Two years of professor-mentored research integrating biology and mathematics on Georgia Southern University’s campus has culminated in two distinguished opportunities for undergraduate student Katherine Barrs.
Barrs, a Statesboro native double majoring in math and biology, has garnered a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate award for students pursuing research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. She is one of only 496 college students from across the United States to earn the scholarship, which she will apply to her remaining four semesters of coursework.
“This is well-deserved recognition at the national level for Katherine Barrs’ hard work and dedication,” said University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carl L. Reiber, Ph.D. “The Goldwater Scholar recognition is of national standing and demonstrates her ability at that level, as well as her research efforts at Georgia Southern. It is an honor to call Katherine an Eagle.”
Barrs has also been selected to participate in the 2019 Sackler/National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates: Interdisciplinary Research Training Across Biology, Physics, and Engineering at Yale University. For 10 weeks this summer, she will conduct research on the molecular machinery of endocytosis using experimental, quantitative and imaging methods with a professor in Yale’s Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. The program has a particular focus on helping students prepare for graduate school and expanding networking opportunities.
“Both of these opportunities mean a lot for my future,” said Barrs. “For me, being awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and earning the research opportunity at Yale is recognition of all of my hard work. Also, knowing that I can contribute to a field, even though I’m only a sophomore, is rewarding. I am grateful to my research mentors, Dr. Joshua Gibson and Dr. Hua Wang, and Dr. Steven Engel and Dr. Francis Desiderio in the University Honors Program. Their support and encouragement made this possible.”
Currently, Barrs conducts research that bridges mathematics, biology and chemistry. She presented her work on colony recognition in Argentine ants at Georgia Southern’s 2019 Honors Research Symposium, the College Office of Undergraduate Research Symposium and two regional conferences.
“Katherine’s research project combines mathematics and biology in a really exciting way,” said Gibson. “She uses modeling through mathematical analysis and chemical graph theory to understand the behavioral interactions of ant colonies using a complex blend of chemicals.”
Wang was also impressed with the scope of Barrs’ work. “She saw the common theme in our research and came up with this completely novel idea for a project,” he said. “It’s inspiring.”
Last summer, Barrs was selected to participate in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she studied division of labor in hygienic honey bees in a social insect lab.
Barrs is a member of the University Honors Program, National Biological Honor Society, TriBeta, national honor societies Phi Kappa Phi and Omicron Delta Kappa, and the University’s Honors Ambassadors. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in biomathematics or applied sciences and hopes to one day conduct applied research at the interface of biology, chemistry and mathematics in an industry or a government institution.
“Katherine is one of the more outstanding students at Georgia Southern,” noted Martha L. Abell, Ph.D., professor of mathematics. “Faculty members appreciate how she completely engages in the learning process by attending all classes, giving her full attention, providing thoughtful responses during classroom discussions and solving problems to the extent that she understands the complexities of the underlying theory. Her fellow students appreciate her helpful nature and ability to bring new perspectives to problem-solving.”
The Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate. Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs, including Rhodes and Churchill Scholarships, as well as numerous other distinguished awards like National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
The Sackler/National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates: Interdisciplinary Research Training Across Biology, Physics, and Engineering at Yale University features a series of workshops that group exercises with short periods of lecturing and discussions to complement the research experience participants obtain in individual laboratories. The workshops help students develop strong communication skills, briefly explore scientific ethics and help participants learn about the graduate application process. Participants are provided with the opportunity to present their research to the Yale community.
This is a press release from Georgia Southern University.