When Annie Lynn was choosing where to attend college, one of her top priorities was a chance to jump into research projects as an undergraduate — she had, after all, been working in labs since she was in high school.
It wasn’t difficult for her to settle on the University of Kansas.
“I guess I was always really interested in math and science,” Lynn says. “Once I saw how that could be practically applied in a research lab, I thought being able to contribute to that kind of effort was amazing.”
Lynn’s research — a close look how viruses work, especially Hepatitis C — has earned her accolades. She is one of two KU students, along with chemical engineering senior Kevin Tenny, awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for this school year.
Congress established the program in 1986, and it focuses on ensuring a continuing source of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The scholarship provides up to $7,500 annually to cover undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board, and books.
“It’s a huge honor, I couldn’t believe it when I found out,” says Lynn, an Overland Park senior who was homeschooled by her parents. “It meant I had support to continue my research project, continue this year, and that’s been a huge help — knowing I had the resources and funds to keep working on this.”
Her interests — and awards — have proven wide-ranging. In September, Lynn was also awarded the 2016 Astronaut Scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
In both cases, the awards were the result of her work in the lab of Professor of Molecular Biosciences Liang Tang. Lynn started working with Tang while still in high school and has earned co-authorship on multiple publications. Her research involves using advanced X-ray crystallography techniques to analyze complex biochemical protein assembly mechanisms in viruses at the atomic level.
Sounds complex, but her interest in Hepatitis C research came after witnessing the disease’s human toll. Lynn has been exploring a process to help make the virus more stable so that researchers can come up with better treatments for the disease.
“I was shadowing a physician, actually, and he specialized in liver diseases and things like that,” Lynn says. “Meeting a patient that had been affected by this really impacted me — then talking to my research mentor, this was already an area that he was interested in, so it was a perfect fit.”
But she’s also always been interested in what makes things tick.
“For me, the best major to pick for that was chemical engineering,” she says. “Instead of just learning what biological processes happened, I thought engineering gave me a good background in why all those mechanisms work.”
A member of the University Honors Program, Lynn also is in the School of Engineering’s Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program. She is active in the Society for Biomaterials, the Chinese Culture Club and ballet. She is majoring in chemical engineering, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering after graduation. Lynn hopes to pursue a career in research and teaching.
She credits Tang and Haiyan Zhao, a researcher in Tang’s lab, for mentoring and encouraging her research efforts.
“I think KU has wonderful opportunities for undergraduates, and it’s the kind of thing you can’t find everywhere,” Lynn says. “That’s one of the reasons I was so attracted to it. The faculty was really supportive of undergraduates and teaching them and allowing them to come into the lab and get involved from day one.”