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Outstanding research earns Goldwater honors

April 15, 2008

Three ASU juniors who already are performing sophisticated research that may have worldwide benefit have won Goldwater Scholarships, the nation’s premier awards for undergraduates studying science, math and engineering.

Working in the laboratories of ASU senior faculty and scientists who are also mentors, the three are getting a head start on promising careers.

The competitive $7,500 awards have been won by Bryan Rolfe, a math and chemical engineering double major; Lara Cardy, majoring in biochemistry with a minor in speech and hearing; and Charlene Bashore, biochemistry major.

Rolfe, 20, hopes to mitigate the negative effects of common chemical processes on the environment, and to conserve and replenish the natural environment. He’s examining metal pollutants in the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Environmental Biogeochemistry.

Rolfe’s intense curiosity and sense of fun also have provided frequent comic relief in the lab, according to Laura Wasylenki, assistant research scientist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“Once Bryan got curious about whether a plastic centrifuge tube would blow off its lid if he closed some liquid nitrogen inside and waited for it to warm up,” Wasylenki says. “The whole tube became brittle and exploded into a million tiny bits of plastic. The huge ‘boom’ brought people running from several rooms.

“Another time, Bryan and another colleague and I went outside on a hot July day to see how long it takes to cook an egg on the sidewalk. Bryan measured the temperature of the sidewalk as 168 degrees F. The white of the egg took four minutes to cook – but while we were waiting for the yolk to cook, a campus van ran over it.

“Bryan’s unstoppable curiosity about all kinds of things has led him to develop an amazingly broad knowledge of science and engineering, almost all self-taught. He is an absolute pleasure to have around, and I am deeply impressed by his knack for all things scientific and engineering-related, as well as his initiative, ingenuity and integrity.”

Cardy, 20, was an intern at the Translational Genomics Research Institute for two years, looking for genetic markers that will allow early diagnosis and treatment of autism. She is working on cochlear implant simulations for the hearing impaired, in the lab of Michael Dorman, a professor of speech and hearing science.

She has long had a passion for working with people with developmental disabilities, after working at a camp for severely disabled children. After coming to ASU, she discovered an affinity for research and has decided to pursue the neurological underpinnings of autism spectrum disorders. But she continues to volunteer with disabled students outside of class.

“This combination of interests, from laboratory to patient contact, is what we look for in a budding researcher,” Dorman says. “The wonderful thing about Lara is that she has the research skills to answer the hard questions, and the interest in people to make the work important.”

Bashore, 21, is working on rapid DNA sequencing to allow early diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. She’s in a lab group with chemistry professor Peter Williams, as part of a push by the National Human Genome Research Institute to come up with a fast, cheap method for DNA sequencing. She spends 10 to 15 hours a week in the lab, and also is community service director for Rotaract Club of ASU and All Saints Catholic Newman Center.

“Charlene is an extremely bright, unbelievably energetic young lady,” Williams says. “Her course load and volunteer work and undergraduate research amount to an amazing load, and her time-management skills must be just exceptional. She has performed extremely well in the laboratory, and is already working at the level of an advanced graduate student.”

All three Goldwater Scholars are students in Barrett, the Honors College, as well as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Rolfe’s double major also places him in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering. All three plan to earn doctorates, continuing their research.

A fourth student, Andrew Gamalski, majoring in physics and math, received honorable mention.

ASU students have won 39 Goldwater Scholarships over the past 15 years, among the highest in the nation.