Cranston resident named a Goldwater Scholar

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Research, academic success earns URI student prestigious science scholarship

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 8, 2007 – It would be easy to assume that Cranston resident Elana Viola can’t make up her mind about what career to pursue. After all, she is majoring in four different disciplines at the University of Rhode Island – chemistry, mathematics, electrical engineering, and German.

But she actually knows exactly what she wants to do, and those four majors are going to help her get there.

“I want to conduct research in the field of nanotechnology, probably research on something with national defense implications,” said the 2004 graduate of Cranston West High School.

Viola’s exemplary academic and research success has earned her a $7,500 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious national scholarship for students interested in science and engineering careers.

“The scholarship is a really big deal, though I think my mom was even more excited about it than I was,” Viola said. “Everybody is pretty proud of me, especially the chemistry department. It’s going to go a long way toward helping pay my college expenses.”

Viola said she has always had a knack for math and science, which she demonstrated as part of her high school robotics program.

“I just love building things, and in the robotics program I was grouped with other girls to build remotely operated vehicles (ROV),” she explained. “In our junior year we were invited to participate in a competition where we were the only high school team and the only all-female team. Even though our vehicle was damaged in shipping to the competition, we still won an award for the best ROV design.”

During her first three years at URI, Viola conducted extensive research on carbon nanotubes, long thin cylinders of carbon that have unique physical properties that make them potentially useful in extremely small scale structures and technologies. Using scanning electron microscopes and other instruments not typically used by undergraduates, she is investigating the efficiency of carbon nanotubes in optical devices like switches, motors and sensors.

“Elana has been extraordinarily productive in the research lab. She contributes her own ideas and is meticulous in carrying out her experiments,” said Chemistry Professor William Euler. “If she continues at her current pace, I fully expect that she will have her name on between three and five research papers before she graduates from URI. Elana is majoring in an extraordinary combination of majors that will prepare her exceptionally well for graduate school.”

Despite her busy academic and research schedule and the knowledge that she has a great deal of education still ahead of her – she plans on earning a Ph.D. in chemistry and perhaps a master’s degree in electrical engineering – Viola still finds time for extracurricular activities. She is a classical and jazz guitar player and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do who placed first in forms and third in sparring at the 2005 Rhode Island Tae Kwon Do Tournament and third at the 2004 Grand Nationals in forms. A former gymnast, she is a member of the Theta Tau engineering fraternity and Phi Beta Kappa.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation is a federally endowed agency honoring the late Arizona senator and was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Foundation awarded 317 scholarships for the 2007-08 school year from a pool of 1,110 applicants.

Return to view other stories about our 2007 scholars.

URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.