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Two Seniors Honored with Churchill Scholarships

Churchill Scholars

Northwestern University seniors Dennis Hu and Samantha Dale Strasser have been awarded Churchill Scholarships, among the most competitive scholarships for American undergraduates. They will pursue graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, U.K.

Annually, only 14 scholars are selected from 103 American colleges and universities. This is the third consecutive year that Northwestern students have received the high honor.

A glimpse of what undergraduates Hu and Strasser, both 2010 Barry M. Goldwater Scholars, already have achieved suggests why they have been honored by the Winston Churchill Foundation.

A chemistry major in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Hu was lead author on a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 2010 -- a rare accomplishment for an undergraduate. He was the first to develop synthetic streptorubin, naturally found to reverse drug resistance in late-stage cancer cells. Previously it was considered too complex to create artificially.

“I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say Dennis [Hu] has achieved more as an undergraduate than some achieve during the entirety of their Ph.D. programs,” said Regan Thomson, assistant professor of chemistry. “I’m very fortunate to have had a student who has contributed to such a large degree to my scholarship.”

Strasser, a biomedical engineering and applied mathematics double major in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, joined the lab of Vadim Backman, professor of biomedical engineering, during her freshman year. Co-advised by Backman and Allen Taflove, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, she was instrumental in the invention of a technique to measure cell structure at the nanoscale level. Her name will appear first on the patent and publication.

“Sam [Strasser] has really good ideas, knows how to research and is incredibly talented,” Backman said. “If I only had her performance to go by, I’d never guess she was an undergraduate.”

At Cambridge, Hu will pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in chemistry and Strasser, a Master of Philosophy degree in physics.

“I really can’t believe I won,” Hu said. “To work with Steve Ley at Cambridge, one of the world’s top organic chemistry researchers, is a fantastic opportunity.”

Hu, who is part of the Integrated Science Program for honor students, has a rigorous academic schedule. He also helps fellow Northwestern students engage in research through programs such as the Science Research Workshop and the Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education. And Hu, an active gymnast, founded and directs a program that pairs area high school students with Northwestern student-scientists to conduct meaningful scientific research projects.

Strasser will be working with Professor Sir Richard Friend in the physics department.

“To be able to study physics in the same place and walk the same paths as individuals such as Newton and Maxwell is amazing,” Strasser said. “If there had been music playing in the background when I learned I won, there would have been a full orchestra.”

When not in the lab, Strasser tutors fellow students in the programming language MATLAB through Northwestern’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and is a volunteer with NU Splash!, a student organization that provides unique learning experiences to area high school students. Last April, she co-instructed a course on creating an origami chess set.

Strasser also is a talented musician who sings and plays the piano, clarinet and saxophone.

The Churchill Scholarship provides one year of support for a postgraduate degree in engineering, mathematics or the sciences at Cambridge, including all tuition and fees, airfare and a living allowance.

Eligible universities, consisting of the top schools in the nation, may only nominate two qualified applicants. Nominees must display high academic achievement and the capacity to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in their field.

Established in 1959, the Winston Churchill Foundation was founded by American friends of Churchill who wanted to fulfill his wish of always having young American graduate students at Churchill College at the University of Cambridge.

- Andrea Albers, University Relations