Solid Gold: ChE Undergraduate Anika Jena Receives National Goldwater Scholarship

Anika Jena, chemical engineering undergraduate student
Thursday, April 4, 2024

UC Santa Barbara chemical engineering student Anika Jena has received a 2024 Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious national scholarships given to undergraduate students planning research careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. Jena, a second-year undergraduate, was one of 438 students named 2024 Goldwater Scholars from 1,353 undergraduates students nominated by 466 academic institutions in the United States, according to the Barry Goldwater Scholarship &Excellence in Education Foundation. Each scholarship, awarded in honor of the late U.S. Senator, provides as much as $7,500 each year for up to two years of undergraduate study.

“I’m really passionate about chemical-engineering research, so it’s exciting to receive positive feedback that I’m on the right path,” said Jena. “Research can be tough, because there are a lot of setbacks, and you don’t see results even after hours of work. This award reinforces my career aspirations and further motivates me to continue conducting impactful research.”

“We are thrilled to congratulate Anika Jena on this well-deserved recognition,” said Umesh Mishra, dean of UCSB’s College of Engineering. “This honor is not only a testament to our outstanding students, like Jena, but also to the outstanding faculty mentors and undergraduate research programs offered through the department, the College of Engineering, and the university that train and inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists.”

Jena was introduced to undergraduate research as a freshman, when she interned at Serimmune, a local biopharmaceutical startup company. Supported through a California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) fellowship, Jena worked on the company’s research and development team, operating a biomolecular diagnostics platform and identifying pathogenic biomarkers in patient blood-plasma samples. That experience sparked Jena’s interest in research and led her to pursue and earn a position in the research group of chemical engineering assistant professor Sho Takatori.

“I’ve had the Takatori lab website pulled up on my phone since I was in eleventh grade,” said Jena. “Professor Takatori’s work with membranes has been interesting to me for years, and I am thrilled to be part of his group.”

Since joining Takatori’s group last July, Jena has studied the complex deformation of biological membranes in response to forces generated by biopolymers located inside the cell. Takatori said that Jena hit the ground running, conducting her own experiments and using her training in chemical engineering and wet-lab techniques. He places Jena in the top one percent of all undergraduates he has seen at this stage of their careers.

“Anika is already operating at or beyond the level of a senior undergraduate student in terms of personal characteristics, broader impacts, and scientific capability,” said Takatori, while further praising Jena for her tremendous drive and passion. “Anika will become an exceptional scientist and future researcher. I look forward to seeing what she will achieve during her undergraduate training, doctoral studies, and beyond.”

Jena’s research activities are supported by an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) grant from UCSB and the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) Program, which is sponsored by UCSB’s Materials Research Laboratory (MRL).

After completing her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at UCSB, Jena plans to pursue a PhD in either materials science, chemical engineering, or biophysics, because she enjoys working with bio-inspired materials and soft-condensed-matter physics. Jena says that she is grateful for the research opportunities that she has received at UCSB, and she looks forward to conducting more cutting-edge work in her career.

“I love the feeling of seeing something that no one has ever seen before, because everything in research is novel,” said Jena, who is also a member of the UCSB student chapters of Women in Science and Engineering and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. “There are countless black boxes of knowledge in science and engineering. It feels nice to be part of a global effort to open these black boxes to uncover new knowledge of what is going on inside of cells and in nature. It’s exciting to continue in my journey as a researcher.”

Four other UCSB students, Isaac Hair (computing through the College of Creative Studies), Xuanwei Lian (physics), Riya Nilkant (biology), and Matthew Unger (biology), were also named 2024 Goldwater Scholars.

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Awards and Accolades