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Three Yale Students Win Goldwater Scholarships


New Haven, Conn. — Three Yale juniors were among the 317 undergraduates nationwide to receive a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for the 2007–08 academic year to pursue careers in mathematics, engineering or science: Bennett Lane, Mary Caswell Stoddard (“Cassie”) and Aaron Ring.

A native of Waco, Texas, Lane went to high school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At Yale, he majors in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and works in the lab of Susan Baserga conducting research on the maturation of ribosomal RNA. Getting a better understanding of the production of the ribosome, which translates genetic information to form proteins, is “very basic” science, says Lane, who got hooked on science as a freshman taking organic chemistry. A resident of Pierson College at Yale, Lane gives a ringing endorsement to the MB&B program, Baserga’s lab, in particular. “Yale is one of a handful of places conducting research in this particular field of ribosome biogenesis,” he notes. “Having a medical school expands the range of possibilities,” he adds. With a passion for pure science at its most fundamental—and complicated—Lane hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry after graduating from Yale next year with BS and MS degrees.

Stoddard, from Alexandria, Virginia, does research in the Ornithology Lab of Richard Prum and is part of the effort to unlock the mysteries of bird vision. The evolution of bird feather patterns is connected to the very complex system of avian vision, Stoddard explains. The color of many kinds of bird feathers is produced by the peculiar interaction of certain tiny biological structures and light. Decoding the evolutionary patterns of these “structural” colors, in addition to those produced by molecular pigments, can reveal a great deal more about avian vision than we are able to envision ourselves, since we lack the ability of birds to see in ultraviolet light. Stoddard is working on a computer program that will map “bird color space,” so that while we will never have a bird’s eye view, we will know precisely what colors birds can see. Stoddard notes enthusiastically that her research “bridges biology, physics and computer science in a new way.” An accomplished violinist who plays in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, she hopes to pursue an academic career in evolutionary science. Stoddard’s avian interests come naturally: like her grandmother and mother, she has had a lifelong fascination with birds.

Ring, who hails from Spokane, Washington, works in the lab of Richard Lifton conducting research on the genetic causes of hypertension. It is well known that diet, genes and environment can affect blood pressure, notes Ring, and his particular area of investigation focuses on how genetic mutations cause cardiovascular disease, the nation’s—and the world’s—leading cause of death. While Ring has a passion for basic scientific research on physiology at the molecular level, he also takes an interest in the clinical applications of his work. His hands-on experience screening patients for high blood pressure has taught him a lot, he says, and he intends to combine scientific research with the healing arts in his future career. After describing in technical detail the bio-chemical complexities of salt re-absorption in the kidneys, he dispels the myth that eating a potassium-rich banana a day is the best way to lower blood pressure. In terms of mg per calorie, tomatoes, kiwis, strawberries, grapefruit, peaches and orange juice beat out bananas as a source of potassium, he notes. Ring intends to pursue an MD/Ph.D. after graduating from Yale with bachelor’s and master’s degrees next year. Ring keeps his own blood pressure down by playing cello and going downhill skiing in his free time.

The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,110 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. One hundred seventy-four of the Scholars are men, 143 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. Twenty-eight Scholars are mathematics majors, 223 are science and related majors, 54 are majoring in engineering, and 12 are computer science majors. Many of the Scholars have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering, and computer disciplines.

The one- and two-year scholarships provide up to $7,500 per year.


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