A Saline High School senior was awarded a prestigious scholarship
Saline High School senior Neel Moudgal is one of only 21 students across the country to be recognized as a 2022 Davidson Fellows Scholarship winner.
The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program announced on Aug. 25, the 2022 scholarship winners.
This scholarship program offers $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 college scholarships to students 18 or younger, who have completed significant projects that have the potential to benefit society in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literature and music.
In the announcement, it said Moudgal, 16 years old, won a $25,000 scholarship for his project titled, “Using Unassigned NMR Chemical Shifts to Model RNA Secondary Structure.”
“I am deeply honored to have been selected to be a 2022 Davidson Fellow,” said Moudgal in the announcement. “To me being a Davidson Fellow speaks to creativity, passion, and tenacity. I am excited to meet the other like-minded 2022 Fellows, and develop lasting connections. In the future, I hope to mentor other young scholars and inspire them to reach for the stars.”
According to the Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program, for his project, Moudgal developed a new platform to predict the structure of various RNA molecules rapidly with easily available data, potentially allowing researchers to develop novel treatments for emerging pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.
“Moudgal’s method, using only readily available, unassigned chemical shift data to predict the structural properties of an RNA molecule, has the potential to significantly reduce the costs associated with drug development to make medical treatments more affordable,” the announcement said.
The Sun Times News (STN) reached out Moudgal to ask about this exciting news.
STN asked Moudgal what inspired him to do this project.
“I was attracted to the field of biophysics, which combines the fields of biology, physics, and (although not explicitly stated in the name) chemistry, due to its interdisciplinary nature,” he said. “When I met with Dr. Aaron Frank, a professor of Biophysics at the University of Michigan, and we discussed possible research projects, the project about RNA structural dynamics stood out to me.”
He said, “An increasing body of research shows that RNA plays a much more important role in cellular function than simply acting as a messenger molecule that transfers information within the cell and can actually control gene expression within the cell as well as serve catalytic functions (they speed up reactions within a cell). Thus, I felt that a project studying RNA structure would have the greatest potential impact as research is currently being done on manipulating RNA structure to cure diseases such as cancer.”
The announcement described Moudgal as “a rising senior at Saline High School, and he hopes to continue his studies in biophysics and statistics with the eventual plan to pursue a career in medical research. In his free time, Moudgal enjoys traveling with his family and pursuing his hobby of collecting rocks, stamps and coins, an interest he learned from his grandfather.”
STN asked him if there are teachers or others who have supported him along the way.
“First and foremost, U of M biophysics professor Dr. Aaron Frank, my mentor for this project, believed in me despite my young age, saw my potential, and gave me the opportunity to work on this research project,” Moudgal said. “His graduate student Truman Xu patiently mentored me and was always available to give me feedback on my work.”
Moudgal added, “My project involved math, science, physics, chemistry, biology, and statistics so everyone who helped me develop a foundation in these subjects was integral to my success. My counselor, Mr. Bryan Bruckman always encouraged me to pursue all the opportunities that I could and organized my schedule to make this possible. My statistics professor at U of M, Dr. Jack Miller inspired my love in statistics, which played an important role in the computational work itself and in the data analysis afterwards. My science teachers, Mr. Corbin Brown, Ms. Bridgette Sparks, and Mr. Brian Heslip, and my math teachers, Mrs. Jen Dodge and Mr. Joshua Reeves, gave me a great foundation in STEM. My English teacher Ms. Madelyn Clark taught me to write well, which is a critical part of writing a paper.”
He said “I owe a lot to many individuals who believed in me and made this achievement possible.”
“This year’s class of Davidson Fellows Scholarship recipients continue to find new and innovative ways to pursue their educational and research journeys while striving to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems,” Bob Davidson, founder of the Davidson Institute, said in the announcement. “These students have not just overcome the challenges of doing significant work during a pandemic; our Fellows have embraced the new opportunities that have come from creative, outside-the-box thinking to use technology to expand their networks of mentors and access new sources of information and data, resulting in a very diverse portfolio of projects.”
The Davidson Fellows Scholarship has provided more than $9 million in scholarship funds to 407 students since its inception in 2001, and has been named one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships by U.S. News & World Report. It is a program of the Davidson Institute, a national nonprofit organization headquartered in Reno, Nevada that supports profoundly gifted youth.
The 2022 Davidson Fellows will be honored during a reception at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and with a virtual project presentation ceremony in September 2022.
As to what’s next for Moudgal after graduation, he said he hopes to double major in biophysics (or biochemistry, since biophysics is a very uncommon major) and statistics with the eventual goal of becoming a physician-scientist conducting translational research where he would perform biomedical research in a lab setting and have the clinical experience to inform his research.