September 12, 2017

Student to join innovators, astronauts in Washington D.C.

Caleigh Roleck Caleigh Roleck
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University junior is helping the university continue its leadership in science and technology as a 2017-18 Astronaut Scholar. Caleigh Roleck will join more than a dozen astronauts and 44 fellow Astronaut Scholars Saturday (Sept. 16) to celebrate innovation in the STEM fields.

The prestigious Astronaut Scholarship is one of the most significant national awards for undergraduate STEM students. It recognizes initiative, creativity and academic excellence. In addition to honoring Roleck and the Astronaut Scholars, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation will present the inaugural Neil Armstrong Award of Excellence at a gala in Washington D.C. Armstrong earned an aeronautical engineering degree at Purdue, often called the “cradle of astronauts,” before becoming the first human to set foot on the moon.

Roleck studies biochemistry in the College of Science.  She is also a member of Purdue Honors College and pursing minors in statistics and biotechnology. The Huntley, Illinois native hopes to channel a childhood fascination with cells into an applied research career. Roleck would like to explore the potential of biomolecules to solve global and national problems as a government or military scientist. She is particularly interested in investigating issues of biofuel production, biosensing, biomanufacturing and combating antibiotic resistance.

Roleck is laying a foundation for her future by participating in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. As part of Purdue’s iGEM team, she used biologically engineered strains of E. coli to remove ecologically unsound amounts of phosphorus in wastewater. During the project, professor of agricultural and biological engineering Kevin Solomon says Roleck confirmed the successful cloning, expression and activity of several genes, most notably identifying the behavior of a putative gene, or segment of DNA whose protein and function was previously unknown.

“She is incredibly independent and self-motivated, successfully making progress in her project without direct supervision,” Solomon explained.

“Caleigh was a scientific leader in the group, highly productive in the laboratory and determined to conduct proper statistical testing of her data as to not over interpret,” added Jenna Rickus, associate vice provost for teaching and learning.  “She was able to acquire characterization data on novel genes, which is a scientific achievement with significant value beyond the student competition.”

Roleck is the treasurer of Purdue’s Pugwash chapter, an organization dedicated to social responsibility and ethics in science.  She also conducts research in the lab of Stan Gelvin, the Edwin Umbarger Distinguished Professor of Biology. She is studying the ability of a type of soil bacterium to naturally genetically engineer plants.  

To earn an Astronaut Scholarship, a student must be nominated by a Purdue University-wide committee and apply through the National and International Scholarships Office, housed in Purdue Honors College. Informational sessions for sophomore and junior applicants will be held later this month. 

*About the Astronaut Scholarship: The Astronaut Scholarship is funded by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit organization created by the Mercury 7 astronauts in 1984. The foundation strives to aid the U.S. in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships to the very best and brightest college students pursuing degrees in STEM majors at select institutions. The foundation selects member institutions based on their history of producing significant numbers of professional scientists, academic scientists, engineers, and researchers. Purdue is a member institution and thus eligible to nominate students for the Astronaut Scholarship. 

Media contact: Lindsay Perrault, lindsayperrault@purdue.edu 765-427-1923 

Sources: Jenna Rickus, rickus@purdue.edu 765-494-1197

Kevin Solomon, kvs@purdue.edu

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