Two Undergraduate Researchers Receive Goldwater Scholarships

Two undergraduates from The University of Texas at Dallas have been recognized with awards from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Mark De Los Santos, a Eugene McDermott Scholar and a molecular biology senior in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Vyom Raval, a Green Fellow and a neuroscience senior in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, each received the prestigious scholarship.

Both of them have demonstrated the benefits of combining deep research experience at UTD with shorter-term collaborations at other institutions… . While diversifying Vyom’s and Mark’s research experience, this has also allowed UTD to show off our talented undergraduates.

Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College

They join the ranks of 18 other UT Dallas students who have been recognized by the Goldwater Foundation. Last year’s scholarship recipients were molecular biology senior Rachel Meade and biomedical engineering senior Sydney Sherman. Both are McDermott Scholars.

The Goldwater Scholarships recognize college sophomores and juniors who want to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Winners receive a scholarship of up to $7,500 for one year.

Some 496 college students from an estimated pool of 5,000 from 443 institutions were awarded scholarships, which honor the late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College and clinical professor of political science, said De Los Santos and Raval are richly deserving of the Goldwater recognition.

“Both of them have demonstrated the benefits of combining deep research experience at UTD with shorter-term collaborations at other institutions, such as UT Southwestern Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital. While diversifying Vyom’s and Mark’s research experience, this has also allowed UTD to show off our talented undergraduates,” Dow said. 

Focusing on Neurodegenerative Diseases

De Los Santos, who is from Arlington, Texas, became interested in research through the STARS (Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern) Summer Research Program for Students while in high school. Through that program he worked in the lab of Dr. Qing Zhong, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, where he studied the role of a gene in the formation of primary cilia, cellular structures that look and act like antennae, in cells of a specific eye layer.

Mark De Los Santos

“I soon discovered how much I valued the process of scientific inquiry and how much gratification I received from potentially helping patients from behind the bench. I knew then that I would want to make research a central part of my career,” De Los Santos said.

At UT Dallas, De Los Santos worked with research scientist Dr. Eric Kildebeck BS’05, a member of the inaugural McDermott Scholars Class of 2001, to design a novel immune cell receptor to help suppress the autoimmune response in multiple sclerosis.

“From the beginning, Mark displayed an aptitude and willingness to learn, work and forge his own path that led to a great degree of independence and success,” Kildebeck said. “Mark’s earnestness and penchant for self-initiated work may see him succeed and contribute in a very special way during his career.”

De Los Santos spent the summer and fall after his sophomore year at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, studying the heterogeneity of properties of tau protein across Alzheimer’s patients. This spring at University College London, he researched the developmental regulation of the tau gene in dementia patients. This summer at the Stanford University School of Medicine, he will investigate commonalities and differences in the immune cell profiles of Alzheimer’s patients.

“I am very honored to represent the truly amazing people and the institutions that have helped me grow as a researcher. I see receiving the Goldwater as the product of the generous trust and kindness I have received from my mentors, and when I found out, I was only excited to extend my thanks,” De Los Santos said.

After completing a graduate degree in either cell biology or neurobiology followed by postdoctoral training, De Los Santos hopes to lead his own research group at an academic institution. He wants to focus on the role of the tau protein in neurodegenerative disease, specifically its intracellular/intercellular dynamics, its engagement of inflammatory processes in the brain, and its dependency on mechanisms of aging. He also wants to advocate for health policy reform.

Medical Career on Horizon

Raval, who is from Ahmedabad, India, had an affinity for science and mathematics from an early age. The summer before his freshman year, Raval worked in a clinical pathology lab at the Smt. G.R. Doshi and Smt. K.M. Mehta Institute of Kidney Diseases and Research Centre in Ahmedabad, where he analyzed kidney stones using infrared spectroscopy.

At UT Dallas, he joined the Developmental Neurolinguistics Lab of Dr. Mandy Maguire, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders. Raval used techniques such as electroencephalography to investigate how children learn a language.

Vyom Raval

“I fell in love with research and the constant learning it calls for. I was fascinated by the whole process, from experimental design to data analysis, that could extract meaningful information about cognitive processes from the brain’s electrical activity,” Raval said. 

Maguire said she appreciated Raval’s “immense intellectual curiosity” when he first sought her out to discuss one of her research papers.

“I was blown away by how deeply and critically he read the research. In the lab, Vyom always sought out ways to move the bar forward, whether writing new code to improve our data analysis or designing new research studies to address gaps he found in the literature,” Maguire said. “He has continued to impress me with his intelligence, perseverance and drive to constantly learn and advance his knowledge of science. I have no doubt that Vyom will become a world-class physician and researcher at a top institution.”

In his sophomore year, Raval joined the lab of Taylor Ware MS’11, PhD’13, assistant professor of bioengineering, to investigate a class of materials called liquid crystal elastomers for biomedical applications.

Goldwater Scholarships

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency. Over the Goldwater Scholarship’s more than three-decade history, hundreds of recipients have gone on to win prestigious awards, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, Rhodes Scholarships, Churchill Scholarships, Hertz Fellowships and Marshall Awards.

“Having this very different kind of research experience taught me to deal with and even enjoy the iterative, failure-filled process of hands-on engineering,” Raval said.

As part of the Green Fellowship, Raval worked in the lab of Dr. Albert Montillo, assistant professor of bioinformatics at UT Southwestern, where he analyzed a dataset of Parkinson’s patients to investigate gait and postural stability measures toward predicting disease progression.

Raval will continue working in Montillo’s lab this summer, developing a motion-correction pipeline for functional MRI data and helping to acquire prospective data from patients with Parkinson’s. He hopes to pursue an MD and PhD in neuroscience with a focus on bioengineering and conduct translational research toward diagnosing and treating neurological disorders.

“Receiving the Goldwater is an amazing honor,” Raval said. “I am elated and grateful to all my mentors and to Dr. Dow for supporting me and meticulously working with me on the application. I feel relief for being lucky enough to have those efforts pay off.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].