Just two years ago, the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering launched its first undergraduate program.
Now one of the students in the school's first sophomore class has won what many consider to be the country's most prestigious math and science award — the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.
The award is given to about 300 undergraduates across the country annually, and Sheila Smith, a nano-engineering student at the school, learned last week that she is among the lucky ones after she was nominated by the school in November.
"I was really surprised and excited," said Smith, who is from Pittstown in Rensselaer County and attended Tamarac High School.
The research that won Smith the scholarship — which is $7,500 a year for two years — is for her use of photoluminescence techniques — essentially lasers — to study the optical properties of gallium nitride, which is used in light-emitting diodes and other semiconductor devices.
"This is a huge deal," said Smith's faculty adviser, F. Shadi Shahedipour-Sandvik, an associate professor of nano-engineering at the school. "We're super happy. It's a very competitive process."
Smith isn't the only local student to be honored this year. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sophomore Jeff Mockelman, an aeronautical engineering student, also won a Goldwater scholarship.
Mockelman, who is from Omaha, Neb., has an interest in jet propulsion, including space travel. He's a member of the Rensselaer Rocket Society that is participating in a NASA competition to launch a rocket exactly one mile — not a foot more or a foot less — into the atmosphere.
"It was really exciting that I got it," Mockelman said of the Goldwater award.
The scholarship program — officially called the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program — was started in 1986 by Congress to honor Barry Goldwater, the Arizona senator and 1964 presidential candidate who had a strong interest in science and technology.
Although many of this year's recipients plan to work with nanomaterials and nanotechnology in their future scientific pursuits, officials at the NanoCollege believe that Smith is the first Goldwater recipient from an undergraduate program exclusively dedicated to nanotechnology.
Alain Kaloyeros, who heads the NanoCollege, said Smith's award is a reflection of how New York state is creating a "globally recognized nanotechnology economy."
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