Medical breakthrough earns TAMS student $10,000 math, science and technology scholarship

Peter Hu
Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science student Peter Hu.
Monday, December 7, 2009

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- A student at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science at the University of North Texas has won a $10,000 scholarship for his work on developing a biocompatible material that can be used in protein drug delivery.

Peter Hu, 18, of Denton, placed sixth at the National Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology on Monday in New York.

The Siemens Competition is the nation's leading original research competition in math, science and technology for high school students.

For his bioengineering research, Hu used polymer nanoparticles to create a protein drug carrier that can maintain a sustained drug release while preventing the protein from degrading inside the human body. This has long been a challenge for scientists.

Therapeutic proteins are critical to treating many diseases. For example, cancer can be treated with interferons, diabetes with insulin and hemophilia with blood clotting factors. So with Hu's development, a diabetes patient could significantly reduce the number of insulin injections needed.

"Bioengineering interests me because it has the potential to solve so many of the world's problems," Hu said. "I've had family members who have battled cancer and diabetes, which was my primary motivation in researching this topic."

Hu's work was supervised by Dr. Liping Tang, a bioengineering professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Before coming to TAMS, Hu attended Denton High School. Both of Hu's parents are physicists, which he said spurred his interest in science at a young age. Hu's father, Zhibing Hu, is a physics professor at UNT.

"My parents were great influences in my love of science, and I was very involved in school science fairs," Hu said. The first project he remembers was an experiment to determine the speed of sound. He was 9. 

As vice president of the Junior Engineering Technical Society at TAMS, Hu is organizing a science demonstration team to promote interest in math and science among elementary and middle school students. In his spare time, he plays the piano and violin, as well as basketball and tennis.

In addition to Hu, TAMS had three other regional finalists and 14 semifinalists honored in the Siemens competition. The competition field began with 1,348 students nationwide.

TAMS is a two-year residential program at UNT that allows exceptionally talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college while receiving the equivalent of high school diplomas. Students enroll in the academy following their sophomore year in high school, live in a UNT residence hall and attend UNT classes with college students. After two years, they enroll at UNT or another university to finish their bachelor's degrees.

Last year, TAMS student Wen Chyan won the top prize at Siemens for his work engineering new polymer coatings for biomedical devices that could prevent common, and sometimes deadly, bacterial infections resulting from hospital stays.

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