Shawnee & Lenexa

Two KU researchers are Goldwater Scholars

Updated: 2013-04-16T22:10:39Z

By BETH LIPOFF

Special to The Star

Two University of Kansas students from Johnson County have earned the title of Goldwater Scholar. Juniors Lianna Dang and Qi Chen will each receive up to $7,500 to cover their tuition, fees, books and room and board.

Congress established the scholarship in 1986 to honor Sen. Barry Goldwater and to encourage students studying math, science and engineering who aspire to careers in research.

The University of Kansas has had 55 students who have received the scholarship over the years, including Dang and Chen. Dang is a graduate of Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, while Chen graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School.

Two hundred seventy-one students nationwide received the award this year. Pembroke Hill graduate Michael Dieterle, who studies at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., also won a Goldwater Scholarship.

As part of the scholarship application process, students submit an essay addressing an issue in their subject and discuss how they could help address it through a research project.

Both KU students have done their share of research already.

Dang, 20, who studies chemistry, has contributed to two papers published in scientific journals, one about lithium ion batteries and one about a catalyst she created to help make plastics in a more sustainable way. KU has applied for a patent for the catalyst.

Twenty-one-year-old Chen’s investigations in chemical engineering have focused on how to predict the behavior of molecules, which can help in the manufacture and use of solvents.

Both Chen and Dang are planning to go to graduate school and are considering becoming professors.

“It’s very exciting (to get this), because it says I make a really good researcher, and I can have a future in research and graduate school,” Dang said.

The laboratories aren’t their whole lives, however.

When she’s not spending time working on her catalyst, Dang likes to help with outreach programs for middle school students to encourage them to pursue science as a career.

“We do demonstrations that are really cool. Kids like to get their hands into slimy things, so we make slime, Play-Doh and a cornstarch and water mixture that acts weird as a non-Newtonian fluid,” Dang said. “(We want) to show kids it can be exciting, and it’s not boring.”

Although she wants to teach on a university level, Dang said she hopes to continue doing such outreach with younger kids after she graduates. She credits supervisor Shenqiang Ren, an assistant professor of chemistry at KU, with keeping her motivated and excited about her own research.

Dang also speaks with prospective KU chemistry students to convince them to study at the university.

Chen spends his time away from the lab helping organize the KU Engineering Student Council’s Engineering Expo. He’s also running for Student Senate to represent the engineering students.

His advice for prospective chemical engineering students?

“Have interactions with professors and get to know them outside of class. You never know how many opportunities you might have,” Chen said.

He credits Kyle Camarda, associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate programs at the KU School of Engineering, as a major influence. He said that without Chris Wiles, associate director of the honors program at KU, he might not have even applied for the Goldwater Scholarship.

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