University of Georgia Honors students Claire Bunn and Yoong “Terry” Phang are among 410 undergraduates across the nation to be recognized as Barry Goldwater Scholars in 2021, earning the highest undergraduate award of its type for the fields of the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Bunn, from Marion, Arkansas, is a third-year Foundation Fellow and Stamps Scholar majoring in genetics and minoring in statistics. Phang, from Cumming, is a third-year majoring in physics and mathematics with a focus on condensed matter physics. Both are in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Since 1995, 63 UGA students have received the Goldwater Scholarship, which recognizes exceptional sophomores and juniors across the United States.
“The University of Georgia is proud of Claire and Terry for this impressive achievement,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “I am pleased that the significant investments UGA has made, and continues to make, in STEM education are paying dividends for our students and our society.”
This year, recipients were selected from a field of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors who were nominated by 438 academic institutions nationwide. Each awardee will receive up to $7,500 toward the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board.
Of this year’s Goldwater Scholars, 51 are mathematics and computer science majors, 291 are majoring in the natural sciences and 68 are majoring in engineering.
“Claire and Terry richly deserve recognition by the Goldwater Foundation for their hard work and research excellence,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program. “They have benefited greatly by working with very gifted faculty members. Together, they represent the strength of UGA’s undergraduate research program, including CURO, our Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities.”
Both Bunn and Phang faced obstacles in their journeys to undergraduate research.
Bunn was raised in a rural community in Arkansas and had no exposure to scientific research prior to college.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in college,” she said. “I was able to begin research early on with the support of amazing mentors. On campus, I am careful to work toward my own goals while intentionally helping others to reach theirs.”
Having lived and attended school in both the United States, a developed country, and Malaysia, a developing country, Phang recalls the stark differences in the technology and other resources available for STEM education in each school system. As a student in the U.S., he read studies describing the detrimental effect of insufficient resources on student interest in STEM fields within developing countries.
“At UGA, I am striving to increase student retention in STEM fields through my teaching, mentoring and volunteering roles, while creating a culturally inclusive learning environment,” he said. “I hope that my work as a Malaysian American scientist will inspire people of many backgrounds to pursue an education and career in STEM.”
Bunn plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in genetics and bioinformatics. Her goal is to uncover mechanisms and mutations in clinical oncology as a physician scientist in an academic research hospital. She hopes to combine genomic and bioinformatic approaches to guide personalized medical treatment.
Since her freshman year, Bunn has conducted research on protein kinases with Natarajan Kannan, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, in his evolutionary systems biology lab. She completed a remote bioinformatics NIH summer internship with him during the COVID-19 pandemic that was critical to her ability to continue pursuing research. She will be a co-author on two manuscripts being prepared for submission.
Bunn also researched how more inclusive databases are helping physicians develop more equitable health care and presented her research at the American Association for the Advancement for Science Conference for Science, Technology and Human Rights. Last fall, she started working remotely with Dr. Jennifer Sucre, assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a UGA Foundation Fellow alumna, conducting digital imaging analysis of the lung tissue samples of preterm infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
Bunn’s UGA involvement includes serving as a UGA MATHCOUNTS Outreach school coordinator and head coach, UGA Visitors Center campus tour guide, Honors Program Student Council co-president, Honors Program teaching assistant and Destination Dawgs peer mentor. She belongs to the Omicron Delta Kappa and Dean William Tate honor societies. She studied biomedical ethics at the University of Oxford in 2019.
Phang’s long-term goals are to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and conduct research at a national laboratory, focusing on magnetism in quantum materials. As a physicist, he plans to work at the intersection of theory and experiment to investigate the fundamental properties of these materials and further the quest to realize their vast potential for applications in energy-related technology and information science.
Currently, Phang is researching the properties of magnetic nanomaterials and working on smartphone physics for mobile learning with Yiping Zhao, Distinguished Research Professor of Physics. Prior to this, he conducted research with Tho Nguyen, associate professor of physics, using spectroscopy to study the magneto-optical effects of organic semiconductors. He also has held a research internship with research scientist Benjamin Lawrie at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in which he used computational methods for data analysis of quantum materials. He was recently invited to conduct research this summer at the University of California, Berkeley with Stephen Leone, professor of chemistry and physics.
Phang’s UGA involvement includes service as president of the Society of Physics Students, Honors Program teaching assistant, Rankin M. Smith Student Athlete Academic Center tutor, Chinese Culture and Language Association public relations officer, UGA MATHCOUNTS Outreach and IMPACT Service Trips volunteer, and member of the department of physics and astronomy’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. He has received a CURO Summer Fellowship, UGA Physics and Astronomy Undergraduate Research Scholarship, and UGA Experiential Learning Scholarship and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi.
The scholarship honoring Sen. Barry Goldwater was created to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Since its first award in 1989, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has bestowed 9,457 scholarships.
UGA’s major scholarships coordinator, housed in the Honors Program, provides students from across campus with assistance as they apply for national, high-level scholarships. For more information, contact Jessica Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://honors.uga.edu/c_s/scholarships/ext/external.html.