April 10, 2001

Churchill Scholarship Winner

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Chemical engineer major Kris Saha ’01 has received the Churchill scholarship, a highly selective award which funds a year of graduate study in engineering, science, or mathematics at the Churchill College of the University of Cambridge. The Winston Churchill Foundation only awards 10 scholarships nationally each year.

In accepting the award, Saha turned down a Fulbright Scholarship to study at Oxford University.

“I chose the Churchill scholarship because I wanted more of a biology focus and Cambridge would offer that,” he explained.

While Saha has a strong interest in biochemistry, he has not had much experience in this field. He hopes his year at Cambridge will offer him an opportunity to become more familiar with biology.

“It’s only a year,” he said. “It will offer me valuable research experience, so if I don’t like it, it’s O.K.”

After winning the Goldwater scholarship last year, which encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering, Saha was encouraged by his professors to apply for the Churchill scholarship.

“His intellectual capacity, scientific curiosity, and ability to work under pressure are truly superb,” said Prof. Fernando Escobedo, chemical engineering.

“He is quite mature in terms of critical thinking and realizing the opportunities that exist in certain areas,” said Prof. Ashim Datta, agricultural and biological engineering, who met with Saha several times to talk about his future career path.

Realizing the work experience that the Churchill scholarship could offer, Saha set off on an arduous application process last fall, beginning with receiving one of Cornell’s two endorsements. According to the Churchill Foundation, approximately 54 schools were invited to nominate two students each for the scholarship.

“Its really tough competition; you can’t expect to win it, ” Saha said.

He received word via e-mail while visiting a friend at Stanford University during Spring Break.

“I jumped up and down,” Saha said. “My friend probably said some words you can’t print in the newspaper.”

Saha’s family was also very proud of his accomplishment. Saha said that he has been bombarded by congratulation e-mails recently, some from relatives he does not even know.

Saha has long foreseen a career in engineering, as his father is a professor of civil engineering at Alabama A & M University and his mother is a software analyst. Although his parents allowed him to choose his own career path, there was a strong emphasis on math and science in his home.

“I am very happy to have chosen Cornell,” he said. “Because I went to Cornell, I took classes like English, sociology and history.”

Saha began doing materials science research his freshman year with his advisor Prof. Shefford Baker, materials science and engineering.

“Kris is hard working,” Baker said. “He is also very talented. In addition, he is very personable and a pleasure to have around.”

Saha has worked extensively with Baker with thin copper films and the deformities that occur when they are heated. According to Saha, thin film technology is most often used in microchips, which are then used by companies for Pentium processors or by optical companies.

In addition to studying at Cornell, Saha interned at Exxon Mobil for the past two summers. In 1999, he looked into the catalysts used for the manufacturing of polyethylene, the most common plastic. In 2000, he studied process engineering at a refinery outside of Chicago, an internship which involved looking at the different day-to-day problems with the equipment.

While attending Cornell, Saha has been involved with Encourage Youth Educate Society, a program which sends teaching volunteers into area high schools.

“It gives me a chance to help younger students see the fun in math and science, like I have,” he said.

Saha plans to pursue his Ph.D. degree in chemical engineering in the United States after his year at Cambridge.

“There’s no doubt that Saha has the potential to become a real star in research, and probably in many other areas as well,” Baker said. “I’m glad to see that he has won the Churchill too, of course. It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person.”

Archived article by Katherine Klein