NAU repeats its record with three Goldwater Scholars

April 30, 2019

For the second year in a row, three Northern Arizona University students have been named national Goldwater Scholars.

Christopher Keefe, a sophomore studying computer science and biology; Kyle Ghaby, a junior in chemistry and biomedical science; and Megan Gialluca, a sophomore studying physics and astronomy, received this recognition, which is the most prestigious award in the U.S. for undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

“Congratulations to the students and their mentors, who exemplify the Lumberjack spirit of discovery and innovation,” NAU President Rita Cheng said. “I am very proud of these students and all they have accomplished. I know they will continue to accomplish great things.”

Learn more about NAU’s Goldwater scholars:

Christopher Keefe

Keefe has been a student research software engineer for the last year, studying the human biome in Greg Caporaso’s lab at the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute. He was selected to be on a five-person team doing an innovative study on Alzheimer’s disease and is in the initial stages of data collection and development of new computational methods and software. The first data for his analysis is coming soon.

Christopher Keefe
Christopher Keefe

His career goal is to develop computational methods to help society answer key questions in ecology and human health, apply those methods in new research and share them as free and open software tools to multiply their impact.

“I have found work that can support causes and contribute to real people in the world,” Keefe said. “By leveraging large-scale biological data, I hope to solve critical world problems and increase our understanding of pathology, antibiotic resistance and climate change ecology.”

His mentors are Caporaso, Dawn Birdsell, Matthew Dillon, Meghan Taylor, Ruby Hammond, Evan Bolyen and Ted Schuur.

Kyle Ghaby
Ghaby’s double major in chemistry and biomedical sciences is laying the foundation for a career in computational biochemistry, focusing on protein engineering for medical and gene-editing applications. After his first year at NAU, he interned with Beckman Research Institute at the City of Hope Hospital and has spent much of his NAU career in the lab working on various research projects.

Kyle Ghaby presents at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 26, 2019.

Ghaby’s research in the computational biochemistry lab has him modeling, simulating and analyzing insulin to develop room temperature preservation, while in his research in the genetics lab, he applies engineered proteins to provide insight into inventible, improvable and usable proteinic mechanisms. He’ll graduate with the equivalent of seven years of research experience, after which he plans to earn a doctorate in computational biochemistry with an emphasis in protein engineering. He hopes to be a principal investigator and professor designing, refining, and combining proteins for medicinal and gene-editing applications.

“Computational work permits problem-solving and curious investigation and does so without financial and visual limitations,” Ghaby said. “With scientific and intellectual freedom, I have been able to answer questions independently and produce interesting findings regarding medicinal storage. These benefits have led me to pursue computational protein engineering rather than experimental.”

Ghaby’s mentors are Gerrick Lindberg, Matthew Salanga, Nashelly Meneses, Felix Wussow, Gery Allan, Don Diamond, Timothy Becker and Russell Benford.

Megan Gialluca
Gialluca’s passion for research started in high school; she was one of three awardees of the Astronomical League’s National Young Astronomers Award and one of two funded students to present her research at the league’s annual convention in Washington, D.C.

Upon arriving at NAU, she jumped right into research; by her second semester, she’d applied for and received the most prestigious research grant NAU gives to undergraduate students. She was the only freshman to win the grant. Her Goldwater essay discussed her exoplanetary research, which will have a tangible impact on the scientific community. She also works for Lowell Observatory as a public educator. She plans to get a Ph.D. in astrophysics; continue work in categorizing and determining levels of habitability of exoplanet atmospheres; and assist in missions to observe exoplanets and analyze the data.

Megan Gialluca
Megan Gialluca presents her research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 26, 2019, at the NAU Fieldhouse.

“I strongly believe the future of astronomical sciences lies in better understanding the conditions on exoplanets,” Gialluca said. “I will be at the forefront of research that is critical to understanding how planets develop, how life developed on Earth and how atmospheres change when exposed to different conditions. This research is vital to understanding more about our own planet and how different factors will affect our planet’s habitability, a condition critical for us to preserve.”

Gialluca’s mentors are Ty Robinson and Adam Wilcox.

About the Goldwater Scholarship

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate. With the 2019 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 8,628 and a scholarship total to more than $68 million.

By providing scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, the Goldwater Foundation is helping ensure that the U.S. is producing the number of highly-qualified professionals the nation needs in these critical fields. Scholars selected as juniors are entitled to one year of funding up to a maximum of $7,500. Scholars selected as sophomores are entitled to two years of funding up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

For the 2019 competition, 443 institutions nominated 1223 outstanding undergraduates from an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors. Last year, NAU was one of only 12 universities nationwide to have three of four possible nominees awarded. In 2017, NAU was the only Arizona university awarded a Goldwater recipient.

Nominees apply and are selected by the NAU Goldwater Selection Committee, made up this year of Marin Robinson and Kiisa Nishikawa. NAU students wishing to apply for a Goldwater Scholarship should contact Goldwater campus representative Melissa Hatfield Riggs at over the summer.

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Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
(928) 523-8737 |

NAU Communications