2023 Goldwater Nominees at Leading-Edge of STEM Research

On behalf of Northeastern University, the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships office is delighted to share the names of our five nominees for this year’s Goldwater Scholarship. These wonderful students have been undertaking research across all of our STEM colleges and pursuing a unique constellation of interdisciplinary research, designed for impact, ranging from work robot avatar systems to cancer therapeutics.  We’re very proud of those who applied for this honor — and our nominees.

Stephen Alt Khoury/COS’24, Computer Science and Physics, with a minor in Mathematics
Mentors: Taskin Padir, Hanumant Singh, Alberto Valdes Garcia
Home State: Connecticut

Stephen Alt, who is pursuing a double major in computer science and physics and a minor in mathematics, has become one of the nation’s foremost undergraduate researchers working in robot avatar systems. As we head into the next decades, robot avatar systems promise to transform the way we live, work, and play.  These systems are, described very simplistically, remotely controlled robots, allowing people to work in complex and dangerous environments at a distance and to be present at different locations simultaneously. Stephen began working in the Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory (RIVeR) of Professor Taskin Padir. The advanced work Stephen does here involves three subfields of artificial intelligence or AI — deep learning, reinforcement learning, and robotics – and focuses on recreating environments virtually using live data, tracking human movements as they control a robot in such an environment, and then using this data to train avatar robots how to interact with an environment and complete tasks independently, such that a robot is no longer an “avatar” but an actor in and of itself. Stephen has co-authored multiple articles about his work and has served as a student leader in the Avatar XPRIZE $10 million international challenge, helping the team earn 3rd prize overall and the top spot for a U.S. entrant. Outside of research, Stephen has been a leader in ensuring access to the tools, processes, and power of the computer sciences. This work has ranged from mentoring local girls in Dorchester, an underserved community near to our campus, to prepare them for further education in technical fields; to helping peers from groups underrepresented in the computer sciences organize an identity-based support and advocacy group within our Khoury College of Computer Sciences; to creating a student group that provides access to technical support for local non-profits that are otherwise unable to afford such services.

Gillian McClennenGillian McClennen COS’24, Biochemistry
Mentors: Yunrong Chai, Aimee Winter, Mariana Elizondo Sancho
Home State: Georgia

Gillian McClennen aims to earn the Ph.D. and conduct research in molecular microbiology to explore the implications of the gut-brain axis, the bidirectional communication between the human central nervous system and the gut microbiome, in mental health treatment. Gillian’s interest and emerging expertise in this area is largely borne of the research she has done in the lab of Professor Yunrong Chai over the course of the past two year. Gillian’s work in the Chai lab has focused upon examining Bacillus subtilis, a nonpathogenic bacterium commonly found in soil and used as an additive to help with fiber digestion and intestinal health of many animals. Through the PEAK Ascent Award, Gillian was first able to explore a novel link between the acetate pathway and cell wall biosynthesis, which helped in understanding potential antibiotic developments, while a subsequent PEAK Summit Award, has focused upon genome sequencing of Pulcherrimin, a red iron chelate is vital to ecosystems, biofilm inhibition, and photoprotection against UVA-induced damage and cell death. Gillian has also completed complementary research projects during study abroad and via co-op. This past summer Gillian studied the population genetics of two-toed sloths and blacktip sharks. Meanwhile, Gillian also pursued neurobiology during a six-month internship at Kisbee Therapeutics, a biotechnology startup developing a novel lipoprotein platform for the treatment of neurodegenerative disease. Outside of research, Gillian is a generous mentor to peers and Boston-area students: she is a member of the student research organization Sigma Xi;  chair of the student group Think like a Scientist, where she helps build after-school science-based curricula; is a biology project lab undergraduate assistant; and serves as a College of Science Ambassador. She is also a member of the Ultimate Frisbee Club!

Siddharth SimonSiddarth Simon COE/Khoury’24, Computer Engineering/Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Mentors: Mark Richardson, Lisa Gfrerer, Leonard Knoedler, Sumientra Rampersad
Home State: Massachusetts

Siddharth Simon is an aspiring MD/PhD, who hopes to make medical research more powerful through the use of data science.  Arriving at Northeastern, Siddharth was eager to make an impact in the lives of others through research and joined the Brain Stimulation and Simulation Lab of Dr. Sumientra Rampersad. In this work, for which he earned a PEAK Experiences Ascent Award in the fall of 2020, Siddarth explored artificial intelligence, electricity, and magnetism in physics and neuroscience by studying the effects of head model precision on electric field simulation for non-invasive neurostimulation. Building from this experience, he joined the Brain Modulation Lab directed by Dr. Mark Richardson at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, improving, documenting, and presenting upon a data pipeline for an implantable neuromodulation device that was designed to treat patients with epilepsy. Fascinated by this work, Sid has continued work in this area, most recently working with Dr. Lisa Gftrerer Assistant Professor in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine to develop artificial intelligence as a diagnostic tool for headache disorders. Siddarth is the lead machine learning engineer and co-lead of software development on the project and his work has focused on optimizing a machine learning algorithm for the diagnostic mobile application for migraines on a multi-center study and transitioning the mobile application to a new platform. In his current research co-op, Siddharth will serve as an automation engineer at Generate Biomedicines, working on software to integrate machine learning data on the cloud with lab robotics systems to accelerate drug development. Outside of research, Siddarth serves as a first responder EMT and volunteers as a tutor for incarerated youth through the Petey Greene Program.


Madeline SzooMadeline Szoo COE/COS’25, Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry
Mentors: Debra Auguste, Adam Hartigan, Rachelle Reisberg
Home State: Texas

Madeline Szoo joined us at Northeastern University with a love of STEM and a drive to cure the triple-negative breast cancer that had recently impacted a family member. Since then, she has pursued a course of study and research in preparation for earning a PhD in chemical engineering and a career making an impact in oncological nanomedicine. Madeline’s research career began remotely during COVID when she joined Sigma Xi, an undergraduate club dedicated to introducing undergraduates to scientific research. As a member of Sigma Xi, Madeline produced a systematic review of the relevant research about the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer by measles oncolytic virotherapy; this work was recognized as the best literature review poster prize by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Once on campus, Madeline began conducting related work in the Bioresponsive Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering Laboratory of Professor Debra Auguste, earning a PEAK Experiences Base Camp award to explore metastasis prevention in breast cancer using CXC Chemokine Receptor Type 4 (CXCR4) antagonists. Building on this project, Madeline next investigated the toxicity of two anti-cancer drugs in combination for the treatment of chemotherapy-resistant triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) through an Honors Early Research Award, again with Professor Auguste. Demonstrating deep commitment to this constellation of research questions, Madeline next performed an in vitro study to determine if istradefylline (KW6002) would be a viable candidate for encapsulation in a liposomal drug delivery system to reduce tumor burden in TNBC through a PEAK Experiences Ascent award. Through research on co-op at Beam Therapeutics, Madeline has added another bow in her anti-cancer quiver. At Beam, Madeline worked on a team developing an investigational therapy designed to correct disease-causing genetic mutations associated with sickle cell disease, work that has enabled her to deepen her understanding of in vitro cancer models and disease pathways. Her first publication from this research is forthcoming. In addition to laboratory research, Madeline has worked with Assistant Dean Rachelle Reisberg on studies of the long-term academic success of first-year engineering students. Aside from the many research experiences, Madeline serves as part of the Executive Board for Sigma Xi, Advocacy Chair for Relay for Life Event Leadership Team as part of the American Cancer Society, and is an active member of the Society of Women Engineers.

Ethan WongEthan Wong COS’24, Biology with a minor in Data Science
Mentors: Ziv Williams, Raymundo Báez-Mendoza, Eugene Tunik, Matthew Yarossi
Home State: New Jersey

Ethan Wong’s research interests lie in the field of neurobiology, particularly in the neuropathology of cognitive decline. His hope is to earn the MD/PhD, combining clinical research with “big data” to facilitate early detection of cognitive decline and develop impactful interventions.  Ethan has been traveling in this direction for quite some time and an early fascination with biology and math led him to research focused upon cancer therapeutics at Kean University while still in high school.  When Ethan “arrived” at Northeastern University in the fall of 2020, COVID prevented him from tackling wet lab research in person and he followed his interest in math into computational research (more easily conducted remotely), learning Python, MATLAB, and programs like SPSS, while beginning research in the Laboratory for Movement Neuroscience with Professor Gene Tunik and mentor Matthew Yarossi. Ethan deployed these while creating a novel digitized version of the Trail Making Test (TMT), a test of visual attention and task switching used to assess cognitive function. This work earned a Solutions Award at RISE in Spring 2021.  Ethan continued developing this project through the support of a PEAK Experiences Ascent award, revamping the classical TMT into a task that simultaneously assesses cognitive-motor function in a naturalistic setting. After correcting techniques and fine-tuning his novel algorithm for this new task, called the CanTMT,  Ethan helped to draft its publications for IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society. Ethan has also conducted extensive research outside of Northeastern, most recently working with Professor Raymundo Baez-Mendoza of the German Primate Center as part of a team seeking to understand the neurophysiological bases of how people form explicit biases. Here, Ethan worked on designing an analysis pipeline and later optimizing data collection. Ethan also worked on a project with Professor Ziv Williams of Harvard Medical School, that compared the single neuronal representations of categorization in the rhesus macaque brain with representation in the human. Ethan presented this work at the NeuroBoston Conference and earned the “Best Undergraduate Poster.”  Ethan also serves as an executive board member for the Sigma Xi research honors society. As the scholarship chair, he hosts grant writing workshops and mentors first- and second-year students. As a mentor for Think Like a Scientist, a PEAK Experiences Bridge-Builder Awardee program, he designs STEM-related activities for youth in Boston.