Three US ChemE's Win Prestigious 2012 Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Just over eleven years ago in October 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge - the largest donation in the university's history - to establish the Gates Cambridge Scholarships. Since then, there have been more than 1,000 Gates Scholars chosen from more than 100 countries (click on interactive map), resulting in a growing global force for innovation.

This year, three US ChemEs have been selected to join this elite group: Hilary Fabich, who graduated in December from Montana State University, and two current MIT seniors, Joshua Cohen and Allison Hinckley. They are three of 40 Americans and 50 non-U.S. scholars who have won Gates Scholarships that fund the full cost of graduate work at the university.

The Gates keepers

All three ChemEs survived a rigorous competition that whittled down an initial field of 750 to just 90 winners. Some of the hurdles? Before short-listed candidates are even invited to the final 20-minute make-or-break interview, Cambridge must have ranked them among the most academically "outstanding in their field." To make

the final cut, the survivors must display the desire and ability to make a significant contribution to their discipline while at the university.

But being a "top-ranked" researcher isn't enough. Every Gates Scholar is also expected to possess a "capacity for leadership and a commitment to improving the lives of others." Meet a current Gates Scholar already studying at Cambridge, Rachel Pike (see video), a PhD in Chemistry from the US.

I don't want to be churlish, well... just a bit: did anyone at IBM compute Bill Gate's social IQ before gifting him with the 20th century's greatest software monopoly?

Diverse backgrounds among the best and brightest

According to the MSU press release, Hilary Fabich, who plans to use her scholarship to research compressed sensing techniques for magnetic resonance imaging, is the daughter of a teacher and a state

game warden. She even worked in Yellowstone National Park in the summer before attending college.

"I wouldn't have received this scholarship without the support of my MSU mentors," said Fabich who grew up near Livingston, Montana, with a passion for music and only the vaguest idea of what engineers did before enrolling in college.

While looking for a chemical engineering internship after her freshmen year, she was recommended to the director of the MSU Magnetic Resonance Lab, who was looking for a student interested in using magnetic resonance to research alginate gels. Fabich's skills were so strong, eventually the entire project was turned over to her.

During vacation, she also managed to work in a stint with Engineers Without Borders. (Read her 2009 Kenya blog post).

Since his freshman year, Joshua Cohen has been active in the MIT chapter of Habitat for Humanity and currently serves as its president, according to the press release. Twice a month, he organizes build days with the local Habitat chapter and arranges weeklong build sessions over spring breaks.

Double majoring in chemical engineering and biology, Joshua plans to study computational biology at Cambridge, "to gain formal training in applied mathematics so that I can better apply mathematical modeling methods to tissue engineering research."

After getting an MD back in the US, he says that, "I aspire to develop innovative therapeutic technologies and translate them from 'bench to bedside' and help make regenerative medicine a reality."

Allison Hinckley considers herself "a tree hugger from Portland, Oregon, with a passion

for chemical engineering," so she naturally gravitated toward sustainable energy. Her current research focuses on nanoengineered fuel cells, but she has also developed novel carbon nanotube-based chemical sensors with medical and military applications.

In the summer following her sophomore year at MIT, Hinckley traveled to Egypt as an intern at ENPPI (Engineering for the Petroleum and Process Industries). She says,"I now speak four languages, and three dialects of Arabic were picked up while working and studying in the Middle East."

At Cambridge, she hopes to gain additional background in the nano-materials chemistry. Ultimately, She is driven to manufacture more efficient solar cells.

Hinckley, who has been on varsity crew since her arrival at MIT, is eager to join Cambridge's team next year.

Future applicants

Applications for October 2013 entry will open in early September 2012. In early February, after short-listed candidates are contacted before the Christmas break, interviews for US citizens are held in the USA for entry in the following October.

Is this Bill Gates's Andrew Carnegie moment?

Photos: Hilary Fabich, MSU; Cambridge, James F.; Cohen and Hinkley, MIT; Bill and Melinda Gates, Cambridge University