Two Yale undergraduates were honored last week by the federally-funded Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation for their research in science.

Benjamine Liu ’12 and Diana Qiu ’11 each won a Goldwater Scholarship Award, a one- or two-year scholarship covering the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year at Yale. Liu and Qiu were two of 278 scholarship winners in the country this year.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”7131″ ]

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”7132″ ]

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”7133″ ]

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”7134″ ]

According to a press release, the scholarship program seeks to support students who wish to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. In the past, Goldwater Scholars nationwide have gone on to win many post-graduate fellowships such as the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Award and the Churchill Scholarship.

“The Goldwater award was not necessarily something I aimed for,” said Liu, who said he first heard about the scholarship as a high school senior visiting Yale. “But I wanted to be the best scientist I could, and it was a motivating factor.”

At Yale, students must first submit an initial application to the Yale Office of Fellowship Programs. There, a faculty committee selects four students to represent Yale in the competition. The four nominated students then submit a research essay, along with a resume and recommendations from professors to the Goldwater Foundation. In the essay, the students are asked to discuss a significant scientific issue of interest to them, an idea for research that could have a significant impact on the issue and an aspect of the research in which the applicant would be involved.

Liu wrote his essay on his research about the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that allows people to choose between conflicting thoughts and work toward long-term goals. He said he hopes to better understand how certain brain functions are connected to diseases such as Tourette’s Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Liu has been researching under mentor Mark Laubach, an associate fellow at the John B. Pierce Laboratory, a nonprofit institute formally affiliated with the University.

Qiu has been doing research in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry under professor Andrew Miranker. Qiu work involves using computer simulations to predict how proteins will behave when they are synthesized in a laboratory.

Rachel Lee ’11 and Monica Liu ’11 received honorable mention awards from the Goldwater Foundation. Lee works under Tom Pollard, a Sterling Professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. She has been researching the protein myosin II, which is important in cell division. Although Lee and her lab initially thought that inactivating myosin II would inhibit cell division, their research has suggested otherwise. Since cell division is important in organ regulation and cancer growth, this research could have implications in developmental biology and cancer research.

For the past few years, Monica Liu has been doing research for chemistry professor Elsa Yan. Her research relates to rhodopsin, a pigment responsible for vision. She is studying how mutations in the protein could cause side effects that relate to visual diseases.

In the 24 years since its founding, the Goldwater Foundation has awarded 6,079 scholarships worth approximately $58 million dollars. This year, the Goldwater Foundation received 1,111 nominated applicants from colleges and universities nationwide. There were three Goldwater scholars at Harvard and three at Princeton this year.

The Goldwater Scholarship is awarded in honor of Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 1964.

Correction: April 6, 2010

An earlier version of this article misspelled the names of Diana Qiu ’11 and Benjamine Liu ’12.