques that can reveal real-time changes of various biomolecules associated with cancer and other diseases. In collaboration with chemical engineering graduate students Avinash Murthy and Robert Stover, Gourisankar has controlled the synthesis of the gold nanoclusters to achieve strong near infrared absorbance needed for biomedical imaging ( ACS Nano, vol. 7, 239-251, 2013). After imaging, these particles biodegrade back to individual gold spheres that adsorb essentially zero protein in blood serum (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 135, 7799-7802, 2013). Thus they remain small enough for clearance through the kidneys.

“Sai has not only performed experiments and calculations critical to advancing this work,” said Tom Truskett, chair of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering and Gourisankar’s research co-supervisor with Professor Keith Johnston. “He has helped to build research collaborations that have taken the research to a new level.”

Gourisankar has served as treasurer for the OXE student chapter and is a member of the Society of Plan II Engineers and the Plan II Music Society.  He is also currently training and fundraising to participate in the Texas 4000, a charity bike ride from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska to support cancer research (check out his Texas 4000 story). Gourisankar joins Jessica Glennie as the second UT Austin student to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for 2015. Glennie, a senior in the School of Architecture, will focus on environmental policy and change.

“On behalf of everyone at our university, I congratulate Sai on this tremendous international honor,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers. “He is a highly accomplished and talented young man, and I’m excited to see how he will use this opportunity to lead future advancements in computing and mathematical modeling.”


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