News

Student Researchers Receive Goldwater Scholarships to Promote Their Promising Science Careers

by Davidson College
Goldwater Scholarship recipients
Goldwater Scholars (l-r) Justin Strickland '14 and Eric Sawyer '14

Davidson students Eric Sawyer '14 and Justin Strickland '14 have received Goldwater Scholarships to promote their demonstrated interest in scientific research. Established by the United States Congress in 1986, the Goldwater Scholarship promotes the study of science, math, and engineering by awarding scholarships to undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in those fields.

"In recent years Davidson students have enjoyed increased success in landing Goldwater Scholarships," explained Professor of Chemistry Erland Stevens, chair of the department and campus coordinator for the Goldwater program. "This success reflects both the quality of Davidson students and the research opportunities that the science faculty make available to students. "

Stevens added, "Because the Goldwater is the only large undergraduate science scholarship program, students who become Goldwater Scholars gain a nationally recognized affirmation of their accomplishments."

Sawyer first became involved in scientific research in high school, when he worked in a lab at Missouri Western State University near his hometown of St. Joseph, Mo. "I was working with Todd Eckdahl, who collaborates with Malcolm Campbell in Davidson's biology department," said Sawyer. "So, through my research in high school I was able to come visit Davidson for a week and learn about undergraduate research opportunities here."

Sawyer is a biology major conducting research with Professor of Biology Karen Hales on spermatogenesis -- the creation of sperm cells -- in fruit flies. Hales' research focuses on the creation of mitochondria -- small organelles within the sperm that provide cells with energy. "We look at mutated cells in which a gene in the spermatogenesis process doesn't work correctly," Sawyer explained. "That way, we can more fully understand the system when it works as it should."

This summer Sawyer is conducting research in the Stanford University Department of Bioengineering. He explained, "I am working to develop alternative splicing devices within human cells. Our cells pack multiple functions into individual genes through splicing, and if we can use the splicing process as an engineering tool, we might be able to create more effective and versatile molecular medical devices."

After Davidson, Sawyer plans to pursue a Ph.D. in either molecular or genetic biology.

Justin Strickland, a psychology and biology double major from Springfield, Va., has worked with Davidson Professor of Psychology Mark Smith for the past two and a half years,  examining the role of social and exercise interventions in substance abuse in rats.

"We've found that drug use diminishes with access to aerobic exercise," Strickland said. "Rats with the running wheel in their cage use cocaine less, acquire a drug addiction slower, and relapse slower when you take away the drug and then give it back."

Strickland helped present Smith's research at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., last year, and presented on the project at another conference in New Orleans.

Strickland intends to continue drug abuse research. This summer he is working in a human behavioral pharmacology lab, which creates very controlled settings to study possible drug therapies and behavioral therapies for drug abusers. Strickland said, "This lab focuses on development of pharmacological therapies for drug use. Methadone is used to treat heroin addiction, but no such drug yet exists for cocaine."

Like Sawyer, Strickland also plans to pursue a Ph.D., most likely in neuroscience.

The Goldwater Scholarships will go a long way toward helping Sawyer and Strickland achieve their professional goals. Stevens said, "The Goldwater Scholarship can open doors for admission into top graduate programs, as well as give students an advantage at winning elite graduate fellowships like the Fulbright."