Prestigious Goldwater Scholarships awarded to three Virginia Tech students

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 30, 2008 – Three outstanding Virginia Tech students, each with an impressive record of undergraduate research and leadership experience, have received highly competitive Barry M. Goldwater scholarships for the 2008-09 academic year.

The scholarship winners from Virginia Tech are Thao Do, a sophomore from Springfield, Va., majoring in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering; Kevin Finelli, a junior from Yorktown, Va., double majoring in mathematics and physics in the College of Science; and David Tatum, a junior from Midlothian, Va., double majoring in chemistry in the College of Science and biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Through undergraduate research experiences at Virginia Tech, Harvard University, and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., Do says she has developed an interest in nanotechnology because of its potential applications in the biomedical field. She has focused her research on developing robust microscopic channels and particles.

"These can be used for medical diagnosis and treatments, as well as DNA analysis," said Do, who has filed for a patent related to one project at Harvard. "My research experiences have inspired me to integrate my education in mechanical engineering with physics and biomedical fields."

She co-authored a journal article and delivered a presentation to the American Physics Society. In addition, she found time to help with the Human-Powered Submarine Team and the Society of Women Engineers, for which she organizes a Girl Scout Day to inspire 46 local students to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Finelli, who is a member of the Society of Physics Students and the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics National Honor Society, has conducted undergraduate research in Virginia Tech's Department of Physics and Department of Mathematics as well as the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Va. His physics research is a part of the QWeak collaboration, an experiment that will be the first precision measurement of the weak charge of the proton.

"Since it turns out that nature, at its most basic level, behaves very differently than we intuitively would expect, physics is also a very interesting discipline to study," said Finelli, who has a 4.0 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale) at Virginia Tech and was valedictorian of York High School in Yorktown, Va., in 2005. "Understanding the vast complexity involved in even the most seemingly simple events that surround our daily lives helps me to gain an appreciation for what physicists have been working on for centuries."

Through the Physics Outreach Program, Finelli has helped bring physics to primary and secondary school students in the community in stimulating and relevant ways. In the fall, he also organized the Hillcrest Academic Assistance Program, which helps younger students seek out older students willing to offer tutoring in any academic subject.

A member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Tatum has studied the trafficking of sulfur in bacteria with the Department of Biochemistry and, more recently, molecule-based magnets with the Department of Chemistry.

"Magnetic substances found in nature, like the magnets you would find on a refrigerator, are atom-based where the magnetic properties arise from aligned, unpaired electrons on metal atoms," said Tatum, who was named an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America in 2005. "Our research concerns molecular complexes that are magnetic in nature due to an overall net magnetic moment between organic radicals and metal ions."

This semester, Tatum is not only continuing his research pursuits but also teaching two recitation sections of a general chemistry course. He is also a member of the Virginia Tech Club Volleyball A Team, which placed No. 9 in Division I of the national tournament last year.

All three winners are members of the Hillcrest Honors Community and say they plan to pursue a Ph.D. so that they can teach and conduct research at a major research university. Since the program's inception in 1986, Virginia Tech has had 37 Goldwater scholars, including this year's winners.

This year, 321 sophomores and juniors from a field of 1,035 applicants nationwide at colleges and universities around the country received the scholarships. Goldwater scholars are selected for academic merit and each is awarded up to $7,500 per year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Congress established the scholarship program in 1986 to honor the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering.

For more information about Virginia Tech's Goldwater scholars, contact Christina McIntyre, associate director of University Honors and campus representative for the Goldwater Scholarship, at (540) 231-4591.