By Mollie Rappe

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sandia intern named Goldwater Scholar

Sandia intern Randy Ko

Sandia intern Randy Ko (1882) was named a 2017 Goldwater Scholar. Randy just finished his junior year at the University of New Mexico double majoring in biochemistry and East Asian studies.

He is an intern working with George Bachand (1882) at the Sandia/Los Alamos National Laboratory Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT).

The Goldwater Scholarship is a national undergraduate scholarship established in 1986 by Congress to honor former Sen. Barry Goldwater. The foundation provides $7,500 to 240-250 science, mathematics, and engineering students their senior year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

In George’s lab, Randy studies the stabilization of microtubules using osmotic pressure. Microtubules help maintain the structure of cells and are metastable biopolymers assembled from tubulin proteins. The osmotic pressure levels studied are comparable to those of crowded cellular conditions instead of a dilute test tube. Randy’s part of the project was seeing if this osmotic pressure can counter calcium’s destabilizing effect on microtubules, says George. DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences funds this research, in part, with a goal of understanding microtubule self-assembly ultimately to design synthetic polymers with the same self-regulated polymer dynamics.

"One of Randy’s greatest strengths is that he’s intellectually very curious."

“One of Randy’s greatest strengths is that he’s intellectually very curious. He really has a desire to understand the fundamental science,” says George. “He’s also one of the most self-motivated people that I’ve ever met. Randy has a strong aspiration to go into an MD/PhD program heading into biomedical research. I have no doubt he’s going to be successful.”

Diverse research experience from around the globe

Randy’s introduction to research was when he was a high school junior as a student intern in Sandia’s STAR (Science, Technology, and Research) program. Through the program he was involved in computer science research. An influential high school teacher, Kathleen Rutter at Albuquerque High School, fanned his interest in the life sciences.

The summer after high school, Randy went halfway around the globe to study genomic dermatology in Hefei, China, with Dr. Xuejun Zhang. This research led to four scientific publications and introduced him to the scope of biomedical research from clinical studies to fundamental genomics techniques.

During the spring of Randy’s freshman year at UNM he was an intern in Sandia’s International Biological and Chemical Threat Reduction (IBCTR) program working under Lora Grainger (6826). He helped maintain a library of biosafety and biosecurity training materials as part of the Global Biorisk Management Curriculum training team. A few months after beginning the IBCTR internship, he missed bench work and started doing research at the UNM Cancer Center under Dr. Montaser Shaheen. There he studied melanoma, both seeing patients and conducting cell biology lab-based research.

The next year he started interning in George’s lab.

“Research takes a long time, there are a lot of failures — you’re probably going to fail a lot of times before you have a success, but when you do have that success you’re going to impact so much of science,” says Randy. “That one percent you do find out pushes that forefront of science. I think that’s one of the coolest things about research.”

"That one percent you do find out pushes that forefront of science. I think that’s one of the coolest things about research.”

Albuquerque native with a future in cancer research

After research in George’s lab, Randy wants to combine his interests in cancer research and nanotechnology, possibly using nanotechnology to target cancerous cells. Randy wants to do something challenging that can positively affect the lives of lots of people.

Randy was born and raised in Albuquerque and attended Albuquerque High School. His parents own Ko Palace restaurant and he is a first generation college student. Randy says his father has taught him not to be afraid of going after opportunities, such as prestigious scholarships.

The Goldwater scholarship is national recognition for his research, and is an amazing steppingstone, he says.

In 2016, Randy ran for UNM student body president and barely lost. He was a student government senator during his sophomore year. He volunteers with the UNM Alumni Association through the UNM Trailblazers. He also swims and, on occasion, gets the chance to play video games.