Three biochemistry undergraduate majors and researchers receive prestigious 2022 Barry Goldwater Scholarships

Four University of Wisconsin–Madison students have been named winners of 2022 Barry Goldwater Scholarships, one of the most prestigious awards in the U.S. for undergraduates studying the sciences.

The UW–Madison winners are sophomore Lucy Steffes and juniors Sarah Fahlberg, Elias Kemna and Samuel Neuman.

Each university in the country may nominate up to four undergraduates for the annual award. To have all four candidates win is remarkable, says Julie Stubbs, director of UW’s Office of Undergraduate Academic Awards.

“I’m so proud of Lucy, Sarah, Elias and Samuel and all they’ve accomplished in their young academic careers,” Stubbs says. “These awards also reflect the strong emphasis this campus places on providing rich research opportunities for our undergraduates.”

The four UW–Madison students are among 417 Goldwater Scholars named this year out of 1,242 college sophomores and juniors nominated by 433 academic institutions. The scholarship program honors the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Goldwater Scholarships support undergraduates in the last two years of their bachelor’s degree programs. Sophomores receive up to $7,500 in each of the next two academic years. Juniors receive up to $7,500 for the senior year of study.

Photo of 2022 Barry Goldwater scholarship winners
From left: Sarah Fahlberg, Samuel Neuman, Elias Kemna, and Lucy Steffes. Each received a 2022 Barry Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduate excellence in the sciences. The group is pictured at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Photo: Althea Dotzour.

More about this year’s winners:

  • Sarah Fahlberg is a junior from Madison, double-majoring in biochemistry and computer sciences. She has conducted research in two UW–Madison laboratories, starting in summer 2018 while in high school. Since September 2019, Fahlberg has worked in the lab of biochemistry professor Phil Romero, developing new protein engineering strategies using computational models. Fahlberg has received the Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship, Biochemistry Summer Research Fellowship, and Sophomore Research Fellowship and has been co-author on three recent publications. This summer, she will be interning at Northwestern University, working on computational protein design. Fahlberg plans to pursue a Ph.D. in computational biology.
  • Elias Kemna is a junior from McFarland, Wisconsin, majoring in microbiology with a certificate in global health. He began his research at UW–Madison during his last three semesters of high school in the biochemistry lab of professor Brian Fox. There, he studied enzymes used for biofuel production and earned second authorship for an article published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Starting his second semester of freshman year, Kemna has been conducting research in the soil science lab of associate professor Thea Whitman, where he studies interactions between microbes and a compound created during wildfires called pyrogenic organic matter. His current research focuses on the microbial accessibility of pyrogenic organic matter and is funded by the Sophomore Research Fellowship award. Kemna plans to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics or microbiology.
  • Samuel Neuman is a junior from DeForest, Wisconsin, double-majoring in biochemistry and biomedical engineering. As a rising high school junior, Neuman spent a summer working in the lab of anesthesiology professor Michael Perouansky. Since his freshman year, Neuman has worked in the Preclinical Parkinson’s Research Program under the direction of professor Marina Emborg, where he studies various vehicles for delivering CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing reagents to the brain of multiple model organisms. The work has earned him authorship on an in-progress manuscript. Neuman also received a Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship to investigate the axonal transport of protein products following gene editing as a strategic neural-network therapy for Parkinson’s disease. This summer, Neuman will conduct research at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Neuman plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.
  • Lucy Steffes is a sophomore from Milwaukee, double-majoring in astronomy-physics and physics with a certificate in German. Her freshman year, Steffes began working with astronomy professor Snezana Stanimirovic on the ALMA-SPONGE project, for which she co-authored two papers recently published in the Astrophysical Journal. The project looks at molecular formation in the interstellar medium to describe potentially star-forming regions. At the end of her freshman year, Steffes earned a Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship to calculate the upper limits of molecular detections in the Magellanic Stream. She spent last summer working at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia examining the chemical composition and evolution of two globules in the Helix Nebula. This summer, she will be returning to the observatory to examine neutral atomic carbon across the Helix Nebula. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Congress established the Barry Goldwater Scholarship & Excellence in Education Foundation in 1986. Goldwater served in the U.S. Senate for over 30 years and challenged Lyndon B. Johnson for the presidency in 1964. Goldwater died in 1998. A list of past winners from UW–Madison can be found here.

This release was written by Doug Erickson and was originally published on the UW–Madison News website.