Curiosity and tenacity are only two of the many descriptions one can give to Ryan Mezan and Zachary Short, this year’s Goldwater Scholarship recipients from West Virginia University.
The Goldwater is one of the most prestigious awards of its kind, awarding up to 260 scholarships annually, recognizing students who have the potential to make significant contributions in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The scholarship is open to sophomores and juniors and provides as much as $7,500 for tuition, fees, books, room and board for students who demonstrate their aptitude through course work and their own original research.
The program was established in 1986, and since that time WVU has had 42 winners (including Mezan and Short).
Both Mezan, from Weirton, and Short, from Mallory, were assisted in pursuing their scholarships by WVU’s ASPIRE office, which helps students who seek nationally competitive scholarships. Dr. Kenneth Blemings, dean of the Honors College, served as the faculty adviser for the scholarship application process.
“This year’s pool of candidates was the strongest, most diverse group of students that I have seen since beginning as the Goldwater faculty adviser,” Blemings said. “Because of this, WVU submitted four very high quality applications. We are so pleased that Ryan and Zach were selected. Both of these young men are already making significant contributions to their respective fields and their selection as Goldwater Scholars positions them to continue their cutting edge research.”
Mezan is an Honors student and junior biomedical engineering major at the Benjamin M. Statler college of Engineering and Mineral Resources. He started his academic career at WVU in the first class of biomedical engineering majors. He thought that the small class sizes would lead to more opportunities to get involved. That assumption served him well.
During his second month of school, he went to a lecture about the importance of undergraduate research. The idea interested him so much that he began calling all the professors in his department.
Dr. Yong Yang, assistant professor of chemical engineering, gladly took him under his wing and had him start participating in his research. This was before Mezan even started taking major-specific classes.
“Dr. Yang has always wanted me to be as successful as I want myself to be,” says Mezan about the important role his faculty mentor has played in his growth as a student researcher.
Mezan’s own research focuses on new ways to diagnose the toxicity of nanomaterials. He has presented posters of his research, and had the distinguished opportunity of addressing leaders and scientists in his field in an oral platform at the Biomedical Engineering Society’s annual conference, something usually reserved for full-fledged Ph.Ds or physicians.
“Having the chance to pursue this research as an undergraduate is a fantastic opportunity,” says Mezan. “That’s why I applied for the Goldwater.”
Mezan plans to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D. after he graduates. He wants a career where he can create the greatest social impact: “One breakthrough device could positively affect millions of people,” he says.
Short is a junior physics and mathematics double major, minoring in computer science, at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.
His love of physics began in high school, and he solidified his passion for this natural science once he began his studies at WVU.
“My resolve to pursue a career in physics was strengthened by my summer research project,” says Short. “Through this project, I gained a much greater appreciation of the work that goes into experimental physics.”
Although he encountered a number of setbacks and failed attempts, his summer research proved successful and culminated in a published paper.
Short’s research can serve as the foundation for many other advances, such as more controlled etching of circuit boards, creation of the next generation of propulsion devices and increasing insights into diagnosing helium plasmas.
Short’s faculty mentor, Dr. Earl Scime, Oleg D. Jefimenko professor of physics, has been a steadfast supporter of the budding researcher.
“Dr. Scime has helped me make great strides in my career as a young scientist,” says Short. “I applied for the Goldwater scholarship after he encourage me to do so; his confidence in me provided the push I needed.”
Short is now working with a graduate student to develop a new calibration scheme for hydrogen two-photon absorption laser-induced fluorescence using xenon gas to absolutely calibrate the hydrogen density measurement. This is important when measuring hydrogen plasmas in fusion experiments, because neutral hydrogen densities are not well known in plasmas.
Short plans to pursue a Ph.D. in plasma physics and would like to conduct research in plasma physics or fusion science in a government lab. He is also considering becoming a university professor who would shepherd in the next generation of bright, dedicated scientists.
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