Student chosen as 2017 Amgen Scholar

Amanda Miller, a senior biochemistry major from Plano, spent the summer conducting research under world-renowned faculty.

Amanda Miller

Amanda Miller

During the summer, most students take some time off and rest before the next semester starts. One student, however, spent her summer as a part of a prestigious research program at Harvard University.

Amanda Miller, a senior biochemistry major from Plano, was chosen as a 2017 Harvard Amgen Scholar. This gave Miller the opportunity to conduct research under world-renowned faculty mentors at world-leading educational and research institutions.

Miller found out last spring that she was going to be a 2017 Harvard Amgen Scholar. After a nerve-wracking application and interview process, Miller said it was a priceless feeling to receive the acceptance letter with the Harvard crest on it.

“I had always dreamed of going to Harvard, and this program gave me the opportunity to do so,” Miller said.

Miller started her research at Texas Tech after taking an honors general chemistry course, taught by Dominick Casadonte, the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. Miller then joined his lab and fell in love with her research.

Through her work in Casadonte’s lab, Miller received the Goldwater Scholarship in 2017, a prestigious science, technology, engineering and mathematics research-based scholarship.

Miller said she thinks receiving the Goldwater Scholarship contributed to her acceptance into the Amgen Scholar program.

“Receiving the Goldwater was a way for me to demonstrate the quality of my research experience and the potential I have in succeeding in a research career,” Miller said.

Casadonte said there are certain characteristics of the young researchers he mentors so they can compete on the national stage. Casadonte thinks Miller has those characteristics in spades.

“Most of the Goldwater Scholars that we have had at Texas Tech have gone on to have amazing research careers or careers in medicine,” Casadonte said. “Amanda is certainly in that league. I honestly think that she will excel at anything to which she applies herself. Many of the Goldwater Scholars have gone on to do prestigious summer internships, and the Amgen is certainly one of the most prestigious.”

While at Harvard, Miller worked on Project Abbie, an initiative of the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering to develop technology for early detection of anaphylaxis, an allergic reaction triggered by exposure to certain foods, materials, medications and insect bites.

Being a part of this program gave Miller the opportunity to conduct research she hadn’t done before. 

“It allowed me to put my lab skills and technical knowledge to the test to work on a project with far-reaching impact,” Miller said. “This program also allowed me to solidify my choice of career path and confirm my desire to become a physician scientist. In the future, I know my research questions and methods will be guided by the excellent mentorship and experience I gained while at Harvard.”

Only 200 students are chosen as Amgen Scholars each year and the majority are taken from top research institutions like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Miller was the only student from the state of Texas to be selected for the program at Harvard.

Representing her state and her university was a special opportunity for Miller. It says a lot about Texas Tech to have the only Harvard Amgen Scholar in the state.

“It demonstrates that this university is just as great a school as any for nurturing students who want to perform exceptionally at the national level and for providing top-notch undergraduate research opportunities,” Miller said.

Entering her senior year, Miller will continue to work with Casadonte, testing the efficacy of magnetothermal therapy via superparamagnetic nanoparticles to eradicate harmful biofilms in a wound environment. This would help diabetic patients with chronic wounds.

But after her time at Harvard, Miller is also looking to explore another topic.

“I am interested in exploring biosensors further,” Miller said. “Much of my work this summer led me to gain a considerable amount of knowledge regarding biosensors, and I am intrigued by the possibilities of enhancing them with nanomaterials.”

Casadonte said through her time as a Harvard Amgen Scholar, Miller will bring new skills to the laboratory.

“Her time at Harvard has certainly armed her with an entirely new group of experimental techniques and protocols that she can bring to bear on the problems she is working with in my laboratory, including the application of nanomaterials to biological problems and in-situ electrochemistry,” Casadonte said.

Miller said she does not think she would have been an Amgen Scholar without the focus of research from the faculty at Texas Tech.

“I am so thankful for the open-door policy Texas Tech has with regard to research,” Miller said. “So many faculty are eager to work with young students and are inspired by our curiosity and excitement to pursue science. I think they see a lot of themselves in us, and instead of turning us away to focus on publications, funding or more senior students, they take the time to nurture the budding scientist in us.”

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