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Beckman Scholars Program bolsters undergraduate research

Beckman Scholar Ariel Gale '20 with Chemistry Professor George Shields.

Furman University has once again been named a Beckman Scholars Program awardee, receiving funds for undergraduate students and their faculty mentors to take a deep dive into biology, chemistry, or a combination of the two.

Since 1999, Furman has received the recognition, which includes funding for students and faculty mentors for laboratory supplies and travel expenses to scientific conferences and meetings. Previous awards funded research into the chemical origins of life, discoveries related to solar energy and bacteria-resistant films to line water pipes.

In the latest round of awards, which are made every three years, Furman will receive support for a cohort of four students and their faculty mentors who will tackle problems in the chemical and life sciences. In May, Furman will name the new crop of students, and they will begin research projects in summer 2021.

“The receipt of our eighth consecutive award is a testament to the accomplishments of the 28 Furman scholars that have participated in the program to date,” says Tim Hanks, the Charles Ezra Daniel Professor and chair of Furman’s chemistry department.

During the last research cycle, which began in 2018, Rachel Cooke ’19, Ariel Gale ’20, Christine Fasana ’22 and Allen Knepper ’22 were named Beckman Scholars.

Woman in glasses wearing regalia
Rachel Cooke ’19

In Chemistry Professor Greg Springsteen’s lab, Cooke worked toward understanding the origins of life on Earth by exploring reactions that may have been in play in early biological metabolism, those that might have provided the foundation for the evolution of RNA and DNA biomolecules.

“Research advances in the field of origins-of-life chemistry can inform us about how life emerged on the early Earth and where we might find life elsewhere in the universe,” says Cooke, now a second-year graduate research assistant at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Working with Furman Professor of Chemistry George Shields, Gale, a Ph.D. student at Emory University and prolific researcher, published four papers in 2020, two of them focused on examining the polymerization of glycine in Earth’s prebiotic atmosphere. “Her research has the potential to shed light on how peptides, essential for life, were formed in the early atmosphere of Earth,” Shields says.

woman in blue shirt with Furman lake in background
Christine Fasana ’22

Fasana, a mentee of Associate Chemistry Professor Mary Elizabeth Anderson, has studied nanomaterials for alternative energy applications. She began work her freshman year characterizing nanoparticles, then transitioned to a new project focused on the formation of ultra-thin films. Her initial research project resulted in a first-author publication and presentation through the Made in SC EPSCOR program in the summer of 2020. It was selected for inclusion in an upcoming National Science Foundation panel.

Man in suit delivering poster presentation
Allen Knepper ’22 presents poster.

Knepper is developing a novel coating system that resists the formation of biofilms by inhibiting the adhesion of organic matter and by releasing bactericides on demand. This coating might be applied to potable water pipes and fittings to prevent water-borne disease outbreaks, according to Hanks, Knepper’s mentor.

The 24 Beckman Scholars who have already graduated Furman did so with an average 3.93/4.0 GPA. Two earned Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, the nation’s preeminent undergraduate award in the sciences, and seven were awarded National Science Foundation graduate fellowships. Twelve entered Ph.D. programs, five enrolled in medical school, four entered M.D./Ph.D. programs, and one entered graduate school in public health administration, at institutions including Emory, Harvard, Princeton and Vanderbilt.

See the complete list of this year’s 12 institutional awardees for the Beckman Scholars Program, one of several programs administered by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. For more information, contact Tim Hanks in the Department of Chemistry at tim.hanks@furman.edu.

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