Vanderbilt students named 2014 Goldwater winners

Three Vanderbilt students have been recognized in this year’s Goldwater Scholars competition. Joshua Eggold and Paul Ponmattam have been selected as Goldwater Scholars, and Nikita Lakomkin has received an honorable mention.

Each year, Vanderbilt has the opportunity to nominate up to four outstanding sophomore and junior students in the math, science and engineering fields for Goldwater Scholarships. These one- and two-year scholarships contribute $7,500 per year toward educational expenses.

This year, 283 scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by colleges and universities nationwide. Of this group, 22 scholars were studying mathematics, 191 were in science and related majors, 63 were in engineering and seven were in computer science. Many of the scholars had dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering and computer disciplines.

Eggold is developing the research foundation necessary to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular genetics or biochemistry. A junior from Grafton, Wis., majoring in biology, he is interested in conducting research on the manner in which a cell’s DNA repair machinery is activated, controlled and utilized for the treatment—or even prevention—of various forms of cancer.

In 2013, he was selected for the Beckman Scholars Program under the mentorship of the late Ellen Fanning, a world-renowned leader in DNA replication and repair. In collaboration with Fanning, he designed a semester-long research project on the interaction between SV40 and non-homologous end joining DNA repair. This work continued over the summer and through the fall semester, and Eggold currently is preparing a paper for publication.

His Goldwater application was supported by Jeffrey Johnston, Stevenson Professor of Chemistry; Joshua Gamse, associate professor of biology; and Katherine Friedman, associate professor of biology.

Ponmattam, a junior from West Palm Beach, Fla., is a mathematics student interested in pursuing a research career in either stochastic processes or metric geometry. In 2012, he was selected for an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer research project at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, where he created mathematical models to study mechanisms of protein folding and associated apoptotic mechanisms. Last summer, he participated in a second NSF REU project at the University of Michigan, where he studied the generalization of the no focal points condition on Reimannian manifolds in geodesic metric spaces.

He also has received grants to study at the UCLA Logic Summer School and to conduct research at the NIH. This past fall, Ponmattam’s accomplishments were recognized in his selection for a $3,000 Waldemar J. Trjitzinsky Memorial Award from the American Mathematical Society. His Goldwater application was supported by Mark Ellingham, Emmanuele DiBenedetto and Denis Osin, professors in the Department of Mathematics at Vanderbilt.

Lakomkin, a sophomore biology major from South Glastonbury, Conn., received honorable mention recognition. In his freshman year, he was accepted as an assistant in the lab of Jason Jessen, where he participated in the investigation of fundamental morphogenic processes common to vertebrate development, tumor formation and metastasis. Being accepted to the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy in May 2013 allowed him to devote his summer to full-time research, culminating in a poster presentation, “Expression Analysis of Zebrafish Protein Tyrosine Kinase 7 (Ptk7) During Embryogenesis,” at the VSSA symposium.

Under the mentorship of Richard Abramson, director of clinical translation at the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, Lakomkin has conducted a range of independent investigations in translational medical imaging. Most recently these have focused on developing and validating quantitative biomarkers from X-ray computed tomography images to predict tumor response in breast cancer therapy.

He plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in translational medicine, with a specialization in cancer biology. Lakomkin’s application was supported by Abramson; Shane Hutson, professor of physics; and Daniel Cornfield, professor of sociology.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986 to honor Sen. Barry M. Goldwater. Goldwater Scholarships are designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

Contact: Todd Peterson