UMD Student Eric Wang Named Churchill Scholar

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Eric Wang – a senior in the University of Maryland (UMD) Fischell Department of Bioengineering, advised by Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) Professor, Jeff Klauda – has been awarded a Churchill Scholarship, which offers full funding for a one-year master’s degree in science, mathematics, or engineering at the University of Cambridge.

Wang, who was also named a 2018 Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, will pursue a master of philosophy degree in chemistry. Working with Cambridge Professor Michele Vendruscolo, Wang plans to use computational methods to study biochemical systems in hopes of advancing understanding of Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

A member of the UMD University Honors program and a recipient of a 2017 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellowship, Wang is interested in molecular dynamics, a computer simulation method that models the physical movements of biomolecules.

“These simulations allow access to an atomic level of detail, providing mechanistic insights unavailable to most experiments,” Wang said. “As I gain more experience with molecular dynamics, the range of questions my research can answer continually expands, and with it, my passion for the field.”

Wang began working with Jeff Klauda in 2016. Under Dr. Klauda’s guidance, Wang focused much of his research on modeling the outer layer of the skin – known as the stratum corneum – and the assembly of its lipids. The stratum corneum protects the human body from damaging and toxic compounds by providing a relatively impermeable barrier for the skin, but topical skin drug delivery developed by pharmaceutical companies must also break through this barrier in order to work effectively.

“Eric’s research is cutting edge, in that it is the first to fully probe the complex behavior of the stratum corneum at a fully atomistic level, with a potential to provide models for future studies of drug delivery,” Klauda said. “Eric has been the sole researcher in the lab working on this project, at the level one would expect of a top Ph.D. graduate student.”

In 2017, Wang joined the lab of Klauda’s collaborator, Richard Pastor, senior investigator in the Membrane Biophysics Section of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There, he used molecular dynamics to determine how a peptide that promotes membrane fusion stabilizes pore formation. In 2018, Wang returned to Pastor’s lab to build on his research, and he also began working in the lab of Joshua Zimmerberg, associate scientific director at the NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

In the future, Wang hopes to become a professor at a research university studying systems at the interface of biology, physics and chemistry.

“As one of only 16 students selected for the Churchill Scholarship, I have the rare opportunity to work with internationally renowned researchers and scholars at the University of Cambridge,” Wang said. “This will also be my first study abroad experience. Immersing myself in a new culture and meeting people from all over the world will definitely be rewarding. I hope that these interactions will have a fertilizing effect on my ideas and eventually lead to fruitful collaborations in my future research career, not only for my own sake, but for the advancement of scientific knowledge and human health.”

To date, Wang has published five papers, on which he served as either first author or co-first author. He presented his work at the 2018 Meeting of the Biophysical Society, the 2018 North Carolina State Chemical Engineering Symposium, and the 2017 and 2018 American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meetings. At the 2017 ACS meeting, he won the Jeffry Madura Outstanding Research Award for his poster presentation.

Wang is a UMD President’s Scholarship and an A. James Clark Scholarship recipient. He is a member of Catholic Terps and Knights of Columbus and enjoys being a teaching assistant for engineering courses, mentoring a local high school student in bioengineering research, and tutoring students at K–12 schools near campus.

The Churchill Scholarship – established in 1963 and administered by the U.S. Winston Churchill Foundation – covers tuition and fees, living expenses, travel and the chance to apply for a $2,000 special research grant.

Published January 16, 2019