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Arts and Sciences students named Goldwater scholars

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 32 - June 5, 1997

Two students from the College of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Tech--Leah Belinda Shaw and Michael L. Parks--have been named Goldwater scholars for 1997-98.
Goldwater scholars are sophomores and juniors from throughout the country chosen on the basis of academic merit in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. The candidates are nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nation-wide. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year.
Both Shaw and Parks are members of the University Honors Program.
Shaw is majoring in physics and mathematics with minors in biology and chemistry. She plans also to do undergraduate research in statistical mechanics. She plans to earn a Ph.D. in biophysics or biochemistry while continuing her study of physics and then teach in a research university and "conduct scientific research in a field that will allow me to integrate knowledge from several branches of science."
"That combination," she said, "will enable me to study biological systems and intelligently apply principles of physics to them. I am particularly interested in the study of chemical processes occurring in living cells, a field in which statistical mechanics can be used."
Shaw has been planning a career in research since her first year in college. "The summer I spent working in a biochemistry lab has increased my desire to pursue scientific research," she said. "I saw how pure research in the lab where I worked led to unexpected discoveries that may have useful medical applications." She also saw how results of one experiment raised new questions for study, and the "occasional successes were exciting and made the routine procedures worthwhile."
She spent a summer doing an internship at the University of Virginia biochemistry lab that focused on the biophysics of DNA replication. She worked on a series of experiments begun earlier in the lab and also worked independently to study a specific protein and purified several milligrams of the protein that the lab will use in future experiments.
Shaw has been on the Virginia Tech Dean's list from fall 1995 to the present. She won the physics department's Hugh Ussery Scholarship and the university's Alumni Presidential Scholarship and Floyd-Francis Scholarship.
She is a member of the Society of Physics Students as well as Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She regularly volunteers as a math and physics tutor.
Parks, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., is pursuing dual honors degrees in computer science and physics and is participating in research projects in both departments and generating a thesis as part of his honors degrees. He plans to earn dual graduate degrees with a high degree of interaction between his chosen fields, to move into post-doctoral work involving computer-assisted physics, and then to teach and do computer-aided research in physics. He is serving as a tutor to gain experience in teaching.
In high school, Parks' AP physics teacher asked him to prepare and give a lecture about computationally modeling projectile motion. He did so. "I was happy to learn that both the class and my teacher enjoyed the lecture," he said. "This experience was exciting for me because I combined computer science with physics and taught in front of a class for the first time. This experience started me thinking about the applications of computers to physics and made me give serious thought to a career as a university professor."
Parks also was influenced by his father's research, which produced new methods of planting and harvesting corn and soybeans and drastically increased the yield of these crops. "It is my hope," he said, "that someday I also will be able to see my research directly benefiting those around me."
At Virginia Tech, Parks is participating in two research projects. One, the "Learning in Networked Communities" project, is a cooperative effort between the computer-science department and the local public-school system aimed at creating and evaluating a virtual laboratory infrastructure for constructing and conducting experiments. The other is the Tribochemical Vapor Deposition project, an effort by the physics department to investigate the feasibility of using friction heat in a chemical vapor deposition to modify the surface of a ceramic. Through those projects, he has gained experience valuable to his future career.
Parks has been on the Virginia Tech Dean's List from 1994 until the present and has earned numerous scholarships. They include the Microsoft Scholarship, the college's Booker Memorial Scholarship, and the computer-science department's Investment in Excellence Scholarship. He is a member of the Golden Key National Honor Society and was named the Outstanding Lower Division Student by the computer-science department in 1966.
He is a University Honors associate and a member of the Society of Physics Students, the Gamma Beta Phi National Honor Society, and Phi Beta Kappa.