Marlene Lawston and Leah Weisburn, both members of the Class of 2020, have received Goldwater Scholarships for the upcoming academic year. They were selected from among 1,223 college sophomores and juniors studying natural science, engineering, and mathematics at 443 academic institutions.

Goldwater scholarships honor the memory of the late Senator Barry Goldwater. The program supports outstanding mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering students pursuing careers in research. In particular, it seeks out individuals who display intellectual intensity and demonstrate the potential to serve as leaders in their chosen fields.

Lawston (Niskayuna, N.Y.) is an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Scholar conducting research on stem cell biology and molecular neurobiology in the lab of Jason Meyers, associate professor of biology and neuroscience. “His work involves molecular biology and neuroscience, and I was drawn to that challenge.” Lawston explained. “Studying the pathways and molecular mechanisms that underlie disease and regeneration has always interested me.”

Lawston’s current project focuses on uncovering the mechanisms behind mechano-sensory organ regeneration, using blind cavefish as a model organism. This summer, she will present her research at the Beckman Symposium in Irvine California and at the Society for Developmental Biology Conference in Boston.

We are on the cusp of gathering what has been uncovered about stem cell regenerative potential and routinely incorporating it into patient treatment …

“When I think about leadership in research, I think about someone who has the ability to come up with novel research ideas and questions — someone who can see problems that need to be solved and know how their specific knowledge and research experience can solve those problems,” Lawston said. “I hope to be involved in the field of regenerative medicine, where there are a lot of problems to be solved — we are on the cusp of gathering what has been uncovered about stem cell regenerative potential and routinely incorporating it into patient treatment.”

After graduation, Lawston plans to enter an MD/PhD program to conduct further research in the area of stem cells and regenerative medicine, and ultimately, to transfer that knowledge to the treatment and care of patients.

Outside the lab, Lawston is a volunteer EMT and student coordinator for Southern Madison County Volunteer Ambulance Corps. She is also a head first-responder for Colgate and a biology peer-led team learning leader.

Weisburn (Akron, Ohio) is a chemistry and mathematics double major, who has worked in the lab of Jason Keith, assistant professor of chemistry, applying computational chemistry to her investigations of chemical systems. Her current work is an effort to optimize an environmentally-friendly, inexpensive, and nontoxic alternative to a conventional heavy-metal catalyst. “Green chemistry, and reducing waste in the chemical industry, is increasingly important,” Weisburn said.

Her research at Colgate thus far has focused on the application of computational chemistry to real-world systems. “The other half of computational chemistry is examining and improving the foundational theory to make the tool more accurately describe physical systems — doing this requires an understanding of both the underlying math and chemistry.”

Originally intending to study only mathematics when she arrived at Colgate, Weisburn encountered quantum mechanics and physical chemistry during her first semester. “It was the first time I could tie my interest in math to chemical systems in a direct way,” she said. These new subjects piqued her interest in chemistry as a second major. Through her courses and research at Colgate, she has been able to explore physical chemistry, developing an understanding of how theory relates to physical systems.

I would like to become a professor, to perform research while teaching and mentoring students. It’s a career I never thought was feasible until I came to Colgate and met professors who have mentored me …

Weisburn will travel to Duke University this summer under a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates. There, she will delve more deeply into the mathematics behind the chemistry she has pursued in Keith’s lab — further preparation for the pursuit of a PhD and a career in the field of physical or computational chemistry.

Weisburn is an Alumni Memorial Scholar, a Charles A. Dana Scholar, and a community leader (CL) for the residential life office. In her hours outside the classroom, she is also oboist in the Colgate University Orchestra and Chamber Players.

Pondering the future — and her past experience as a peer tutor and lab assistant in the Department of Chemistry — Weisburn said, “I would like to become a professor, to perform research while teaching and mentoring students. It’s a career I never thought was feasible until I came to Colgate and met professors who have mentored me, encouraged me to perform research, and helped me explore increasingly complex concepts.”

Colgate students and alumni have been awarded many of the most competitive national and international fellowships and scholarships. For more information, visit the Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships.

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