Allen School undergraduates Jan Buzek and Nuria Alina Chandra are among five University of Washington students to be named 2023 Goldwater Scholars by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The Goldwater Scholars program recognizes and supports outstanding students who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences.
Buzek is a junior studying computer science and mathematics who counts Allen School professor Paul Beame among his mentors. His research focuses on number theory and cryptography, and he and his collaborators have investigated finding twin smooth integers — very large consecutive integers with prime factors that are as small as possible. His team recently completed a project that uncovered new, more efficient algorithms to find these integer pairs.
An avid hiker, Buzek remembers trying to factor large numbers in his head while trekking through nature as a child. He would make a game of guessing factors without having to try a lot of primes.
For Buzek, work and play have coalesced, and the game never ended.
“I was fascinated by the mysterious structure present in such a seemingly simple object — integers and multiplication,” he said. “This problem of factoring has stayed with me throughout my studies.”
This year, Buzek is studying abroad at the University of Heidelberg and ETH Zürich. He plans to pursue a doctorate in cryptography.
“This recognition is great motivation for me to further pursue my research, and increases my enthusiasm for the role of cryptography in today’s world,” Buzek said. “I would like to thank all of my mentors, especially my recommenders Michael Naehrig, Stefan Steinerberger and Paul Beame for their support and the motivation they have given me to pursue my interests.”
Chandra is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in global health. As part of her work with professor Sara Mostafavi in the Allen School’s Computational Biology Group, she uses deep learning to study regulatory genetics in immune cells. She has also conducted chronic pain research at Seattle Children’s Hospital with Dr. Jennifer Rabbitts and geometric combinatorics research with professor Rekha Thomas in the UW Department of Mathematics.
As a teenager, Chandra started to have immune-related health problems. Her own experiences led her to pursue biomedical research at UW and then at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“When trying to understand my own health, I found that the immune system’s functions and dysfunctions are poorly understood,” she said. “I saw research as a way to help prevent and cure diseases that I had a personal connection with.”
But while at UW, her academic interests broadened. She was exposed to computer science for the first time, she said, and the experience kindled her passion for algorithmic approaches to problem solving. She switched her major to computer science, seeing a path where her fields of study could overlap.
“I became interested in machine learning and deep learning because I saw what a powerful potential impact it has for improving our understanding of human health,” she said. “My computational biology research in the Mostafavi Lab has allowed me to use my interest in computer science to work toward understanding the diseases that I care deeply about.”
Her research is ongoing. The goal, she said, is to find a deep learning model that provides a clearer understanding of immune diseases and the genetic mechanisms behind them.
“Gaining this type of understanding of how immunological diseases work will also help researchers develop preventative treatments,” she said, “so the disease never develops in the first place.”
Last year, Chandra was named to the 2022 class of the Husky 100. She plans to pursue a doctorate in computer science, focusing on the intersection of machine learning, computational biology and algorithms research.
“It makes me feel very proud to have my work as an undergraduate researcher acknowledged by this award,” Chandra said. “I have been fortunate to find many exceptional mentors at UW who have supported my research journey. I want to thank Jennifer Rabbitts, Rekha Thomas, Alexander Sasse and Sara Mostafavi for dedicating their time and energy to helping me grow as a researcher.”
Including Chandra and Buzek, a total of five UW students were named Goldwater Scholars for 2023. The other honorees were Abigail Burtner, a junior majoring in biochemistry and minoring in data science and chemistry; Meg Takezawa, a junior majoring in biochemistry; and Peter Yu, a junior majoring in civil and environmental engineering. They were selected from a pool of more than 5,000 students from across the U.S.
Previous Allen School recipients of the Goldwater Scholarship include Alex Mallen in 2022, Parker Ruth in 2020, and Nelson Liu and Kimberly Ruth in 2018.
Learn more about the Goldwater Scholars program here.