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Northeastern students recognized for excellence in STEM research as Goldwater Scholars 

Luke Bagdonas and Kaitlyn Ramesh standing next to each other posing for a photo.
Students Luke Bagdonas and Kaitlyn Ramesh both received a Goldwater Scholarships for excellence in undergraduate research. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Luke Bagdonas is a chemistry major who researches salt marshes as a nature-based solution to climate change.

Kaitlyn Ramesh is a bioengineering major who develops computational tools and examines genomics data.

Both are third-year students at Northeastern University and recipients of prestigious Goldwater Scholarships.

Goldwater Scholarships recognize ambition and excellence in undergraduate STEM research. Bagdonas and Ramesh were selected from among approximately 5,000 applicants from across the country. 

Even though he’s a chemistry major, Bagdonas knew early on that he wanted to focus his studies and research on the environment.

“There are not many environmental science people who like chemistry,” he says. “And there are not many chemists who like environmental science, so I like being right in the middle — where I can take chemistry knowledge and apply it to environmental science or microbiology or ecology and thread that needle to better understand how our planet’s working so that we can better understand how to fix it.”

Bagdonas was first exposed to research on salt marshes during his first co-op in the lab of associate professor Jennifer Bowen. He has focused on the emerging field of metabolomics, which he describes as the study of small organic compounds in living materials called metabolites and their biological pathways. 

“By looking at all the metabolites present in some system — whether that be a water sample or a soil sample — you can get an idea of what the organisms in that environment are doing,” Bagdonas explains. 

Bagdonas says that the opportunities for full-time undergraduate research at Northeastern has been a major benefit, allowing him to spend time living in and researching a salt marsh in South Carolina and attend and present at a week-long conference in Portland, Oregon. 

He was named the best undergraduate speaker at the conference. He is currently on co-op at Allonnia, a biotech company in Boston where he is helping a project that tries to clean up and degrade PFAS by using fungi.

“After I finish this co-op, I’ll have over a year of full-time research experience, which is incredible to think about as an undergrad,” Bagdonas says. “Definitely getting the experience to work side by side with graduate students, postdocs and principal investigators as well as people in industry like scientists and project managers, has just given me so much information to go into graduate school.”

Ramesh, a bioengineering major on the systems, synthetic and computational track, has worked in assistant professor Mingyang Lu’s lab since her freshman year.

She similarly feels fortunate to have the opportunity for undergraduate research. 

“I think the lab was a very critical place for me because I really did shape my interests in bioengineering,” Ramesh says. “I just quickly discovered that computational biology was my passion.”

Ramesh says she is drawn to research because she gets to “dive deep” and “pursue every nitty-gritty detail” of a subject. And with “thousands and thousands” of genes expressed in humans, computational biology helps her organize and analyze such vast quantities of data. Her latest deep dive is into building an algorithm to analyze cells healing from a heart attack.

“We can see from our analysis that after they experience a heart attack, they start to kind of remodel and return to a healthier cardiac cell state,” Ramesh says. “It’s really cool thinking about what genes are involved with regeneration and remodeling of the heart.”

Like Bagdonas, Ramesh presented her work at a national conference. 

She also sees further opportunities for using computational biology to better predict the impact of medicines and improve health care decisions.

“I think it’s really cool that I’m able to have this sort of impact through my work, especially as an undergraduate, and you get it through research,” Ramesh says. “I’m quite grateful that the work I’m doing will have a benefit for people.”

Of course, Bagdonas and Ramesh do not spend all of their time in the lab.

Ramesh is a member of Women’s Research Engagement Network, supporting undergraduate women’s research experiences, and also dances with the No Limits Dance Crew. 

Bagdonas is a pianist and writes music for NUStage, serves as a College of Science ambassador and is involved in the university’s chemistry club.

But both see a future for themselves in STEM. And they are honored to see that the Goldwater Scholarship recognizes that future as well.

“The Goldwater has told me that I have a potential to have a career in science and that’s been very fulfilling and it makes me very excited to continue down this path,” Ramesh says.