Two win Goldwater Scholarships

Timothy Palpant and Varvara Zemskova, juniors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have won 2011 Goldwater Scholarships, among the nation’s most prestigious for undergraduate study.

The awards go to outstanding college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program of Springfield, Va., recently announced 275 recipients nationwide. Colleges and universities had nominated 1,095 students for the honor.

Congress established the program in 1986 to honor the late Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, who served in the U.S. Senate for 30 years. This year’s UNC recipients bring the number of Goldwater Scholars from Carolina to 41 since the first awards were made in 1989.

The scholarship provides up to $7,500 per year for educational expenses. Sophomores receive two years of support; juniors, one year. Scholars are chosen for intellectual curiosity and intensity and potential for significant future contributions in their fields.

Palpant, the son of Ed and Tammi Palpant of Raleigh, graduated in 2008 from Leesville Road High School in Raleigh. He won a Carolina Scholarship to UNC, a merit award funded by donors and awarded by the University. He is majoring in biology and applied mathematics. His career goals are to conduct research using mathematics to seek solutions to biological questions and to teach at a university.

Jason Reed, chair of UNC’s Goldwater nominations committee, wrote in a recommendation letter that Palpant has done molecular biology experiments and analyzed his experimental data computationally. Palpant works largely independently on his own research project, and his work often is on par with that of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, wrote Reed, an associate professor of biology.

“Timothy Palpant has exceptional intellect, demonstrated research ability and the wisdom to see that a combination of experiment, bioinformatics and mathematical modeling can lead to important advances in biology,” Reed wrote.

In science, modeling concerns finding mathematical expressions that fit a problem. Equations are combined to form models that can approximate outcomes from collected data. Models also can simulate future events.

Zemskova graduated in 2008 from Poolesville High School in Poolesville, Md. She also won a Carolina Scholarship to UNC. The daughter of Evgeny Zemskov and Marina Zemskova, now of Augusta, Ga., Zemskova is majoring in environmental science and mathematics. Her goals are to earn a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering and become a professor.

Zemskova has undertaken several research projects about stream flow and watersheds, Reed wrote in her recommendation letter. She has gathered data from sources including satellite images and reservoir measurements and learned to model water flow mathematically, he said.

“Even as a freshman, she displayed the intelligence and maturity typical of graduate students,” wrote Reed. “Varvara Zemskova is cultured, brilliant and motivated to work on problems that will become acutely important as the climate changes and human populations increase around the world.”