Three Students Receive Goldwater Scholarships

Students honored for work in math, sciences or engineering

 Adam Chandler, William Hwang and Peter Blair

Three Duke University students have been awarded Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships for their achievements in the sciences, mathematics or engineering. They were among 320 sophomores and juniors selected on the basis of academic merit from a national field of 1,091.

This year's winners are Peter Q. Blair, a junior from Chicago who is majoring in mathematics and physics; Adam Chandler, a junior from Burlington, N.C., majoring in mathematics and chemistry; and William (Billy) Hwang, a junior from Potomac, Md., majoring in biomedical engineering, physics, and electrical and computer engineering.

Since the awards began about 17 years ago in memory of the late U.S. senator and Republican presidential candidate, 58 Duke students have received the honor, which provides up to $7,500 a year toward tuition, books and other college expenses.

Blair is researching how light bends as it travels around black holes, a topic he will present in a paper at this summer's 11th Annual Conference for African-American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences. He is president of the campus Society for Physics Students, a mentor in the AGAPE Corner Boys Home and a member of United in Praise Gospel Choir and the Black Student Alliance. He is the first African-American student from Duke to win the Goldwater Scholarship.

He traces his knack for math back to his childhood in Nassau, Bahamas, where he worked at his family's fruit and vegetable stand. "You had so many different products of different prices; you had to multiply this one, add another and then subtract to make change," he said. "I had to develop quick math skills."

Chandler is working on research projects that apply mathematics to questions in chemistry, biology and linguistics. He was one of three members of a Duke team to win a Mathematical Association of America prize for best solution to a problem posed in the 2005 Mathematical Contest in Modeling. A cellist in the Duke Symphony Orchestra, Chandler also serves on the University Committee for Admissions and Financial Aid and is a member of the Duke Mathematics Union.

"I've seen through my coursework and research how math can answer questions in fields you never thought of," Chandler said. As an example, he explained a research project in linguistics in which he developed a mathematical model of how two dialects can develop in the same region.

Hwang is part of a research team developing electrical chips to quickly perform chemical analyses of small amounts of a substance. He is a member of the Duke men's volleyball team and editor of two campus publications, one literary and the other about science and technology. Last summer, he taught a weeklong seminar on science and technology for underprivileged middle school students through InnoWorks, an organization he co-founded.

"The problem we saw with supplementary educational programs in the U.S was that they are largely remedial in nature," Hwang said, explaining why he started InnoWorks. "Instead of focusing on this remedial process, we wanted to change their fundamental attitudes and get them excited about science and engineering." The project is profiled online here.

Mary Nijhout, an associate dean of Duke's Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, noted that two of the three winners previously received research fellowships through Duke's Office of Undergraduate Research Support Office. Blair received a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and Chandler was selected for the Howard Hughes Research Fellows Program.

"Support for undergraduate research programs is often the foundation for students to pursue their interests in sciences and win these national awards," she said.