Standout Young Scientists

June 1, 2006

Four Duke students have been selected to receive Goldwater Scholarships for the 2006-07 academic year. They were among 323 sophomores and juniors chosen on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,081 students nationwide. The scholarship program, which honors the late U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. It provides up to $7,500 toward annual tuition and expenses.

This year's winners from Duke are Joseph Babcock, Brandon Levin, and Felicia Walton, all juniors, and Jonathan Russell, a sophomore. Sixty-two Duke students have received Goldwater Scholarships since the program began in 1988.

Babcock, a biology and chemistry major from North Haven, Connecticut, is researching the regulation of gene expression in simple organisms. He plans to pursue a career as a biochemist, studying how biochemical pathways regulate the development of parasites responsible for tropical diseases such as malaria. In addition to his research, Babcock is an associate editor of Vertices, Duke's journal of science and technology, and, last year, was editor-in-chief of The Blind Spot, Duke's sci-fi literary magazine.

Levin, a mathematics major from Toledo, Ohio, plans to pursue a career in research in pure mathematics and is especially interested in number theory. "While chemists or physicists look at a molecule or an electron and try to determine its fundamental structure, number theorists want to understand the structure of the integers," says Levin. He has also been a counselor and lecturer at the Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists, in Boston, and teaches English as a second language in the Durham community.

Russell, from Iowa City, Iowa, is majoring in biology and chemistry and is co-founder and president of Students for Organ Donation. After graduating, he plans to earn a dual M.D./Ph.D. degree and undertake a career as a molecular geneticist in an academic medical center. He is currently studying the mechanism of action and synthesis of antimicrobial peptides in simple animal systems.

Walton has been engaged in research since her first year at Duke. A biology and chemistry major from Asheville, North Carolina, she has been exploring the genetics of pathogenic fungi, the subject of two published papers she recently co-authored with her mentors, Joseph Heitman and Alexander Idnurm in the department of molecular genetics and microbiology. She is president of the Biology Majors Union and a volunteer biology tutor with the Duke-Durham Partners for Youth.