Shreyas Vissapragada CC’17, an astrophysics and computer science double major, has won a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.
Vissapragada, a native of Aurora, Ill., has done research with Daniel Wolf Savin, senior research scientist in the Columbia Astrophysics Lab, working in the interdisciplinary field of astrochemistry. His work involves modeling the chemical pathways in the interstellar medium that could provide the starting materials for life in the Universe.
“I’m really honored to be a recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship,” Vissapragada said. “It really affirms that I've been surrounded by amazing mentors and friends at Columbia that have helped me get here. I'm really lucky to have had wonderful research advisors over the last few years, as well as great academic mentors in the astronomy department and excellent help from the Fellowships office.”
Vissapragada had never done laboratory research before coming to Columbia. His first research experience took place the summer after his first year, when he studied polymer click conjugation reactions in the Koberstein Lab Group in Columbia’s Department of Chemical Engineering. In Summer 2015, he conducted research at Columbia’s Nevis Laboratories. In Summer 2016 he will be continuing his astrochemistry work at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
“It's a little crazy to reflect on the last couple of years and think about how much I've learned, and that I could potentially have a career in research ahead of me,” he said.
Outside of the lab, Vissapragada is president of the Columbia University Quiz Bowl, an academic competition team; vice president of Columbia blueShift, an undergraduate astronomy club; and a member of Columbia Undergraduate Admissions’ Undergraduate Recruitment Committee. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy with a specialization in astrochemistry, conducting interdisciplinary research on the exoplanet formation, and ultimately hopes to work in an academic position at a university.
The Goldwater Scholarship program is a federally-endowed program honoring former U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater. The program, which was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering, provides up to $7,500 per year in scholarship support for recipients. Since its first award in 1989, the foundation has bestowed 7,680 scholarships worth approximately $48 million.
Vissapragada is one of 252 sophomores and juniors from across the United States to receive a scholarship for the 2016–2017 academic year. Irene Zhang CC’17, a physics major; Kristy Choi CC’17, a computer science and statistics major; and Sarah Yang SEAS’17, a chemical engineering major, also received honorable mentions in this year’s Goldwater competition. The 2016 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of their academic merit from a field of 1,150 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the institutional representatives of colleges and universities nationwide.