2 Rice students named Goldwater Scholars

Two Rice University undergraduate students have been awarded Goldwater Scholarships for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Rohan Palanki and Constantine Tzouanas were nominated by Rice and selected based on academic merit from a field of 1,286 natural sciences, mathematics and engineering students nationwide. The scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Rohan Palanki

Rohan Palanki, a Rice sophomore from Mobile, Ala., is majoring in bioengineering and pursuing an M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine through the Rice/Baylor Medical Scholars Program. He intends to attain a Ph.D. in bioengineering and become a professor and researcher in academia.

“I hope to lead a cutting-edge research group that utilizes translational bioengineering and synthetic biology methods to develop diagnostic point-of-care medical devices, while also carrying out clinical work at a hospital,” Palanki said.

Palanki is currently studying the optimization of two-component bacterial systems for biosensor applications in the Tabor Lab at Rice.

“By using mathematical modeling, bioinformatics and site-directed mutagenesis, I have engineered sensitivity-tuned, mutant bacteria,” Palanki said. “These bacteria can be incorporated into an oral diagnostic, such as yogurt, that can be ingested to detect intrinsic disease biomarkers for intestinal disease. The sensitivity-tuning method that has been developed can also be applied to create a wide range of biosensors for other medical, industrial and environmental applications.”

Palanki holds a number of roles in Rice organizations, including campus chairperson of Rice University Global Brigades, president of Rice South Asian Society, Jones College senator for the Rice University Student Association, campus tour guide for the Rice Student Admissions Council and a member of two Indian dance teams: Rice Chowl Bhangra and Rice Riyaaz.

Constantine Tzouanas

Tzouanas, a sophomore from Houston, is majoring in bioengineering, minoring in neuroscience and pursuing a certificate in engineering leadership. He intends to work on a Ph.D. in bioengineering with an emphasis on single-cell physiology.

“My long-term goal is to lead a research lab and promote youth STEM engagement through community outreach,” Tzouanas said.

As a Century Scholar with Rice’s Center for Civic Leadership, Tzouanas conducts research focused on investigating methods for magnetogenetic manipulation of single-cell electrophysiology. His research explores how genetically modified ion channels can be combined with nanotechnology to make specific groups of neurons sensitive to magnetic stimulation. The long-term goal is to both understand basic brain functions and gain further insights into Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

This summer, Tzouanas will intern at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. He is involved in a number of Rice organizations, including serving as director of external affairs for the Rice Student Association and treasurer of both the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Rice Neuroscience Society. He is also training to become a peer coach through the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, for which he provides professional development advice to undergraduates as a peer career adviser.

In addition to the Rice Goldwater Scholars, two Rice students received honorable mentions from the Goldwater Foundation: Lucy Lai, a senior majoring in cognitive sciences, and Ajay Subramanian, a senior majoring in materials science and nanoengineering.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986. The scholarship program honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. To date, the foundation has bestowed 7,921 scholarships worth approximately $63 million.

About Kendall Schoemann

Kendall Schoemann is a staff writer in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.