Three University of Maryland undergraduates with strong records of published research have been awarded 2022 scholarships by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.
Patrick Kim, a junior physics and electrical engineering double-degree student; George Li, a sophomore computer science and mathematics double-degree student; and Kevin Tu, a junior biological sciences and economics double-degree student are among 417 Goldwater Scholars selected from 1,242 nominees nationally. Goldwater Scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.
Over the last decade, UMD’s nominations yielded 35 scholarships—the second-most in the nation behind Stanford University. The Goldwater Foundation has honored 76 UMD winners and five honorable mentions since the program’s first award was given in 1989.
“Our Goldwater Scholars are conducting research on the leading edge of their disciplines—engineering new clean energy solutions, using algorithms to optimize the distribution of limited resources in contact tracing or access to vaccines, and designing new gene-based diagnostics and therapies against aggressive cancers. Each of them is on a trajectory to make major research contributions that have societal impact,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Infantino has led UMD’s Goldwater Scholarship nominating process since 2001.
Kim, a member of the University Honors program and President’s Scholarship recipient, is contributing to the quest for fusion energy—a process that forces atoms together under great heat and could mean an almost limitless supply of clean energy if successful.
Kim began his first research project at UMD with Physics Professor William Dorland in 2017—two years before he became a college freshman. Now, Kim is working with Dorland to optimize fusion reactors to reduce their turbulent transport, which would otherwise greatly limit their efficiency and prevent net fusion power gain.
“Patrick is bright, resourceful, tenacious and curious,” Dorland said. “He is able to teach himself fast enough and thoroughly enough to have produced new results, which he published in a refereed journal and presented at the annual American Physical Society conference for the Division of Plasma Physics.”
Kim also conducts research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), where he studies reduced plasma models that can evaluate the plasma’s nonlinear macroscopic stability and dynamical properties more rapidly. He is co-author of a journal article submitted on this work. This summer, he plans to continue working at PPPL to develop improved optimization algorithms for fusion reactors.
After graduation, Kim plans to pursue a Ph.D., become a plasma physicist and help develop the first commercial nuclear fusion reactors that provide power to the electrical grid.
Li arrived at UMD in fall 2020—when most classes were still being taught online due to the pandemic—but that didn’t stop him from jumping into research his first semester. In fact, the pandemic offered him unique research opportunities. Working with Aravind Srinivasan, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science at UMD, and collaborators at the University of Virginia, Li developed an algorithm for efficient contact tracing that has been recommended for implementation to the Virginia Department of Health. Li also developed an approximation algorithm to determine where to deploy vaccine distribution sites to improve accessibility to vaccines.
“George is the first author on two papers accepted in a well-known artificial intelligence conference, AAMAS 2022, on contact tracing and mobile vaccination for diseases like COVID-19,” Srinivasan said. “He came up with new mathematical and algorithmic ideas and very fast software development for these submissions. He has a strong career ahead combining math, computer science and data science."
Li also worked with UMD Assistant Professor of Computer Science Furong Huang on using a powerful algebraic tool called tensor decompositions to develop learning algorithms that make non-discriminatory decisions. This project fueled Li’s interest in deriving practical implications from theoretical models.
In addition to earning an International Collegiate Programming Contest Regionals Bronze Medal, Li is a member of UMD’s table tennis club and a teaching assistant for CMSC 451: Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms. While at UMD, Li was awarded a President’s Scholarship, Michael Antonov Endowed Scholarship and Edgar Krahn Scholarship.
After graduation, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science, with a focus on theoretical computer science in the areas of learning theory, algorithms and combinatorial optimization, and differential privacy.
Tu, a member of the University Honors program and a Banneker/Key Scholar, has been conducting translational molecular biology research for the past six years at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and UMD. His work has resulted in two published papers and six submitted manuscripts—including two that list him as the first author.
At Hopkins, he studied sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease for three years. In his ongoing research at UMSOM, he studies how the low-oxygen microenvironment in pancreatic cancer induces radiation resistance and tumor aggression on the molecular level. Tu is currently planning an experiment to computationally model oxygen levels following a novel radiation therapy.
Tu also conducted STEM education research with Daniel Levin, an associate clinical professor in UMD’s Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership, on active learning strategies that resulted in one accepted first-author manuscript and another first-author manuscript submitted for publication.
His research with UMD Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics Professor Jonathan Dinman focuses on a mechanism called -1 programmed ribosomal frameshifting.
“As a researcher, Kevin is highly motivated to take on complex problems,” Dinman said. “The project he’s working on will mark the first demonstration through which a disruption in a -1 programmed ribosomal frameshifting signal leads to the development of a specific human disease. In addition to his keen scientific insight and fierce devotion to research, he has demonstrated his versatility and innovative approach as an educator.”
In addition to his many research projects, Tu created and teaches a one-credit class (BSCI238D) on research methodologies through UMD’s Student Initiated Courses (STICs) program. The course, which teaches the mechanisms behind common lab techniques, grew from Tu’s observation that undergraduates are proficient in following experimental protocols but often do not understand the chemical basis of the techniques, which makes it difficult for them to troubleshoot and optimize experiments. He has been teaching the course since fall 2020.
Tu also founded and serves as president of CORA (Combating Overdoses in Rural Areas), a nonprofit organization that provides opioid education, resources and harm reduction to rural communities across the country. For his efforts, Tu received the Governor’s Service Award in the Emerging Leader category and UMD’s Ed Snider Center Leadership Award.
In addition, he leads a team of four associate editors who review undergraduate research submissions to the Journal of Young Investigators and founded The Hare, UMD’s satirical publication.
After graduation, Tu plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in cancer biology. His goal is to develop new gene-based therapies and diagnostic tools for aggressive and untreatable cancers.