Hertz Fellows at UC Berkeley Featured in eGrad

January 27, 2012

From eGrad:  Three Berkeley grad students (and a recent alum) have Hertz backing.

The prestigious Hertz Foundation Fellowship runs on a cycle that’s consistent with the National Science Foundation and others which open their applications in the fall, so its applications are closed until the new Hertz season begins in August. However, just for encouragement, it’s worth mentioning that four Berkeley students—three grad students and an undergrad who became an alumnus—have been among recent Hertz Fellows, chosen from more than 600 applicants.

The Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship has been supporting KayOusterhout in her first year of Ph.D. work here (along with a Chancellor’s Fellowship and a Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship), in which she’s emphasizing networking computer systems, and cloud computing. She did her undergraduate work at Princeton, where she co-founded Princeton Women in Computer Science and worked on the web team at the Daily Princetonian. Her graduate work here is a return to Berkeley, where she was born (and where her father, John Ousterhout, was a computer science professor before joining Sun Microsystems and later joining the faculty at Stanford).

Mollie Schwartz comes from a rural farming community in Pennsylvania, from which she headed to Columbia University to study chemical physics, which she is also pursuing here, specifically in condensed matter physics, with an emphasis on new and emergent physical properties of nanomaterials. She was inspired by the promise of nanoscience to revolutionize technologies in virtually every sector during work she did after graduating from Columbia for the White House Office of Science and Technology. Her home area growing up lacked cable television, so she spent her spare time with music and martial arts; she holds a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do.

Chicago native Thomas Segall-Shapiro grew up around Washington, D.C., and focused on synthetic biology at Rice University where he was part of the bio-beer team and won a gold medal in the 2008 International Genetically Engineering Machine competition along with worldwide media attention for their process of brewing beer with resveratrol, a naturally-occurring health substance usually found in red wine. In 2010, just as he was graduating, he was back in the limelight again as one of 24 authors of a study published in Science that, according to the Rice news staff, “may be the most significant scientific paper of the 21st century so far.” At the J. Craig Venter Institue, where he interned for two summers, the group of two dozen replaced a bacterial cell’s original DNA with a synthesized genome, which “rebooted” the cell, took over its operation, and even reproduced. (A certain amount of extraneous material was imbedded in the genome, incuding “watermarks” containing people’s names, famous quotes, and the URL of a website.) This advance became known popularly as “synthetic life.” Now a Ph.D. student in the Berkeley-UCSF joint bioengineering program, Segall-Shapiro plans to create technologies for both biological discovery and real world applications.

Stephen Miller of Escondido, who graduated from Cal with a major in EECS concentrating on surgical robotics, also received a Hertz Fellowship, which he is now using at Stanford to pursue his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence.

The Hertz Foundation, through its rigorous competition, provides considerable assistance to students in the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences so they may become leaders and key contributors to the advancement of  “national technological capabilities on which the long-term well-being of the United States largely depends.” Its fellowships are designed to be “the most attractive” in both “material terms and duration of tenure.” FounderJohn Daniel Hertz was an immigrant and “American Dream” success story, rising from newspaper seller to become the head of numerous companies (founder of Yellow Cab), racehorse owner, and philanthropist.

Among the 94 Berkeley students who have received Hertz Foundation Fellowships over the years, one physics student is especially notable, since he went to, among other accomplishments, win a Nobel Prize in that discipline. John C.Mather Ph.D. ’74, now a NASA scientist, shared the 2006 physics prize with Berkeley professor George Smoot. Their work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite gave the first empirical confirmation of the Big Bang theory of the universe and (according to the Nobel Prize committee) “can also be regarded as the starting point for cosmology as a precision science.”(Not that Mather’s accomplishments should put any explicit pressure on the new Berkeley Hertz Fellows to go out and win a Nobel or something. Implicit perhaps, but not explicit. Oh, and he earned a 4.0 GPA while here. Just saying.)