2016 Goldwater Scholarships Winners Plan to Pursue Careers in the Sciences

Rachel and Karen

Scripps students Karen Chan ’17, a double major in biology and music, and Rachel Kahn ’17, a physics major, have been named Barry M. Goldwater Scholars for 2016. The Goldwater Scholarship is considered the most prestigious award in the United States bestowed upon undergraduates studying in the sciences, with only 252 scholarship recipients named across the U.S. this year. The national scholarship will support Chan’s continuing research in molecular biology and Kahn’s interests in biophysics.

Chan and Kahn were selected from a highly competitive pool of 1,150 mathematics, science, and engineering junior and senior undergraduates from 415 colleges and universities nationwide, virtually all of whom intend to obtain a PhD as their post-graduation objective.

“While Karen and Rachel both came to Scripps with a passion for scientific investigation, they have excelled in their respective areas of study while here and this national, merit-based scholarship provides further recognition of their significant academic achievements,” Gretchen Edwalds-Gilbert, Scripps’ associate dean of faculty, said. “The Goldwater Scholarship is arguably the most prestigious award given to undergraduate science students and is seen as a pathway into elite graduate programs and other top awards,” she added.

Karen Chan has served as a research assistant in two different molecular biology labs while pursuing her double majors in biology and music at Scripps. She worked in the summer lab of Assistant Professor of Biology Bryan Thines following her freshman year to characterize the function of the FBS1 protein in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, presenting her work the following year at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference in Southern California. This past fall, she worked alongside Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Armstrong conducting similar work but for the fruit fly, or Drosophila melanogaster.

Her passion for both the sciences and the arts has come together in an integrated fashion at Scripps—a dichotomy that actually works well, Chan says.

“I have been strongly passionate about both music and science for as long as I can remember. Being at a small liberal arts college like Scripps has allowed me to explore both of these realms simultaneously,” Chan said. “I am constantly alternating between analyzing a music score and completing a biochemistry problem set, dashing between the music practice rooms and my biology research lab across campus—and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Chan plans to apply for PhD programs in biology this fall, and anticipates that her interdisciplinary interests could lead to future biomedical research on the vocal folds. She hopes to be a college professor, having discovered a new talent for teaching while serving as a chemistry and biology tutor for the W.M. Keck Science Department of Claremont McKenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges.

Rachel Kahn’s story as a young scientist started at home, with a nurse and a physician as parents. “Not many kids grow bacteria in culture for their first grade science fair project or receive a full-size compound microscope for their twelfth birthday,” Kahn said.

Having always been driven by a quest for knowledge and understanding of the physical world, Kahn says her more recent interest in the ocean and her original research on predicting the body temperature of barnacles has pointed her towards making what she hopes will be a significant contribution to marine science upon graduation.

As an undergraduate at Scripps, Kahn developed a mathematical model that combined climate forecasts and knowledge of how barnacles are affected by thermal stress to help predict how barnacles will respond to climate change.

She used the model to test her lab theories in the field on live barnacles this summer, and reports her model’s predictions have proven to be “fairly accurate.” This discovery is among the findings Kahn is writing about in an academic paper that she will submit to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. She is interested in pursuing her PhD in applied ocean science. “I hope to continue working at the interface between biology, physics, and engineering, so finding a multidisciplinary graduate program is a priority,” Kahn said.

Both Chan and Kahn will use their Goldwater Scholarships during the 2016–17 year as seniors at Scripps College.