Rebekah Scheuerle, a UT chemical engineering senior, received a full-ride scholarship to Cambridge University from the Gates Foundation last week, making her the third student in the department of chemical engineering to receive the highly competitive award.
Scheuerle served as a two-time president of the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and has been a member of Longhorn Band. At UT, she spent her time researching better ways to deliver proteins for treating diseases to key sites in the body.
“I look forward to using the chemical engineering skills I have acquired at UT-Austin to develop novel therapeutics at Cambridge,” Scheuerle said.
Nicholas Peppas, a chemical engineering professor who headed the research Scheuerle participates in with two doctoral candidates and two other undergraduates, said research in this area is especially critical. Scheuerle works on polymers, special nanoscopic plastic materials that deliver small interfering RNA through the digestive system. According to Scheuerle, they protect the RNA through the digestive system and release it when they reach a part of the digestive system with the right acidity. Because this type of RNA can prevent genes from being expressed, proper delivery means it could be used to treat diseases as varied as colitis, Crohn’s disease and some types of cancer.
Peppas said he first selected Scheuerle to participate in his lab research when she approached him after a class in her freshman year because she wanted to use research to help others.
“[I selected her because of] the type of questions she asked in that first meeting, the fact that she said she had plans for the future,” Peppas said. “She said, ‘I want to do something for society, I want to do something that will have an impact.’”
Peppas said of all the students who have been in his laboratory over the years, Scheuerle stood out.
“I’ve been at UT for 10 years. I’ve been in academia for 37,” Peppas said. “I would consider her to be one of the 10 best out of [about] 750 people who have worked in my laboratory.”
William Liechty, a chemical engineering graduate student who has worked with Scheuerle on the same research, agreed.
“From the minute I met her, I realized she is incredibly driven and motivated,” Liechty said.
Liechty, a former Gates scholar himself, said he believed the program would help Scheuerle network with some of the brightest people in the world while also doing important research.
“Knowing that there are 100 people in the world that I will be going to Cambridge with is a really big realization,” Liechty said. “It’s a really big eye-opener in terms of the world of possibilities.”
Scheuerle will be paired with the head of Cambridge’s chemical engineering department, Nigel Slater, who also served as Liechty’s mentor during his time at Cambridge. They will research biopharmaceutical processing and drug delivery, but have not chosen a specific research area yet.
Liechty said he was glad she received the scholarship, and he would continue to follow her progress.
“When she first came into the lab as a freshman and I was a second-year graduate student, our relationship was kind of mentor-mentee. Now I think of her not just as a mentee but as a friend,” Liechty said. “I really think she’s going to be a star.”
Printed on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 as: Cambridge scholarship awarded