By Melissa O’Neil Perdue, WSU Tri-Cities
Video by Matthew Haugen, WSU News Service
RICHLAND – A WSU Tri-Cities student and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory intern earned the national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Kristen Meyer, a science major specializing in chemistry, received the award based on her research with fungi and how her undergraduate work will support her long-term commitment to biomedical research and the development of novel organic compounds including antibiotics.
“It’s a significant accomplishment,” said Rick Orth, PNNL Technical Group manager. “Kristen is a shining star for WSU and PNNL, the model student intern.”
The prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to encourage the future success of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers — especially in research careers. The annual program recognizes undergraduates with outstanding potential and whom their college or university has nominated.
Meyer was among 300 students nationwide to be named a Goldwater Scholar. She received the maximum scholarship of $7,500.
Kate McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities biology program coordinator and Meyer’s faculty mentor, said winning the Goldwater Scholarship is a great achievement and a huge accomplishment.
“Kristen is very ambitious and driven to succeed,” McAteer said. “She takes the initiative to figure things out and strives to understand the full complexity of the projects she works on.”
Meyer, a senior, works in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory (BSEL) with PNNL’s Fungal Biotechnology group and Ken Bruno, her research mentor, researching ways to make fungi produce high amounts of useful bioproducts. She is working with Aspergillus niger — a species of black mold commonly found in soil — to understand how it produces large quantities of citric acid. This knowledge can then lead to discovering how fungi produce useful products such as precursors to plastic, biofuel and other bioproducts.
The budding scientist also earned top honors last fall at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2009 Science and Energy Research Challenge Poster Competition.
Meyer will travel to Ecuador in late August to study biomedicine and public health. During her semester, Meyer will have the opportunity to carry out a clinical internship and to gain proficiency in the Spanish language. She hopes to frequently interact with patients during her study.
Her decision to study abroad in Ecuador during the coming fall semester has impressed her teachers and co-workers.
“I think they were surprised because Ecuador isn’t a traditional place to study abroad, like Europe is,” she said. “I chose to study in Ecuador because I want to broaden my world view, and South America is very different from the United States and Europe.”
Once Meyer graduates in December 2010 with a bachelor of science, she plans to complete an eight-year post-graduate program in medical scientist training. The goal is to be a physician scientist with an M.D. and a Ph.D. Meyer plans to conduct biomedical research and potentially to practice medicine abroad.
Meyer graduated from Hanford High School in 2007 while also attending Columbia Basin College through the Running Start program. Her parents are Perry and Lori Meyer of West Richland.