Goldwater scholar completes research in Japan

Elizabeth Polsdofer

When he learned he received one of the most prestigious awards offered to undergraduate students, Samson Condon was more concerned with the logistics for a week-long trip to Kyushu, a large island in Japan.

Condon, senior in biochemistry and studying abroad in Japan, is a 2012 recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program is geared toward encouraging students working in fields pertaining to science, engineering and mathematics to pursue degrees at the graduate level after receiving their undergraduate degrees.

Only 282 undergraduate students in the United States are named a Goldwater Scholar, and Condon said that the competition was tight.

“Everyone who applies for the Goldwater is exceptionally qualified and passionate about what they do, so I imagine it’s hard for the committee to select from that pool,” Condon said. “I put a ton of effort into my research essay; I filled my allotted two pages to their absolute limit and yet the essay was concise and clear, with every paragraph vital to the work as a whole. Of course, it only got there after many many revisions.”

While in Japan, Condon works with an associate scientist in the department of biochemistry, Marna Yandeau-Nelson, who said she cannot run out of good things to say about Condon.

“[Condon] absolutely exceeds expectations in his execution and understanding of his research, which is why he is a deserving recipient of this Goldwater award,” Yandeau-Nelson said. “He has a passion for science and doing research. He likes a challenge, and he figures out how to do it.”

Yandeau-Nelson and Condon work together to understand the ins and outs of synthesizing hydrocarbons. Synthesizing hydrocarbons is believed to have many protective properties for plants and possible applications in the bioenergy industry.

Ideally, Yandeau-Nelson said the knowledge could someday be used to create designer corn, or corn that is created to grow within a specific type of environment.

Condon cites his ability to work with faculty in the biochemistry department as a strong contributing factor to receiving the Goldwater award.

“I think the most important thing to realize is that the journey is the destination,” Condon said. “Naturally, you have to put a lot of effort into your studies and research even before the process even begins.”

Condon has already made plans for his future beyond Iowa State.

“I would love to run my own research team or laboratory and look at new ways of combining [biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology] disciplines with other fields to solve neat problems,” Condon said. “I also want to do science that excites people; if I can tell a person without much of a science background about what I do and get them interested and enthusiastic about it, I’ll be very happy.”

Yandeau-Nelson describes Condon as someone who very personable and well-balanced.

“He’s very, very easy to work with. He is very dedicated to the goals of the project. He’s very motivated to find new ways to do things. He’s a great team member and team leader. He steps up and takes a leadership role often,” Yandeau-Nelson said. “We really miss him and what he accomplishes.”