University of Nebraska–Lincoln STEM students had a strong showing in this year’s Goldwater Scholarship competition. Of the four applications the university submitted, three students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields were selected as scholars.
Nebraska’s Goldwater recipients are juniors Liam Kruse, Lauren Lesiak and Mark Nail.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Sen. Barry M. Goldwater. The foundation provides up to $7,500 per year for educational expenses to about 200 college sophomores and juniors nationwide in hopes of supporting future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. This year, about 1,300 applications were received. Awards are distributed to students who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and intensity and who possess the potential for significant contributions to mathematics or science.
Kruse, a Lincoln native, is a mechanical engineering major and student in the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. For the past two years, he has been involved in undergraduate research through the Nebraska Intelligent Mobile Unmanned Systems (NIMBUS) Lab, under the guidance of Justin Bradley, assistant professor of computer science and engineering. Kruse is bringing together experience with control theory, complex systems, stochastic decision-making and computer science to improve decision-making technologies. To achieve this, he has been working to improve Markov decision processes (MDPs) by testing the adaptability of changing environments and versatile directives. By updating how well and how quickly MDPs can recalculate the best course of action, he can apply updated MDPs to improve autonomous decision-making for unmanned aircraft in real time. Upon graduating from Nebraska, Kruse plans to pursue a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering and spend his career developing intelligent, unmanned aircraft.
Lesiak, a Lincoln native, is a chemistry and biochemistry major and University Honors Program member. She is working with Cliff Stains, associate professor of chemistry, and will spend the summer conducting biochemistry research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center through the National Institutes of Health’s IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence. Lesiak’s research with Stains has revolved around creating a photoactivatable drug-release platform using ester hydrolysis of Nebraska Red dyes. This project builds upon her previous work with the dyes, a series of near-infrared fluorescent dyes that demonstrate remarkable brightness and photostability under physiological conditions, making them especially useful to in vivo applications. In addition to her research, Lesiak has attended the regional INBRE conference and the national American Chemical Society conference, and participates in a biweekly journal club for the Stains lab. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree and postdoctoral studies in chemistry, with the goal of teaching and conducting research in chemical biology at a university. Last year, she received an honorable mention for her Goldwater application.
Nail, from Leawood, Kansas, is a mechanical engineering major, student in the Raikes School and member of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program. He has worked with Carrick Detweiler, Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, and Sebastian Elbaum, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Virginia (formerly at Nebraska), in the NIMBUS Lab. The start of his research centered on developing a system for deploying sensors into the ground through an unmanned aircraft system, which involved a drone drilling into the ground to deposit a sensor. Nail’s current research involves encapsulating and slinging that digging drone underneath a carrier vehicle, since drone flight time can be limited. Through the McNair program, he presented his research at the University of California, Los Angeles in summer 2018. Nail’s goal is to obtain a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering and conduct research in robotics at a university. He also received an honorable mention for his Goldwater application last year.