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Robert J. MacfarlaneRobert J. Macfarlane

Two Willamette Students Win Prestigious Scholarship

Robert J. Macfarlane and Ashley R. Smith, both junior chemistry majors at Willamette University in Salem, OR, have been awarded Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in science, mathematics and engineering. Only 300 of these highly competitive national scholarships are awarded annually.

Macfarlane, a graduate of Colony High School in Palmer, AK, and currently a tutor in organic chemistry, is working on designing a Laser Doppler Velocimeter (LVD) apparatus for analysis of sperm motility. He's collaborating with Dr. Jeffrey Willemsen, a chemistry professor at Willamette, to synthesize deratives of a male contraceptive. "The LVD gives us a faster, easier and more accurate way to measure whether sperm are killed when the compound gossypol, a potential male oral contraceptive, is added," explains Macfarlane, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry and go into medical research. Macfarlane is also a member of the University's Chamber Choir and a talented pianist and French horn player.

Smith, a graduate of Lincoln High School in Portland, OR, was named Willamette University Organic Chemistry Student of the Year in 2002. She's currently head teaching assistant in the chemistry synthesis lab and president of the University's Chemistry Club. She uses her knowledge of organic chemistry to synthesize biologically important molecules that might have pharmaceutical applications.

"We've synthesized about 30 compounds, some of which have never been synthesized before," she says. "The work is important because it has the potential to shed light on how proteins function."

Smith often performs chemistry demonstrations for area elementary students. She's also a section leader for the University's Women's Choir and vice president of the Circle K Club. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in bioorganic chemistry and become a researcher and teacher.

Both Macfarlane and Smith have been active researchers while at Willamette. Last summer, they participated in the Science Collaborative Research Project, and, in November 2002, presented the results of their research at the Murdock Undergraduate Research Conference at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. Smith will co-author an article based on their research.

The 300 Goldwater Scholars, including Macfarlane and Smith, were selected from more than 1,000 top mathematics, science and engineering students from across the nation who are nominated by their universities. The scholarship awards are based on student grade point average, research and career goals. The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, books, fees and room and board up to $7,500 per year.