Chemistry Students Win Goldwater Scholarships

Two young men wearing white lab coats stand in a laboratory.

Lyle Tobin and George Taylor

Two University of Mississippi chemistry students have been recognized as Goldwater Scholars for their dedication to pursuing biomedical research.

George Taylor, a junior biomedical engineering major, and Lyle Tobin, a junior biology, classics and biochemistry triple major, are the university’s 25th and 26th students to receive Goldwater scholarships. Both students are members of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and perform research in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.

“As a university, we are only allowed to nominate four students for Goldwater scholarships, and George and Lyle were undoubtedly at the top of the crop,” said Vivian Ibrahim, director of the UM Office of National Scholarship Advisement.


George Taylor

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awards the scholarships to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. This year, 438 new Goldwater scholarships are being awarded from a pool of 1,353 undergraduates nominated by 446 total institutions.

Taylor, a Southaven native, joined the lab of Eden Tanner, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. He was intrigued by her work on ionic liquids and nanoparticle drug treatments, which has a wide range of implications for improvements in drug delivery.

“We are currently looking at the specific interactions between various blood components and ionic liquid coated nanoparticles,” Taylor said. “This work aims to improve biodistribution of nanoparticle drug treatments. By modifying the ionic liquid, we can change the cellular interactions, which then can impact where the particles concentrate in the body.”

Tanner said she is proud of Taylor’s accomplishments.

“George is a valued member of our lab who has been working diligently to try and better understand the mechanisms underlying ionic liquid-mediated blood cell hitchhiking,” she said. “The Goldwater is a well-deserved recognition of his promise as a scientist.”

Based on his work in the lab, he has co-authored four research publications.

“George is a natural researcher,” Ibrahim said. “As a junior, publishing four papers and maintaining a 4.0 GPA is an incredible feat and makes him a very competitive applicant.”


Lyle Tobin

With the help of the Goldwater scholarship, Taylor plans to pursue a doctorate in chemistry.

“Getting the award really makes me feel more confident in what I’m doing,” he said. “I plan on using the award in as many different ways as I can so that I can continue on in the research that I’m conducting.”

A Montgomery, Texas, native, Tobin said his three majors, although seemingly unconnected, are complementary.

“The classics, and more broadly the humanities, provide both an ethical basis and a source of inspiration for science,” Tobin said. “These degree programs are helping me learn a lot of material. My long-term goal is to develop novel therapies against cancer and other diseases.”

Josh Sharp, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has mentored Tobin in his lab while working on new methods to characterize the structure of proteins – research that could aid the design of protein therapeutics. He called Tobin an “outstanding young researcher with an inspiring level of drive and creativity.”

“He has been performing research at a graduate student level since he was a sophomore,” Sharp said. “He’s constantly coming to me with new ideas based on the experiments he has run. It’s been a joy to work with him.”

Tobin is the university’s first Goldwater scholar who plans to pursue an M.D/Ph.D. in immunology and oncology, Ibrahim said. His decision was influenced by having volunteered several hundred hours as an EMT with the Lafayette County Fire Department.

“You can’t see those kinds of things and not be struck by how incapable and futile a lot of modern medicine is,” Tobin said. “I want to do my part to help address that.”