Undergraduate Brendan Chou Wins Goldwater Scholarship

Headshot of Brendan Chou in a t-shirt standing near a harbor with the ocean and a lighthouse in the backgroundUndergraduate biochemistry major Brendan Chou has been awarded a Goldwater scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Chou works in the lab of chemical engineering assistant professor Lydia Contreras.

Goldwater Scholarships are one- and two-year scholarships awarded annually to outstanding second- and third-year college students.  The award covers a recipient’s cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Chou, a third-year student, was recognized for his work in the Contreras Lab studying a type of bacteria called extremophiles that can withstand heavy exposure to radiation. Contreras’ team has identified molecules called sRNAs that are related to this radiation resistance. The work might lead to ways to protect cancer patients from the side effects of radiation therapy or ways to engineer microbes that can clean up nuclear waste. Chou is co-author of two scientific papers relating to this work published in peer-reviewed journals.

“I’d like to continue working on sRNAs in graduate school,” says Chou. “If we can understand how they work, we might be able to use them to silence problematic DNA that causes disease.”

As a first-year student in the university’s Freshman Research Initiative (FRI), Chou searched for drugs that could prevent bacteria from developing antibiotic resistance. He later served as a mentor to a group of FRI students.

“I was really inspired by my FRI mentors,” says Chou. “They helped inspire a passion in me for research that I wanted to pass on.

Chou also founded and was president of an undergraduate science journal club, which exposed students to recent advances across scientific disciplines.

Goldwater scholars are selected nationwide on the basis of academic merit. Congress established The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program in 1986 to honor Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman.

Chemical engineering students who have received a Goldwater Scholarship in recent years include: Sai Gourisankar in 2013, Brian Wilson in 2012 and Cynthia Chen in 2010.

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