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New Mexico State University

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New Mexico State University presents full-ride scholarships to two students at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

ALBUQUERQUE - A study of the metabolic products of lichens to produce better antibiotics has earned Rebecca Alexander of Grants High School a full-ride scholarship to New Mexico State University.


Alexander joined Harrison Nguyen of Detroit Catholic Central High School, in Michigan, as the two recipients of NMSU full-ride scholarships at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair held in Albuquerque May 13-19.

"We focused on the kinds of research that we excel in at NMSU," said Vimal Chaitanya, NMSU's vice president for research, graduate studies and international programs. "We feel we have found the best students in the areas of biochemistry, microbiology and chemistry, who are most likely to consider NMSU as their destination because of what we have to offer in terms of research experience, mentoring and quality of undergraduate education."

In addition to the two awardees, two participants - Avni Solanki of Longwood, Fla., and Zachariah Harris of Bosque Farms - were selected as alternates.

"We didn't want to limit our awards to just two students in case either of them chose not to join NMSU. So we established alternate recipients. In fact, I hope all four of them will join NMSU and would leave it to us to accommodate them all," Chaitanya said. The NMSU full-ride scholarship awards include payment of tuition, fees, room, board and books for up to four years, which is worth approximately $46,000 for in-state students and $85,000 for out-of-state students.

"As one of the judges for these awards, I had a very challenging but rewarding job," said William Quintana, associate professor and general chemistry program coordinator in NMSU's department of chemistry and biochemistry. "I was deeply impressed by the overall quality of projects presented in the science fair and would have wished that I could have selected more winners for the special award given by NMSU.

"The recipients of these awards represent the future of our nation in the area of science and as a scientist, I feel very honored to have been a participant in this important event in which young people are recognized and rewarded for their hard work," Quintana said.

Alexander's project has determined that lichens, a fungus that grows symbiotically with algae on rocks or tree trunks and normally takes decades to grow, can be grown rapidly in a laboratory setting. Her study determined that a chemical extracted from lichens can be isolated and will have the potential to produce a better antibiotic. Her project received a fourth-place award in the microbiology division of the science fair.

Nguyen, a junior, researched how a component derived from an ancient Chinese alternative medicine, Scutellaria baicalensis, binds onto cancer cells. The component has shown to be a growth inhibitor on squamous cancer cells, but there are hundreds of potential ways in which the component could bind to the cells. Nguyen's research used a computer program as a theoretical binding simulator to more quickly determine the binding site.

Solanki, a junior at Lake Brantley High School, conducted research on increasing the efficiency of direct alcohol fuel cells.

Harris, a 17-year-old junior, did research in chemistry that could lead to a new way to detect triacetone triperoid, a powerful explosive favored by terrorists. Detection of this explosive would enhance threat reduction initiatives at home and abroad.