Scholars of Excellence

Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award

The Chih Foundation recognizes groundbreaking research with transformative potential to greatly benefit society. The award seeks to support exceptional third- or fourth-year Science, Engineering or Medicine PhD, PharmD, or MD students. Through their generosity, the Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award provides a $2,500 monetary award to exemplary scholars who reflect these qualities.

The application deadline for consideration is in early October of each year. For more information, please contact Karissa Valine-Plaza in the Office of Graduate Studies.

2021 Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award Recipients

Melissa Bikowitz

Melissa Bikowitz (Molecular Medicine)
Research Focus: Using structure-based drug design to develop potential cancer therapeutics by targeting proteins involved in oncogenesis
Co-Mentors: Ernst Schonbrunn and Yu Chen

About the Research

"I study two classes of oncogenic proteins for drug development: bromodomains and fusion tyrosine kinases (FTKs). Bromodomains are epigenetic readers and recruit partners for gene transcription. I use a structure-based drug design approach to selectively target certain bromodomain-containing proteins that can be explored as potential cancer therapeutics for patients with hematological malignancies containing c-Myc amplifications, in addition to other cancers.

The second focus is FTKs which are aberrant kinases that result from DNA translocation of a tyrosine kinase domain C-terminally juxtaposed to an N-terminal domain of a different protein, rendering the resulting FTK constitutively active. Structural information on any FTK is unknown, without which a rational drug design approach towards the development of selective and efficacious inhibitors is less feasible. I work on structural determination and biochemical characterization of FTKs with clinically used ATP-site directed inhibitors for drug development."



Ausmita Sarker

Ausmita Sarker (Computer Science & Engineering)
Research Focus: Hardware security and cryptographic engineering
Mentor: Mehran Mozaffari Kermani

About the Research

"The advent of quantum computers ensures that computationally infeasible mathematical problems can be solved efficiently using the physical properties of matter and energy. Computational infeasibility, i.e., mathematical problems which will take more than a human lifetime to solve, is the basis of classical cryptosystems. The exponential speed-up of quantum computation will render classical cryptosystems useless, as that can solve current encryptions in minutes, resulting in a catastrophic failure of privacy preservation and data security. Thus, quantum-resistant encryption schemes need to be developed, because many experts predict that within 20 years, quantum computers can break into current encryption infrastructures. My research is to develop cryptosystems that countermeasure against side-channel attacks and protect post-quantum cryptosystems against adversaries, ensuring secured data. Additionally, our architectures can also detect natural faults, caused by device malfunctions, which are crucial to proper functionalities of sensitive medical applications, e.g., pacemakers, ring heart rate monitors, and Bluetooth-based ECG monitors."



Veena Subramanian

Veena Subramanian (Cell Biology, Microbiology, & Molecular Biology)
Research Focus: Characterization of novel cellular functions of BLM helicase
Mentor: Kristina Schmidt

About the Research

"Bloom syndrome is a rare genetic disorder associated with extreme cancer predisposition –approximately 300-fold above the general population. Affected individuals have premature aging like symptoms and a lifespan shortened to an average of 27 years due to death from often multiple primary cancers. There are no known actionable therapeutic targets nor a cure for Bloom syndrome.

My work in Dr.Kristina Schmidt's lab is focused on identification and characterization of novel cellular functions of the BLM protein which is defective in Bloom syndrome patients. Through two independent studies we identified that the BLM protein plays a major role in regulating DNA replication and mitochondrial homeostasis. Our findings provide functional insights into novel roles of BLM in the maintenance of genome integrity and sheds light on general mechanisms leading to genome instability which are often associated with human cancers and heritable chromosome breakage syndromes. A better understanding of BLM functions will not only pave the way for drug development but will provide a better understanding of the disease in general."


Past Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award Winners


Name Department College
Michael Sacco Molecular Medicine Morsani College of Medicine
Karthick Mayilsamy Molecular Medicine Morsani College of Medicine


Name Department College
Anthony Sanchez Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology College of Arts and Sciences

Fall 2018

Name Department College
Jeremy Baker Molecular Medicine Morsani College of Medicine

Spring 2018

Name Department College
Longwei Wang Electrical Engineering College of Engineering
Bi Zhao Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology College of Arts and Sciences


Name Department College
Mengqiu Wang Marine Science College of Marine Science


Name Department College
Andy Weiss Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology College of Arts and Sciences