University of Richmond Goldwater Scholars

Science scholars demonstrate legacy of excellence

April 15, 2024


Three University of Richmond science students — Sophie Goldberg, Jamie Kaplan, and Holly Wemple — recently received one of the most sought-after awards in science and math. The prestigious Goldwater scholarship is open to college sophomores and juniors interested in pursuing careers and fostering excellence in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering.

Including these awards, UR has had 41 Goldwater Scholars since the program’s inception in 1986.

Goldberg, a junior chemistry major from Falmouth, Maine, is researching organic chemistry focusing on small-molecule pharmaceutical design.

“I hope to pursue a career in industrial organic synthesis, specifically within the pharmaceutical industry,” said Goldberg, who plans to enter a Ph.D. program following graduation. “This work will help develop pharmaceuticals that are both cost-effective and sustainable.”

Goldberg’s research mentor is chemistry professor Miles Johnson, a UR alum who received a Goldwater award when he was an undergraduate. Goldberg is Johnson’s third Goldwater mentee since he joined the UR faculty in 2016.

“Sophie is one of the most independent students I've ever met, and she is the only student in my research group that has started her own project and has carried out every aspect of it on her own,” Johnson said. “Her perceptiveness and curiosity help make her an excellent scientist, and her insightful questions and observations have pushed me to be a better chemist.”

“Seeing the development of Goldwater scholars as scientists during and after their time at UR has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career,” Johnson added.

Kaplan, a sophomore from Bedford, New York, and Wemple, a junior from Mount Vernon, New York, are conducting undergraduate research under chemistry professor Michael Leopold, who has mentored nine Goldwater scholars in his more than 20 years of teaching at UR.

“The ultimate goal of each research experience is to transform undergraduates from simple task masters who follow procedures to confident, engaged, and independent problem solvers who can interpret results and understand the scope and significance of the projects,” Leopold said. “This transition is accomplished by establishing a purposeful partnership with the students, one that involves them in every stage of the research.”    

Kaplan is majoring in chemistry and researching electrochemistry. She plans to focus her graduate studies and career on researching viruses, including how they attack humans and spread.

“I want to help further the understanding of viruses by exposing patterns in infection and mechanisms between various patient populations,” Kaplan said.

Wemple is majoring in biochemistry & molecular biology and currently researching how human health is affected by climate change.

“Trends are showing increased rates of cancers, asthma, and heart disease due to exposure to pollutants and environmental toxins that will continue to worsen as climate change progresses,” Wemple said. “I am interested in the pathways involved to find solutions as they arise.”

Wemple and Kaplan are both planning to pursue M.D./Ph.D. degrees as physician–scientists.

“This type of scientific research at the undergraduate level requires worth ethic to be part of your DNA, and that’s certainly the case with Jamie and Holly,” Leopold said. “They both seek to maximize their opportunities during their time at college, and they are not afraid to be out of their comfort zone and to take challenges. They recognize that to do something meaningful will be hard, take time, and means there will be failures, but they persevere.”