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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Two URI students earn prestigious Goldwater Scholarships

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Pawtucket, North Kingstown residents are the only Rhode Islanders
to receive award for science, engineering

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 11, 2004 -- University of Rhode Island juniors Meghan Bellows and Chris Piecuch are both avid musicians. They're both students in URI's International Engineering Program and live in the same campus residence hall. And they're both heading to Germany next fall for a year of studying and working abroad.

Now they have one more thing in common. They've both been awarded the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship for students studying science and engineering, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

Selected from a field of 1,113 applicants, Bellows and Piecuch are among 310 students chosen for the $7,500 award, and the only ones from Rhode Island. The scholarship program was established in 1986 to honor the late Arizona senator and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in math, science or engineering.

Bellows, a chemical engineering and German major from Pawtucket, said the scholarship has given her a great deal more confidence in herself. "It's allowed me to see how I compare with students in the rest of the country," she said. "I know Iím number one in my class at URI, but I wasnít sure how that compared with students outside the state. Now I know."

A flute and piccolo player in the URI Marching Band who also plays trumpet in the URI Pep Band, Bellows aims to attend graduate school at Princeton University to become an independent researcher, a field in which she already has considerable experience.

"I did some research on flame retardants and how the chemicals that suppress the flame have gotten into the environment," Bellows explained. "They're called polybromiated diphenyl ethers, and theyíve found their way into animals, human breast milk and elsewhere. We discovered that the chemical easily rubs off the material it's applied to and can end up just about everywhere."

Last summer, Bellows used computer modeling to study hydrogen production in fuel cells.

"Meghan has a gift for ferreting out the kinds of problems other scientists seem to miss," said Cheryl Foster, associate director of the URI Honors Program. "Her capacity for asking unusual questions is boundless, so fortunately her skill for pursuing them keeps pace with her sense of wonder. Seldom do brilliance, originality and intellectual style blend so powerfully as they do with Meghan."

After nearly choosing to attend culinary school, Piecuch became a triple major in mathematics, physics and German. He, too, has done his share of complex research.

The North Kingstown resident and rock-and-roll guitar player studied electromigration on computer chips last summer to track potential damage to the chips and predict when the circuit may fail.

"The only way to test for electromigration-induced damage is with a probe, which often causes more damage," Piecuch said. "So we tried to use an optical technique to observe the damage process and correlate the optical effects with the equivalent effects from measuring the resistance. That way we got all the information we needed without actually touching the wire."
In another project, he used computer modeling to study the quauntum mechanical properties of how two gases intermingle and diffuse.

"I was ecstatic about getting the Goldwater Scholarship because itís a great stepping stone to getting a Rhodes Scholarship, which is my main goal," he said. "In the past few years, a quarter of the Rhodes Scholars have also received the Goldwater."

Piecuch ultimately aims to study theoretical physics or the philosophy of physics in graduate school, and then teach at the high school or college level.

"Chris's intellectual curiosity is such that only a triple major can satisfy his energy and enthusiasm," Foster said. "In Chris we see high voltage brainpower matched by genuine affability, so he is sure to have a profound impact on both colleagues and students during the course of his future work."