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Engineering students receive prestigious fellowships, scholarships

Three University of Texas at Austin engineering students were recently awarded more than $100,000 in fellowships and scholarships by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Two chemical engineering graduate students, Brock Thomas and Tracy Bucholz, received fellowships of $27,500 a year, renewable for up to two years. George Chamales, an electrical engineering senior, received a scholarship of about $24,000.

Each recipient will also serve a summer internship on homeland security in a national lab.

Thomas will use the funds to continue studying the oral, or transmucosal, delivery of drugs through mucous membranes. By combining biological agents with polymers or engineering them to adhere to mucous, drug delivery could occur orally and avoid placing the drug in the stomach, where protein degradation renders most vaccines useless. These methods would increase the amount of time the drug spends in the body, as well as the extent and rate the active substance in the drug is absorbed by the body. Thomas works under the direction of Dr. Nicholas Peppas, professor of biomedical engineering, chemical engineering and pharmaceutics.

Bucholz’s research involves synthesizing block copolymers ( polymers whose components line up in long sequences) to determine their structure/property relationships. This process will allow her to study how the structure of these synthesized polymers affects their overall properties, such as strength and brittleness. Potential applications of this research include, among others, sub-micron scale electronic and optical devices for use in small communication devices and chemical and biological sensors for toxin detection. Bucholz works under the direction of Dr. Lin Loo, chemical engineering assistant professor.

The Department of Homeland Security plans that the scholarships and fellowships “will ensure the future supply of individuals skilled in critical areas such as the life and social sciences.” The fellowships pay for recipients’ tuition, fees and living expenses and are renewable for up to two years. Recipients are encouraged to consider employment offers from the department, state and local operational offices, department-affiliated labs and facilities and/or department-related university positions.