Junior Miles Johnson wasn't even in the country when he heard that he had won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for his chemistry research on the carbon bonds involved in pharmaceuticals.
"When I got the e-mail, I thought, 'Oh wow! I actually got it!'" Johnson said from Buenos Aires, where he is studying Spanish. "I know how difficult it is to get it, and the guys I know who have gotten it before are all guys I really respect, so getting it made me feel like I really accomplished something and that all my research and all my studying in Gottwald for some ungodly amount of hours has really paid off."
Johnson is one of 321 students across the country who were chosen for the Goldwater Scholarship. The scholarship gives $7,500 for up to two years to students in math, science and engineering majors to help pay for tuition, books and room and board.
Six University of Richmond students have won the award over the past three years, said Jonathan Dattelbaum, assistant professor of chemistry.
Another Richmond student, Anne Galyean, a junior chemistry major, received an honorable mention from the foundation.
No stranger to scholarships, Johnson is a Cigna Scholar for students studying languages abroad and J. Gray Wright Scholar for academics.
He also received the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant to come to Richmond the summer before his freshman year to do a six-week research program. Dattelbaum was his research mentor that summer, and is now one of two professors in charge of selecting three Richmond students each year for the Goldwater Scholarship.
"He has a real dedication to the research, which the Goldwater people look for," Dattelbaum said. "When someone has close to a 4.0 GPA and already has a publication as a junior, that really qualifies them."
Johnson has been researching with Wade Downey, assistant professor of chemistry, since they both came to Richmond in 2005. The research focuses on the Aldo Reaction, a key organic chemistry reaction often applied in making pharmaceuticals, Johnson said. "My research and Dr. Downey's research has been based on modifying that reaction so that there are larger numbers of molecules that can be coupled together and with hopefully fewer side reactions that would ruin the medicinal properties of a drug," he said.
Downey was one of several professors who recommended Johnson be nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship. He said he was not surprised that Johnson had been nominated nor that he had won, and that he was basically the model student.
"His intelligence and his work ethic put together make him a really exceptional student," Downey said. "He's involved with some community work and he does a lot of running, but he hangs out in the chemistry building quite a lot. He's a really friendly and outgoing guy. He's very helpful to his classmates as well. He works in my laboratory, which has about eight people in it, and he's a real leader over there."
Johnson said he planned to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and wanted to become a professor so he could teach and do research at the same time, while contributing to the scientific community by training future scientists and providing research at the same time, he said.
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What does he like so much about chemistry?
"I'm a masochist," he joked. "I like the challenge of it. Chemistry is very hard for me, but when it's all said and done it's very rewarding and then you look at the practical applications of it and I know that little by little I'm helping."
Dattelbaum said that Johnson was funny from the start.
"He has a great and subtle sense of humor," Dattelbaum said. "He likes making up jokes on the fly. He can make a joke about anything"
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