UGA Honors student Muktha Natrajan named 2009 Goldwater Scholar

UGA Honors student Muktha Natrajan named 2009 Goldwater Scholar

Athens, Ga. – Muktha Natrajan, a University of Georgia sophomore enrolled in the Honors Program, is a 2009 recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a prominent national award for undergraduates in math, science and engineering. Natrajan, who is from Martinez, is pursuing a combined bachelor’s/master’s program in which she will earn a bachelor of science degree in genetics and a master of public health degree in environmental health science.

Natrajan is one of 278 Goldwater Scholars selected from an applicant pool of more than 1,000 students nominated by their colleges and universities. The one- and two-year scholarships support educational expenses up to $7,500 per year.

UGA students have been named Goldwater recipients every year for the last eight years. Natrajan is the 34th UGA student to receive the scholarship since 1995. Her sister Nithya won the scholarship in 2007.

“The University of Georgia has a strong track record of producing Goldwater Scholars, and I am pleased that we have done so again this year,” said UGA President Michael F. Adams. “We are proud of Muktha Natrajan’s distinguished accomplishment in earning this honor, which recognizes her hard work and talent in her fields of study.”

Before beginning her undergraduate research endeavors at UGA, Natrajan had the opportunity to visit campus during the 2007 undergraduate research symposium sponsored by the Honors Program’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. Then a senior at Lakeside High School, Natrajan had been invited as a CURO Promising Scholar and met undergraduates who were participating in the CURO Apprentice Program.

Now a second-year CURO biomedical apprentice, Natrajan works in the laboratory of Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Steven Stice. She will present her current research on the potential applications of neural stem cell treatments for individuals with neurodegenerative diseases at the 2009 CURO symposium on April 6.

“I began working inDr. Stice’slab my first week at UGA, and have beencaptivated bymy research ever since,” said Natrajan, who also was recently named a mid-term UGA Foundation Fellow. “I have especially enjoyed and appreciated the support of others in my lab. They have been so pivotal in my research experience. The GoldwaterScholarshipis a greatreward formy commitment and interestin research.”

As a freshman, Natrajan’s stem cell differentiation project results led to a new way to study and treat male infertility, which was documented in a paper she co-authored with Stice and other faculty for the journal Human Reproduction. She made poster presentations of this research at a stem cell workshop and symposium at UGA in 2008, and participated at the fall 2008 Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, the nation’s largest conference for underrepresented groups in biomedical sciences.

“You can say a lot about Muktha’s work ethic and drive, but what I enjoy is her enthusiasm for research and that she understands how it fits into the larger picture in society,” said Stice, who directs UGA’s Regenerative Bioscience Center.

With her additional interest in environmental and ecological topics, Natrajan traveled to China for 10 weeks last summer funded by a grant through the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research and Education. She studied environmental effects of invasive plant species on China’s coastline at Nanjing University.

UGA genetics professor Daniel Promislow was thrilled to hear about his mentee’s success. “When I met Muktha upon her arrival at UGA, I was immediately struck by her deep passion for science, coupled with a sincere compassion for the world around her,” said Promislow, who now serves as Natrajan’s genetics program adviser. “I am very proud of Muktha and know that she will be successful in whatever she accomplishes because she is one of the most goal-oriented students I have met in the 13 years I have been at UGA. She does all that she does not to impress anyone, but because she truly believes that these are the right things to do.”

In addition to her academic record, Natrajan is very active on campus, holding leadership roles in such groups as the Go Green Alliance, an umbrella group for campus environmental organizations, and Advocating Safe Alternatives for Peers, a student group promoting healthy lifestyle choices. She is also involved in the UGA chapter of the Association for Women in Science and the Student Society for Stem Cell Research.

After graduation from UGA, Natrajan plans to enter graduate school to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience. She hopes to conduct dissertation research on how environmental pollutants, particularly neurotoxins, affect the central nervous system.

“Muktha is a model Honors student,” said David S. Williams, director of UGA’s Honors Program and UGA’s Goldwater faculty representative. “She is passionate about her scholarly work and how she can help to better society. She makes the most of the opportunities presented to her. Muktha has certainly earned the awards and recognitions that are coming her way, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

For more information on the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, see http://www.act.org/goldwater.

For more information on UGA’s Honors Program, see http://www.uga.edu/honors.