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WMU undergrad awarded $25,000 for nanotech research

March 20, 2005

KALAMAZOO--An undergraduate focus in the field of nanotechnology--science that focuses on the smallest structures found in nature--has turned into big news for a Western Michigan University student and his department.

Curtis J. Deer, a senior from Lawrence, Mich., has won a scholarship of up to $25,000--one of just 15 awarded nationally--from the United Negro College Fund and the pharmaceutical giant Merck. The award will put Deer in Merck laboratories over the next two summers, earning an additional stipend, and will pave the way for him to eventually earn a doctoral degree to advance his career.

The 2005 UNCF-Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship Award will cover all of Deer's 2005-06 expenses at WMU and will net him two summer internship stipends totaling a minimum of $10,000. In addition, he will be eligible to apply for $30,000 in UNCF/Merck funds to support his pursuit of a doctoral degree. WMU's Department of Chemistry, Deer's academic home on campus, also will receive a grant of up to $10,000 to support research and fund the purchase of equipment that will help other students in their scientific studies.

Deer is part of WMU's nanotechnology team led by Dr. Subra Muralidharan, professor of chemistry and director of the Nanotechnolgy Research and Computation Center. Although he has been a WMU student for just three years, Deer has earned senior status and is beginning to lay plans for his graduate work in the discipline. He expects to graduate in April 2006 and is already looking at such schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Washington and Northwestern University.

Deer first came to WMU's labs as a junior in high school, when he won a recommendation from a high school science teacher through the American Chemical Society's Project SEED, which pairs promising young students with top scientists in industry and academia. Muralidharan describes

Deer as something of "a poster child for the value of giving students the opportunity to have hands-on science experience." After what Deer describes as initial amazement at the complexity and opportunities of laboratory life, he jumped in and is now pursuing his own research into an area of nanotechnology known as quantum dotsóan area he says has potential for bioimaging and the development of biosensors as well as in the fields of medical discovery and computation. The Lee Honors College member is writing his honors thesis on the future uses of semi-conductor quantum dots.

Deer also serves as a W.M. Keck Scholar, one of two undergraduates selected to work as part of Muralidharan's team that is undertaking a $1 million research project aimed at unlocking the secrets of the mechanism that allows the penetration of cells by everything from harmful agents like viruses and pollutants to beneficial new drug discoveries. The project's major funding is from California's W.M. Keck Foundation.

Deer, who ultimately wants to conduct research and teach at the University level, says he's always gravitated toward science and his experience in WMU labs has left him with a view of a future in which electronic devices are much smaller and biological and environmental sensors are commonplace, thanks to nanotechnology. But he admits to having to resort to today's more common uses of the technology to explain what it all means to family and friends. The stain-resistant properties of today's clothing, for instance, is a favorite of his when he wants to tell people how nanotechnology impacts their lives.

"People don't quite understand nanotechnology, but when you give them some real-time examples, it makes them want to know more," he says.

Deer's UNCF/Merck award was based on his resume, statement of purpose and recommendations from three WMU faculty members. He will be paired with a Merck scientist for each of the next two summers.

Deer is the son of Debra McDaniel of Lawrence, Mich., and a 2002 graduate of Lawrence High School.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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