University Honors Program junior Ryan Limbocker has been awarded a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. He is the 56th KU student to be recognized with the scholarship, which is the nation’s premier undergraduate award to honor academically gifted students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Three other University Honors Program students, Ashley Farris, Alex Kong and Kayla Sale, received Honorable Mentions, recognizing that they are highly qualified in their field.
Ryan says that Honors faculty and staff strongly encouraged him to apply and then worked closely with him to prepare his application.
“I was elated when I got it. It is a really humbling experience. They actually recognized my research out of all these qualified people,” he says.
Ryan credits the Honors Program with both his interest in chemistry and his research opportunities – especially Tim Jackson, associate professor of chemistry and Honors Faculty Fellow, who taught his Honors General Chemistry class the first semester of his freshman year.
“Dr. Jackson was probably one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life,” Ryan says. “In the classroom setting, he kind of made me realize that chemistry was what I wanted to do with my life. He also helped me get into the research lab I’ve been in the whole time.”
Ryan found out about Michael Johnson’s neurochemistry lab, where he has worked since his freshman year, through a class requirement in Jackson’s Honors class, which required students to seek out information about research taking place on campus.
“KU is definitely able to facilitate active undergraduate research. It is pretty crazy to participate in a lab with people who have Ph.D.s,” he says.
Ryan’s research with Johnson, about cognitive impairment in cancer patients after chemotherapy, was integral in his Goldwater application. The research focused on how dopamine neurotransmission is altered as a result of chemotherapy treatments, particularly carboplatin, which is a second-line treatment often used when more targeted chemotherapy treatments fail.
“Dopamine is functionally altered as a result of chemotherapy treatments. Now, we’re trying to figure out how it is doing that and how to fix it,” Ryan says.
Ryan worked with graduate students and post-doctoral students on that research. This spring, he is embarking on his own research project involving corticosterone – which is typically used to treat asthma and respiratory infections. Corticosterone is a stimulant, and stimulants typically flood the brain with dopamine, so he will research corticosterone’s potential for a role in cancer treatment.
In just two years, Ryan says that his research experience in Johnson’s lab has propelled both his interest and achievement in chemistry in ways that he did not know were possible.
“When I walked in to the lab as an 18-year-old student, I hadn’t heard of any of this stuff. It’s not anything you would learn in a classroom, because it is so specific. I am lucky that Dr. Johnson has trusted me to do all this – he is a great teacher,” he says.
Ryan plans to use his Goldwater Scholarship to pursue a doctorate in analytical chemistry and to further research neurodegeneration.
“It is a field that needs research, and I enjoy studying it, so it is an easy decision for me,” he says.
Honors staff Chris Wiles and Anne Wallen, as well as Ryan’s adviser, Associate Professor of Chemistry Misha Barybin, all helped Ryan achieve the Goldwater Scholarship, Ryan says.
“I am really thankful to have the opportunity and very fortunate to have the teachers, advisers and help I’ve had. I never expected this to happen when I came to KU,” he says.
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