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Dan Roberts a Goldwater Scholar

Dan Roberts, a junior in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, was one of three Duke students to receive a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for the 2008-2009 academic year. Another engineering student, Stephen DeVience, received an honorable mention.

The scholarships, which provides up to $7,500 toward annual tuition and expenses, are awarded to college sophomores and juniors in the field of mathematics, science or engineering. This year, 321 scholarships were given out of a field of 1,035 applicants. Winners were selected on the basis of faculty recommendations, essays and their particular research projects.

Roberts is a double major in electrical and computer engineering, as well as physics. The native of Melville, N.Y., is also pursuing a minor in mathematics.

Dan Roberts“Since I was young, I have always been driven by a natural curiosity about the nature of the world relating to how things work and why,” Roberts said. “By high school, it became apparent that physics most directly relates to questions of this scope.”

Once at Duke, his interest turned to the field of transformation optics, an emerging field where creative implementations of coordinate transformations are utilized to design devices with unconventional propagation behavior of electromagnetic waves.

“Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism are form invariant in any coordinate system,” he explained. “By applying coordinate transformations, we have a prescription for constructing a device with the envisioned propagation.”

Roberts’ recent research is focused on the novel use of finite embedded coordinate transformations to embed transformation optical bends within waveguides, confined devices that transmit electromagnetic energy. Fiber optic cable, which has been used for decades to serve as a conduit for light, is an example of a wave guide.

“Conventional waveguide bends cause reflections and mode distortions when creating a bend,” Roberts said. “A transformation optical bend would correct for these distortions.”

Roberts works in the laboratory of David Smith, associate professor and Augustine Scholar in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

This summer, Roberts and his fellow musicians in the New York-based group Rosedale, will be touring up and down the eastern seaboard – including stops in North Carolina --playing their own original works and Beatles covers. Roberts plays bass for the group.

DeVience, a Chicago native, is also a junior and a double major – in biomedical engineering and chemistry.

The main focus of DeVience’s research is developing novel ways of using system biology to explain human genomics. System biology is a relatively new field of study aimed at the systemic study of complex interactions of various biological systems.

“I’m focusing on the genetics of gender differentiation,” DeVience said. “We’re creating computer models to try to figure out how the X chromosome gets turned on or off during development. The approach is much like theoretical physics, in that we make models to predict what could happen, and then work backward.”

DeVience is working in the laboratories of Lingchong You, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Hunt Willard, director of Duke’s Institute of Genome Sciences and Policy.

Of the three Duke students who received scholarships, Mary Nihjout, associate dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, said “Their work exemplifies the trends in modern science and in engineering design, specifically the application of quantitative models to extend our understanding of biology, chemistry and physics.”

Over its 20-year history, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has awarded more than 5,500 scholarships valued at $54 million.