Eureka! CBS has two Goldwater Scholars

CBS undergraduates Karen Leopold and Maxwell Shinn are recognized for their potential as researchers.

2013 Goldwater Scholars Maxwell Shinn and Karen Leopold. Photo by Tim Rummelhoff

This April, the College of Biological Sciences struck gold when the Goldwater Scholarships were announced. Two of the three University of Minnesota winners were CBS students: Karen Leopold, a junior from Falcon Heights, and Max Shinn, a sophomore from Chaska, Minnesota.

“The Goldwater Scholarships are the top national awards for undergraduates in the sciences,” said Dean Robert Elde. “To have two confirms that we attract outstanding young people and provide an educational experience that enables them to compete with the best.”

Leopold, who is majoring in biochemistry and genetics, is doing a research project on the human response to Group A Streptococcus under Professor Patrick Cleary (Microbiology) and Professor Edward Kaplan (Pediatrics). She has already demonstrated the superiority of a new assay for analyzing streptococcal antibodies in patient samples.

"Karen has qualities that make her stand out from the many other undergraduates who have passed through my lab over the past 40 years,” says Cleary. “She is driven to discover something new, and she doesn’t accept textbook answers to big questions in biology from her teachers.”

“It's a huge honor to win a Goldwater scholarship,” Leopold says. “It has definitely raised my expectations for myself as an aspiring scientist, and I'm so grateful for the confidence and motivation that this award has helped me find. I plan to use it as a launching pad for the rest of my scientific career.”

Ultimately, Leopold plans to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry and possibly direct an academic laboratory to investigate protein function and genetics through biochemical and evolutionary lenses. Her interests also include origin-of-life research, immunology and virology.

When she’s not studying, she enjoys rock climbing and playing the piano. She works at the University’s rock climbing wall as a route-setter. 

Max Shinn, who is majoring in neuroscience and mathematics, is drawn to big questions about the relationship between consciousness and neurophysiology. He aims to pursue a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience. Shinn hopes to gain understanding of mathematical order in human cognitive functions, study how information theory can be used to analyze large biological networks, and explore the relationship between information and evolution.

He has conducted research under Professor Philip Zelazo (Institute for Child Development) and Professor Duane Nykamp (Mathematics). Currently, he is studying how artificial neural networks can be used to model ecological phenomena under the direction of Professor Clarence Lehman (EEB).

“Max wants to understand the deep mysteries of mind, which is a little like the brain’s ‘software,’” says Clarence Lehman, associate dean for research in the College of Biological Sciences. “He is already contributing new ideas to theories of evolutionary dynamics.”

Outside of the lab, Shinn is a composer whose works have been performed by several local ensembles. He also developed WriteType, an open source computer program that helps elementary school students experience success in writing. 

“While I am proud to have been chosen for the award, I would not have had a chance without the guidance provided by my research advisors,” Shinn says. “The award will enable me to pursue interesting problems and contribute my findings to the scientific community, which is very rewarding.”

The Goldwater Scholarship was created by Congress in 1986 to honor Barry M. Goldwater, a U.S. senator for 30 years. The highly competitive scholarship is awarded annually to outstanding sophomores and juniors who plan to pursue research-oriented careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The scholarships provide up to $7,500 per year for up to two years of undergraduate study.

– Peggy Rinard