Four UA Students Named Goldwater Scholars

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program has selected four University of Alabama students as Goldwater Scholars for 2015-2016.

They are: Tom Ludwig, a chemical engineering major from Brunswick, Ohio; Sarah McFann, a chemical engineering major from Arlington, Tennessee; Courtney Rentas, a biology and psychology major from Naperville, Illinois; and Samantha Tilson, a chemical engineering major from Littleton, Colorado.

From  2007 to 2015, UA is No. 1  in the United States for Goldwater Scholars, with 25. Harvard is second, with 23.

This year, 260 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The one- or two-year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 a year.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986. The program, honoring U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in research in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.

About the students:

Tom Ludwig’s research with Dr. C. Heath Turner, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering, is focused on using molecular simulations to guide the synthesis of high-performance thermoelectric materials. After graduation, he plans to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering. He is particularly interested in harnessing the power of computer simulations and computational modeling to help solve complex problems. Outside of class and research, he enjoys composing music and playing racquetball and chess. His parents are Kris and Robert Ludwig. He participates in UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program.

Sarah McFann, daughter of Ted and Rebecca McFann, is seeking a research career in systems biology and mathematical modeling because it will require both attention to detail and big-picture thinking.  Over the past few years, she has conducted research at UA, UC Berkeley and Hiroshima University in Saijo, Japan. At UA, she works with Dr. Margaret Liu, assistant professor of biological and chemical engineering. One of her favorite projects involved the development of a microscope with an iPad interface to investigate how mechanical signals affect gene expression in breast cancer cells. Currently, she develops computational models of bacteria to optimize them for biofuel production. She is president of UA’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering honor societies, loves to tutor and enjoys creative writing and dancing. She plans to pursue a doctorate in bioengineering and teach at the university level. She participates in UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program.

Courtney Rentas is an undergraduate researcher in the Caldwell Lab. She studies such neurodegenerative disorders as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases in the model organism C. elegans. She started working in the lab as a freshman through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Program. Outside of the lab, she is  involved in Greek life and holds leadership positions in other student organizations and honor societies on campus. She plans to study neuroscience in the hopes of developing treatment options for those suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. Her parents are John and Ivana Rentas.

Samantha Tilson, daughter of Susan and Terry Niner, is a junior chemical engineering major. For the past two years, she has conducted research in biochemical engineering on cancer stem cells. Her research aims to determine the effect of the apoptosis (cell death) inhibitor Y-27632 on the propagation of glioblastoma (brain cancer) stem cells. She became interested in biomedical research after watching a “60 Minutes” episode about the use of adult stem cells in regenerative medicine. Her faculty mentor is Dr. John Kim, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering. She was intrigued by the concept of using a patient’s own cells to create new organs. She plans to obtain a doctorate in biomedical engineering before pursuing a career as a primary investigator at the National Institutes of Health researching regenerative medicine. Outside of school, she enjoys reading and traveling. She participates in UA’s Computer-Based Honors Program.


Richard LeComte, media relations,, 205/348-3782


Dr. Gary Sloan, coordinator of prestigious scholarships and awards,, 205/348-8444