TAMS students named 2020 Goldwater Scholars

June 5, 2020
Kevin Yao
Kevin Yao of Katy, Texas was named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar.
Christopher Zhou
Christopher Zhou of Plano, Texas was named a 2020 Goldwater Scholars.

Two students from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at UNT have been named 2020 Goldwater Scholars.

UNT leads Texas universities in the number of Goldwater Scholars in math, science and engineering, with a total of 66 scholars named since 1996.

TAMS encourages all students to participate in research. Kevin Yao of Katy, Texas, and Christopher Zhou of Plano, Texas, were nominated for Goldwater awards based on the strength of the research they conducted during the two years they spent at UNT. They were both TAMS Early-Research Scholars, who began their research during the summer of 2018, between their sophomore year in high school and the beginning of the TAMS program that fall.

“Kevin and Christopher had remarkable faculty mentorship and encouragement. This allowed both students to master intricate methodology and then make innovative contributions to their fields of study. They validated the benefits of research-based undergraduate education at our Tier One university. We are very proud of them and are confident that they will become leaders in their fields of STEM research,” says James Duban, associate dean for research and national scholarships, TAMS and the Honors College.

Yao has a patent pending for his independent research on machine learning for cancer-prediction applications. He conducted research in the laboratory of Jose Perez, a professor in UNT’s Department of Physics, investigating the fundamental properties of novel two-dimensional materials for applications in next-generation electronics and technology. Yao is the primary author of a paper in the journal “2D Materials” and co-author of publications in additional major journals. Yao was a UNT 2019-2020 Undergraduate Research Fellow and placed second in the National Junior Humanities Symposium in 2019.

Zhou was part of a competitive coding team that won first place in the advanced division at Lockheed Martin’s CodeQuest competition. He conducted research in the laboratory of Thomas Cundari, a Regents Professor in the Department of Chemistry, where he used computational chemistry and artificial intelligence algorithms to help design for novel transition metal catalysts, building blocks for the future of alternative energy sources. Zhou is the first author on an article in the journal “ACS Omega” and is the recipient of the Steve and Kathy Weiner Research Scholarship, presented by the TAMS program at its 2019 Fall Convocation.

“As a Tier One research university, UNT takes undergraduate education very seriously. Hands-on opportunities for research are very important,” says Glênisson de Oliveira, dean of TAMS and UNT’s Honor College. “TAMS students certainly learn science or engineering at a much deeper level, and they learn so much more including leadership, organization and communication skills. We are proud of our very creative and capable students, but equally as important, the success we have in undergraduate research is due to the quality of our faculty mentors.”

Goldwater Scholar awards are considered to be among the country’s most prestigious scholarships awarded to students planning careers in mathematics, science and engineering. Scholarships of up to $7,500 a year are provided to help cover costs associated with tuition, fees, books, room and board. Students were chosen on the basis of their scientific research, grade point averages and other achievements by the nominating and mentoring committee which included Sushama Dandekar, senior lecturer of chemistry, Jannon Fuchs, professor of biological sciences, Chris Littler, professor of physics, and Thomas Scharf, professor of materials science and engineering. Universities are allowed a maximum of four submissions a year, with one additional entry recently allowed for transfer student applicants. 

About the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science

TAMS, located on the campus of UNT, is the nation’s first early-entrance, residential program for gifted students interested in pursuing STEM fields. TAMS students enroll in university courses, earning a minimum of 60 credit hours, and conduct research mentored by faculty at UNT and from around the region and nation. TAMS students tackle complex, real-world problems, working on solutions and breakthroughs in fields ranging from health care to energy consumption. TAMS nurtures the next generation of innovators and is one of the many ways that UNT advances science, engineering and technology.