William Liechty

The Academy of Athens, a research academy established in 1926, announced the election of a native Greek UT professor to its list of members Thursday night.

Nicholas Peppas, born in Athens, Greece, moved to Boston in August 1971 and earned his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in biomedical and chemical engineering, receiving the degree in two years. Peppas said he appreciated the recognition from his home country.

“I was humbled and at the same time very happy for the election,” Peppas said. “It is a dream of all Greeks to be recognized by the highest recognition of the country where they were born.”

The Academy of Athens attributes Peppas’ multidisciplinary work with biomaterials, drug delivery and pharmaceutical bioengineering as well as his 37 medical product patents to his nomination. Peppas said around 760 students, visiting scientists and postdoctoral students have passed through his lab in his 11 years working at the University, including 150 graduate students. Peppas has spent a total of 38 years in research, including a stint at Purdue University.

William Liechty, a former graduate student who worked with the professor, said Peppas’ commitment put him above others in his field. Liechty, who now works in research and development at Dow Pharmaceutical Sciences, said he appreciated the individual attention from Peppas.

“What sets him above nearly every professor I’ve known — what makes him a cut above — is the time and dedication he has to make sure that we can personally succeed in our own careers,” Liechty said. “I think that’s really uncommon and rare for a professor of his stature. I just wonder if there are any awards left to give this guy.”

Peppas, the chair of the biomedical engineering department and a professor in chemical and biomedical engineering, has been elected into several research academies including the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the National Academy of Engineering and the French Academy of Pharmacy.

Surya Mallapragada, also a former graduate student who worked with Peppas and now a biological engineering professor at Iowa State University, said she has always been impressed by the hours Peppas spent in his office working on his research.

“He was always one of the first to arrive at work and one of the last to leave, despite the fact that he lived 60 miles from campus, and we lived a few miles away from campus,” Mallapragada said. “He is still a wonderful mentor and friend to me, after all these years.”

Correction: This article has been corrected since its original posting. Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the people who have passed through Nicholas Peppas' lab. It includes students, postdoctoral students and visiting scientists. The story also misstated Peppas' position at UT. He is the chair of the biomedical engineering department.

Rebekah Scheuerle, a chemical engineering student, was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship last week. She is the second chemical engineering student from UT to be awarded the prestigious financial award. 

This photo caption was changed after its original posting for accuracy. 

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

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