by Greg St. Martin
Three Northeastern University students—Theo Bowe, S’16, Tushar Swamy, E’15, and Greg Allan, E’16—have been selected to receive the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.
A total of 283 sophomores and juniors in the U.S. were named Goldwater Scholars for the 2014–15 academic year. Scholars were selected from a field of 1,166 math, science, and engineering students who were nominated by faculty at their respective institutions based on their strong academic standing. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has been presenting the award since 1989.
The trio of talented students credit research opportunities they received as freshmen with fostering their passion for science and engineering.
Bowe recalled taking an honors psychology course taught by James Akula, whom he once approached after class to inquire about working on one of his research projects. Akula brought him in to help do computer analysis on a project investigating the retinal toxicity of an antiepileptic drug called vigabatrin.
“A lot of this was over my head as a freshman, but my professor was supportive. He’d give me articles to read and help me do some simple analyses,” said Bowe, a biology major. “I was really happy with that first experience. It fostered my interest in research.”
This passion continued to grow in Bowe’s second year, when he began working with associate professor of marine and environmental sciences Rebeca Rosengaus. The opportunity ultimately led to his working on co-op in her lab on a project investigating whether female moths can anticipate the immunological needs of their offspring and pass along factors that would help them build immunity. His role is analyzing whether the eggs of moths exposed to pathogens are larger and contain higher levels of things like glucose and protein than those from moths not exposed.
“I’ve been bitten by the research bug,” said Bowe, who presented his work at the annual Entomological Society of America meeting in Texas last year and will be doing the same on Thursday at RISE:2014—Northeastern’s Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo. “I’ve had two great mentors,” he said, “and these experiences have enhanced my ability to do quality research and my general scientific inquisitiveness.”
Next up for Bowe: on July 1, he’ll begin a co-op at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. There, he’ll be helping a professor catalogue the nesting distribution of weaver birds and compare that data to previous years.
Swamy, an electrical engineering and physics combined major, also found his way into a research lab freshman year. It was then when he worked under the supervision of assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Mark Niedre and alongside a graduate student on a device that performs in vivo fluorescent tomography to track small cancer cell populations in mice. The non-invasive approach, he explained, can be done without ever taking a blood sample. “I didn’t have any background in bio at the time,” he said, “but it sparked my interest in pursuing other kinds of research.”
Now, Swamy works in the Northeastern University Computer Architecture Research Laboratory run by electrical engineering professor David Kaeli. His most recent project focuses on creating software that analyzes and tests hardware for security flaws, with a particular emphasis on vulnerabilities to side-channel attacks. The project is in collaboration with the Northeastern University Energy-Efficient and Secure Systems Lab, led by associate professor of electrical and computer engineering Yunsi Fei.
“This could help industry analyze the risk their systems face,” Swamy explained. “My role was developing algorithms for the assessment of hardware and writing some of the software.”
What’s more, Kaeli recognized Swamy’s talent and encouraged him and another student, Neel Shah, E’15, to enter a supercomputer competition in fall 2013 in Denver. Together with three Bentley University students, Swamy’s team won a competition that required building a supercomputer that met stringent power usage and cost parameters.
Allan’s first research opportunity came as a freshman, too, when he worked alongside assistant professor Jose Martinez-Lorenzo. The project, through Northeastern’s Awareness and Localization of Explosives-Related Threats, or ALERT—a multi-university, Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence—focused on developing a novel system for explosives detection at airports. Allan’s role required him to write algorithms and programs to help optimize the position of an array of antennas that enhanced the images produced by scanning technology.
Allan, an electrical engineering and physics combined major, noted his interest in engineering is due to his longtime fascination with exploring the world around him. But that interest goes beyond the boundaries of our planet—his curiosity with space began during childhood and has continued ever since.
It should come as no surprise that he completed his first co-op with SpaceX, a space transport services company that designs, manufactures, and launches rockets and spacecraft. “That was my first exposure to aerospace and astronautical engineering,” said Allan, who led the design of an avionics diagnostic system for a new version of the Falcon 9 during his spring 2013 experiential learning opportunity.
That job led to his current co-op at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which combines the skills he honed while conducting research at Northeastern and working at SpaceX. His new work involves remote sensing for a mini weather satellite.
The trio of experiences, he said, has opened his eyes to a potential career in developing spacecraft and space-based instruments for scientific study.
(Photo from left, Gregory Allan, Tushar Swamy, and Theo Bowe. Photo by Brooks Canady, Northeastern University.)