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USM Polymer Student Earns Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Tue, 04/09/2024 - 10:04am | By: Van Arnold

Goldwater Scholarship

Charles Dalton, a polymer science student at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), has been recognized for his research efforts with a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for 2024. Dalton’s award brings the number of USM Goldwater Scholarship recipients to a state-leading total of 28.

A native of Mandeville, La., and member of the USM Honors College, Dalton is a junior majoring in polymer science and engineering, while also taking pre-med courses. The Goldwater Scholarship news caught him completely off-guard.

“When I found out, I was quite surprised, and I was immediately ecstatic and thankful for the recognition,” said Dalton, USM’s first Goldwater Scholar since 2021.

Nationwide, 438 Goldwater Scholars were chosen for 2024. From an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1,353 science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 446 academic institutions to compete for the scholarships.

For the past two years, Dalton has conducted extensive research in the lab of USM assistant professor of polymer science Dr. Tristan Clemons.

Goldwater Scholarship

Dr. Tristan Clemons, Assistant Professor of polymer science, has served as Dalton’s mentor for the past two years.

“When I started in the lab, I worked on synthesizing block copolymers for targeted nucleic acid delivery for cancer therapies,” said Dalton. “I eventually broadened my scope of ability by learning basic procedures for research with cells: plating, passaging, dyeing, and cell counting for cytotoxicity studies.”

This past summer Dalton conducted research at Northwestern University in Chicago researching the promotion of catalytic degradation of chemical warfare agents. He managed to continue peripheral work in the Clemons lab this school year synthesizing, modifying, and characterizing synthetic melanin to promote mass tissue regeneration post deep dermal injury.

“Coming back from this summer, I have also worked in purifying and functionalizing keratin for novel biomaterial applications. This work will also contribute to our Capstone project for wound healing. Mixed into my time in the Clemons lab, I have also been trained for and performed peptide purification.”

Clemons concedes harboring doubts about his star pupil during their initial meeting.

“I remember when Charles first approached me about joining my lab as a laid-back, scruffy haired sophomore, I was a bit unsure if he had what it was going to take,” said Clemons. “I quickly realized that beneath this happy-go-lucky exterior is an exceptional chemist who is humble in his approach and who is always willing to help others around him. I am excited to think of what is next in Charles’ future, and I am humbled to simply play a small role in helping him on this journey.”

Goldwater Scholarship

Mary Beard, Director, Nationally Competitive Programs and Awards at USM, notes that Dalton’s scholarship basically recognizes him as an emerging STEM leader, which carries much prestige.

“It takes a high-caliber student to even make it through the level of work and dedication that goes into the application process, but to actually compete on such a national level, win, and become a Goldwater Scholar – that is quite a feat,” said Beard. “What many people may not stop to consider is that Goldwater Scholars are sophomore and juniors who have already completed enough work to show that they are dedicated to a career in research.”

Dalton’s short-range goals include pursuing an MD/PhD program. Long range he plans to become a principal investigator driving research in the treatment and prevention of neurological pathologies.

Learn more about Goldwater Scholarship and see the list of winners.