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Miami students named Goldwater Scholar and Honorable Mention

04/08/2013

James Tong Morton, 2012 Goldwater Scholar (photo by Jeff Sabo)
James Tong Morton, 2012 Goldwater Scholar (photo by Jeff Sabo)
James Tong Morton, a junior at Miami University with a quadruple major in computer science, electrical engineering, engineering physics and mathematics and statistics and a minor in Chinese, has received a Goldwater Scholarship. He is one of 271 students nationwide to receive the scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, natural science and engineering. Benjamin Fenton, a junior biochemistry major and double minor in molecular biology and music performance (flute), received a Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention.

Morton, from Oxford, has conducted research since his first semester at Miami. He works with mentors John Karro, associate professor of computer science and software engineering, and Chun Liang, associate professor of botany, to develop bioinformatics software packages to help understand biological mechanisms linked with gene regulation and cancer.

“Jamie is the best undergraduate I have ever worked with,” Liang said. “He is passionate about science (bioinformatics) and extremely diligent. Working on a project on machine learning and bioinformatics for my NIH-funded grant, he has demonstrated his capability, creativity and diligence that set him apart from most other undergraduates that I know.”

Karro said, “Jamie is a really impressive student and excellent to work with. He has a drive and a capacity for self-directed work that I rarely see in an undergraduate.

He has spent the last year developing a software tool for the computational analysis of biological sequence data, using sophisticated models to help understand that data in new ways. He has accomplished an impressive amount in this time, while working with comments most students do not even see until they reach their senior year or start their graduate work.”

Morton’s work has been supported by School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) Nestle Undergraduate Research and Special Project grants. Among other presentations, he has presented his research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories Genome Informatics Conference.

In summer 2012 he was one of 26 selected (out of 890) to participate in an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories to develop computational tools in order to study biological phenomena related to disease susceptibility and functional variation. This summer he will conduct research in computational biology at Johns Hopkins University.

He has also studied abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

At Miami Morton has been a member of the Miami University Symphony Orchestra (cello), Men’s Glee Club and Collegiate Chorale. He is a member of the Red Blade Autonomous Snowplow team that will compete in January 2014 and of the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition team that will compete in June.

He is a member of the university honors program and is a Benjamin Harrison Scholar. Among other awards, he was also a recipient of the 2012 Provost’s Student Academic Achievement Award.

Benjamin Fenton: Honorable Mention

Benjamin Fenton, 2012 Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention (photo by Scott Kissell)
Benjamin Fenton, 2012 Goldwater Scholar Honorable Mention (photo by Scott Kissell)

Fenton, from Wilmington, has been involved with research since his first semester at Miami, with mentor Michael Kennedy, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Structural Biology. He has been researching mutations of the Kras protein, which are connected to human cancers.

Fenton has also started his master's degree in chemistry, with Kennedy as adviser. He will complete both his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in May 2014.

“Over the last year, Ben has really grown as a researcher,” Kennedy said. “Ben's research involves an oncoprotein, known as Kras, that is implicated in more than 90 percent of human pancreatic cancer patients.

In its mutated form, Kras acts like a switch stuck in the ‘on’ state, telling cells to divide indefinitely, which is a hallmark of cancer. The goal of Ben's research is to develop a recombinant therapeutic protein that will specifically target the mutated Kras and turn the switch ‘off,’ thereby halting the cancer,” Kennedy explained. “This project is quite complicated, and Ben has demonstrated the sophistication and mastery of his subject characteristic of a much more senior graduate student, indicative of his recognition by the Goldwater Scholarship program.“

"Ben has distinguished himself throughout his time at Miami," said Richard Taylor, interim chair and professor of chemistry and biochemistry. "He has demonstrated great aptitude in the classroom and in the laboratory, and he is a highly valued student worker. As an accomplished musician and in many other ways, he is an important part of campus life throughout the university."

Fenton is a member of the university honors program; the technical director for Miami’s Stage Left student theatre group; a member of the Miami Chemical Society; and a member of several chamber music ensembles.

The Goldwater Scholarship

The Goldwater Foundation Scholarship Program encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering.

This year the program awarded 271 Goldwater Scholarships, worth up to a maximum of $7,500 per year, out of nearly 1,107 students who were nominated by faculty at their institutions.

Morton is one of three students at an Ohio public university to receive a Goldwater Scholarship. Fenton is one of six students at an Ohio public university to receive an honorable mention.

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