Goldwater Foundation Recognizes Students

Karthik Hullahalli

Biology senior Karthik Hullahalli is one of four UT Dallas students recognized this year by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program. He has done research on antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria in the lab of Dr. Kelli Palmer, assistant professor of biological sciences.

Four undergraduate researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas have been recognized this year by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, including three full scholarship winners from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Biology senior Karthik Hullahalli, chemistry junior Gino Occhialini and biochemistry sophomore Justin Raman all received full scholarships.

An honorable mention went to Jeanie Aird, a mechanical engineering junior in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

It is the second year in a row that all four nominees from UT Dallas have been recognized, and the second time the University has had three full scholarship winners. Last year, electrical engineering student and McDermott Scholar Hans Ajieren won the scholarship, and three others received honorable mentions. In 2015, three UT Dallas students won scholarships.

Only 11 universities in the country had three or more full scholarship winners.

“This was our most competitive year yet, with more than one dozen outstanding student applicants competing for only four spots. These recognitions are a true testament that UT Dallas stands in the first rank nationally in undergraduate research opportunities,” said Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean of the Hobson Wildenthal Honors College and clinical professor of political science.

The Goldwater Scholarships recognize college sophomores and juniors who want to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Winners receive a scholarship of up to $7,500 a year to help cover costs associated with tuition, fees, books, room and board.

Over its 30-year history, many Goldwater Scholarship recipients have gone on to win other prestigious awards such as the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship, Rhodes Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Hullahalli earned an honorable mention last year from the Goldwater Scholarship program. Since his senior year at Frisco High School, Hullahalli has done research on antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria in the lab of Dr. Kelli Palmer, assistant professor of biological sciences. 

“Karthik is an innovative young scientist with an infectious enthusiasm for research. He and his graduate research mentor, Marinelle Rodrigues, are engineering novel strategies to eliminate antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is high impact work. His scientific potential is immense,” Palmer said.

Gino Occhialini

Gino Occhialini

Hullahalli was an undergraduate researcher last summer in the Amgen Scholars Program at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I was working to develop microfluidic devices – small microchips with fluid in them – that could eventually help discover new antibiotics. It was a blank slate at the time, a prototype. It will take years to have clinical application, but for me, it’s just neat to discover something. It’s nice to say we can help people, but the research is just cool.”

This summer he will continue working in Palmer’s lab, researching how to rewire bacterial immune systems “so that they will work for us, not the bacteria.”

Hullahalli hopes to eventually earn his PhD in molecular biology in the San Francisco Bay Area or Boston and continue to do research as well as teach on the university level.

Occhialini, a chemistry junior, works in the lab of Dr. Ronald Smaldone, assistant professor of chemistry, alongside Dr. Christina Thompson, a chemistry lecturer, researching new methods for the synthesis and processing of porous materials for gas and energy storage.  

Occhialini, who is from San Marcos, Texas, said UT Dallas seemed like a good fit for him because he discovered that he really liked organic chemistry, and the University offered opportunities for undergraduate research.

“Dr. Smaldone and Dr. Thompson have just been really great to me. They have included me on publication work, and we’ve just had an article published in CrystEngComm in which I’m a co-first author,” Occhialini said.

“Gino is a curious and independent scientist. He has worked on several projects in my lab, but he also works to develop new projects on his own. In my opinion, this is the hallmark of a truly great scientist in the making,” Smaldone said.

Justin Raman

Justin Raman

Occhialini will continue working in Smaldone’s lab this summer, and hopes to eventually earn a PhD in chemistry and teach at the university level.

Raman, a biochemistry sophomore and a McDermott Scholar, gained critical-thinking and problem-solving skills from his father, who is an engineer. Raman was still surprised to win the Goldwater Scholarship during his second year at UT Dallas.

“I did not expect it at all, but I am very grateful. It was a pleasant surprise,” said Raman, who is from Lake Mary, Florida.

Since his freshman year, he has worked in the lab of Dr. Walter Voit, BS’05, MS’06, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering. Raman had heard Voit lecture about neural applications of engineering and thought it sounded like a good research fit for him.

“From the beginning, Justin approached the research with both enthusiasm and dedication, a willingness to learn, to take risks and to tinker. Justin’s skill set, ingenuity and work ethic clearly demonstrate that he will be successful as a researcher and make valuable contributions to academia throughout his career, making him a tremendous ambassador for our lab, our university and the country,” said Voit, a McDermott Scholar.

Raman spent last summer researching gastric blanket electrodes at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he got to see the implementation of what he had earlier helped to develop in a lab.

“I like that you’re able to apply what you learn in the classroom to real-world problems. You can investigate very specific ideas that will hopefully have a wide impact. I also appreciate the interdisciplinary aspect of research, where I’m able to combine neuroscience, engineering and materials science,” Raman said.

Raman is interested in pursuing an MD-PhD in biomedical engineering and teaching at a medical research university.

Jeanie Aird

Jeanie Aird

Honorable mention recipient Aird, a mechanical engineering junior, has studied wind energy for a year and a half with Dr. Arif Malik, associate professor of mechanical engineering, researching aerodynamics of offshore floating wind turbines.

She hopes to earn a PhD in mechanical engineering and work in renewable energy.

“I want to work with wind and wave, researching tidal devices and harvesting energy from the ocean,” said Aird, who grew up in Corpus Christi.

She also wants to help female engineering students find mentors in a male-dominated field. Aird started a club at UT Dallas this semester called Women Mentoring Women in Engineering, which matched female students with their counterparts in industry.

This summer, Aird will research wind energy in the Netherlands at Delft University of Technology, also known as TU Delft.

“Most of this kind of research is done in Europe, and I’ll be working with Axelle Varie, who is renowned in the field. I’m super-excited,” Aird said.

UT Dallas' Goldwater Scholarship Recipients

Since 2005, 16 UT Dallas students have received nationally competitive scholarships from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, and nine have received honorable mention:


Karthik HullahalliGino OcchialiniJustin RamanJeanie Aird, honorable mention


Hans Ajieren Muhammad Akram, honorable mentionSheridan Cavalier, honorable mentionKarthik Hullahalli, honorable mention


Michael Lee Jr.Melanie MaurerAndrew Wei


Maria BurbanoMichael Lau, honorable mentionMelanie Maurer,honorable mention


Matthew KrenikMichael Lau, honorable mention


Truc DoAbhishek RajElizabeth Hanacik,honorable mention


Philip CampbellTruc Do, honorable mention


Mary GurakAlex Palmer


Austin Swafford


Kassandra McLean


Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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