June 7, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 18

current issue
archive / search

    Two College students win new Gates scholarships

    By Arthur Fournier
    News Office

    The Gates Cambridge Trust has awarded academic scholarships to Rachel Bortnick and Benjamin Zwiebel. The two fourth-year students are the only Chicago-area winners to have been announced so far among the 160 students worldwide who will receive a Gates Cambridge scholarship in its inaugural year. The award provides a stipend to cover all expenses for up to three years of study at the University of Cambridge.

    Bortnick received the news when her roommate sought her out in the John Crerar Library to deliver an envelope marked ‘extremely urgent.’ “It was the day before my B.A. presentation,” she recalled. “Once I read the letter, I tried to call my parents, but they weren’t home. Neither were my grandparents. So I ended up running to tell my adviser. The celebration in the college advising office was incredible. I’ve been on cloud nine ever since.”

    Bortnick, who will graduate with a B.A. in Biological Sciences and Philosophy, eventually hopes to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. joint degree in medicine and biology. Even as a child, Bortnick said she was fascinated by biological phenomena, particularly physiology and disease. “Encouraged by supportive teachers, I became involved in research early,” she wrote in her application. At Cambridge, she plans to work toward the degree of M. Phil in the department of pharmacology while investigating the etiology of Huntington’s Disease.

    Her plans to become a physician-scientist stem from a desire to find a career in which her accomplishments have the potential to affect the well-being of others. In addition to lab and course work, she devotes several hours each week to volunteering and tutoring at La Rabida Children’s Hospital. “Volunteering at the hospital confirms my conviction that even though I may be seeking answers to questions I find inherently intriguing, the importance of finding the answers lies in the potential benefit to pres-ent and future victims of illness,” she wrote in her application.

    Zwiebel said he was delighted to learn he had won the scholarship. “I’m very excited about spending a year at Cambridge,” he said. “Like Chicago, Cambridge provides excellent math and physics courses and exposure to cutting-edge physics research.”

    Zwiebel, who will be awarded a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics during spring convocation, also has an interest in pursuing research with the potential to benefit others. Under the guidance of David Grier, Associate Professor in Physics, Zwiebel collaborated with Daphne Preuss, Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, Gregory Zinkl, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Preuss lab, and Jacob Mayfield, a former graduate student in the Preuss lab, to develop microscopes for measuring the properties of the adhesives that cause pollen grains to stick to a flower’s stigma. “Since the adhesion is species specific,” he explained, “the project may one day have a range of applications, including vascular grafts.”

    Zwiebel considers his experiences in Grier’s lab to have been much more than an introduction to research. “Professor Grier shared with me his excitement for this process of making new connections and developing deeper understandings of physical systems,” he explained. “It’s the same type of excitement that I expect to find working on string theory at Cambridge.”

    Zwiebel plans to enter into Part III of Cambridge’s Mathematical Tripos, an advanced program that will introduce him to the complex mathematics and physics related to the field. Even though his theoretical research in string theory isn’t likely to yield technical applications, he is excited about the chance to contribute to the physics research community. “As an aspiring physics professor, I hope to make a contribution through energetic interaction with other researchers and through education,” he wrote in his application.

    According to Don Lamb, Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and Chair of the British Scholarships Committee, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program will play an important role in assisting deserving students from Chicago and elsewhere in finding research opportunities at Cambridge, particularly in the biological and physical sciences.

    “It’s no surprise that the Gates scholarship program attracted the interest of two young scientists from the University,” he said. “It combines the opportunity to study at one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious universities with the level of sustained funding necessary to complete a Ph.D.

    “Cambridge boasts one of the world’s greatest traditions in higher education,” he said. “It’s also located in a beautiful rural area. That factor, combined with the excellent studies there, makes it a truly special place.”

    Established in 2000 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship was created to establish a network of future leaders from around the world. Over time, the trust anticipates that Gates Cambridge Scholars will become leaders in helping to address global problems related to health, equity, technology and learning.