Montana State University

MSU junior wins prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

April 3, 2012 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


David Halat, an MSU junior majoring in chemistry and mathematics, has won the nation's premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
BOZEMAN -- A Bozeman native who caught the chemistry bug from his father is the latest Montana State University student to win a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

David Halat, a junior in chemistry and mathematics, is the 54th MSU student to win the nation's premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering since the Goldwater Foundation was established in 1986. Keeping MSU one of the nation's top institutions for Goldwater recipients, Halat's scholarship gives him up to $7,500 a year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

"I've had so much homework that I haven't had a chance to celebrate, but it's really exciting," Halat said shortly after learning about his scholarship.

Three MSU students also won honorable mentions this year. They were Brian Redman of Crane, electrical engineering; Bryan Vadheim of Miles City, chemical engineering and economics; and chemistry major Nels Gerstner of Fort Collins, Colo. Among other institutions that won 2012 Goldwaters were Yale University with three, Harvard University with two and Princeton University with two.

"David Halat is a truly gifted and motivated student who has excelled in chemistry and mathematics at the very highest level. All three of our Goldwater honorable mentions are also inspirational and have made significant contributions to their disciplines, even as undergraduates," said Ilse-Mari Lee, director of the MSU Honors Program and administrator of the Goldwater Scholarship program at MSU.

"It is important to note that the achievements of these students have been made possible by dedicated MSU faculty mentors, who have launched and supported these students along their way," Lee added.

Halat - the son of Mike and Barbara Halat - said he has been interested in chemistry since he was a boy. His father is a chemist, so the two have talked chemistry for years. When he told his parents he won a Goldwater, "They were very excited, probably more excited than me," he said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet."

Halat said he knew when he enrolled at MSU that he planned to major in chemistry. He likes chemistry because, "Everything we touch or interact with on a daily basis involves some sort of chemical phenomenon."

He decided to add a second major after taking higher level math courses at MSU and realizing that he enjoyed the integration of chemistry and mathematics, Halat said. Majoring in mathematics also allowed him to enter the national Putnam Math Competition in 2010 and 2011. He achieved MSU's highest individual result both years, and one of his team members was Casey Donoven of Kremlin, a 2011 Goldwater recipient. Donoven, as well as Lee, encouraged him to apply for the Goldwater, Halat said.

Halat plans to attend graduate school in chemistry and then teach or lead a research team at a university. Already involved in research as an undergraduate, he works in professor Robert Walker's chemistry lab and studies the high-temperature surface chemistry that takes place on solid oxide fuel cells. He conducts his research with a grant from MSU's Undergraduate Scholars Program and will present his results during MSU's Student Research Celebration on Thursday, April 19. He also presented his research last August at the Optical Science and Engineering Conference held at MSU.

Counting Halat and Gerstner, MSU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Letters and Science had impressive candidates this year. Redman and Vadheim are both in the College of Engineering.

"I'm very proud of all of these students, both in chemistry and in engineering. What they have each accomplished is nothing less than stellar," said Robert Marley, dean of the College of Engineering. "I certainly know Brian and Bryan are terrific young men and the projects they are working on are quite impressive. Of course I'm equally proud of what this recognition says about the quality and commitment of our faculty and the opportunities they provide students at MSU."

Bern Kohler, professor and interim head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said, "I am thrilled that David Halat and Nels Gerstner have received these top national honors for undergraduate mathematics, science, and engineering students. It speaks very highly of their academic talents and of the dedicated faculty mentors they have worked with."

Four out of the past eight MSU Goldwater winners have been from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Other recent winners have been from physics, mechanical engineering, mathematics and earth sciences/paleontology.

"I believe that Chemistry and Biochemistry majors have enjoyed so much success in the Goldwater competition because of our commitment as a department to providing world-class research opportunities to undergraduates," Kohler continued. "All majors are required to participate in research. This requirement brings every major in our department -- every one -- into laboratories where they work side by side with doctoral students and other scientists on frontier research problems funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies. From their very first year, our majors learn of our high expectations for them in research."

Since 2004, when MSU implemented a new core curriculum, CORE 2.0, every undergraduate participates in a research or creative experience. Some of those experiences are financed by MSU's research enterprise, which in fiscal year 2011 had $102.7 million in expenditures, mostly from federal grants. Thanks to MSU research activity, the university was able to provide $9.8 million in undergraduate and graduate salaries, benefits, scholarships and fellowships in fiscal year 2011.

"The ability to get into a laboratory and work with an internationally renowned faculty member is a big reason why the number of our majors has increased 250 percent over the past decade," Kohler said. "It is a wonderful reminder that research does not come at the expense of undergraduate education. Instead, our undergraduates understand that research is what science education is all about in the 21st century."

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu