Ph.D. student Zuping Wang hopes to combine her medical background with mathematics to help discover new cancer therapies.
As the chair of the University of Maryland’s Department of Mathematics, Doron Levy knows most of the students in his department who have unique educational backgrounds, but one very interesting student slipped under his radar: Zuping Wang.
Wang was a medical doctor and practicing pediatrician in her home country of China for years, until she decided she was ready for a change.
“I didn’t like the schedule that went along with being a doctor,” Wang said. “I wanted a job where I didn’t have to work nights.”
Wang’s desire for a new career brought her to UMD in fall 2016 for her bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She transferred from the Community College of Baltimore County, hoping to take a different approach to her original interest in medicine.
“I started Googling schools and came across interesting research around mathematical modeling for cancer research that was happening at the university,” Wang said. “The research seems like a great way to approach cancer treatment, so I applied to UMD hoping to be a part of that work.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in spring 2019, Wang is now pursuing her Ph.D. in applied mathematics & statistics, and scientific computation (AMSC) at Maryland.
“What is unique about Zuping is that she is a doctor with postdoctorate training, and she decided that she wants to study math, so she just enrolled at College Park as an undergraduate student and did the entire undergraduate curriculum. Only after she got her undergraduate degree did she apply to graduate school,” said Levy, who is now Wang’s advisor. “Normally, if people make a late-career change, they don't start completely from scratch. But Zuping didn't try to take any shortcuts.”
Wang didn’t come to Levy’s attention until it was time to review applications for graduate admissions.
“That was really bizarre,” Levy said. “I work with math and medicine, so such students will usually find me, even as undergrads, and let me know that they are interested in that type of research.”
“Once I learned about Zuping,” Levy recalled, “I reached out to her and proposed that we meet, and I heard her very interesting story firsthand. We immediately found some common interests and started working on research together.”
Shortly after Wang was admitted to the graduate program, she and Levy published a paper together in the Journal of Theoretical Biology on the use of adoptive T-cell-based immunotherapy to treat cervical cancer.
Wang’s Ph.D. research is supported by the NCI-UMD Partnership for Integrative Cancer Research. The partnership, which was created in 2010, pairs UMD students with mentors from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and UMD to tackle pressing challenges in cancer research.
Wang and Levy teamed up with Peter Choyke and Noriko Sato from NCI’s Molecular Imaging Branch, and with Wang’s medical background, she is perfectly placed at the center of the research.
“This group is an experimental group and they have a lot of exciting unpublished data about different cutting-edge therapies for cancer,” Levy explained. “Sometimes the therapies work and sometimes they don’t, and Zuping brings some quantitative understanding into the picture. Our goal is to understand why sometimes therapies work and some other times they do not. We hope that such studies will provide guidance to improving current therapeutical approaches.”
Wang credits her success at Maryland thus far in part to her relationship with Levy.
“I needed someone to help me with the math modeling part of the cancer research,” Wang said. “I didn’t know beforehand that mathematical modeling could be used for this. [Levy] has helped me a lot and whenever I am struggling, he always gives me good instructions and advice. He is a good advisor.”
Once she graduates, Wang plans to continue her work on mathematical modeling to improve cancer treatment and other therapies.
“Zuping’s unique background will open a lot of doors for her,” Levy said. “The sky's the limit.”
Written by Chelsea Torres
He has worked on signal processing noise and lithium-ion battery research at UMD.
Jesse Matthews, a junior chemical engineering and mathematics dual-degree student at the University of Maryland, was awarded a scholarship by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.
Matthews, who is also a Banneker/Key Scholar and member of the University Honors program in the Honors College, was one of four Goldwater Scholars selected at UMD this year. Over the last decade, UMD’s nominations yielded 33 scholarships—the most in the nation, followed by Stanford University with 32. Goldwater Scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year. These scholarships are a stepping-stone to future support for the students’ research careers.
Matthews worked for two summers with Radu Balan, a professor of mathematics and the Center for Scientific Computation and Mathematical Modeling, to improve noise reduction in signal processing for speech recognition and X-ray crystallography.
Now, he is working to make safer lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries typically contain a liquid electrolyte, through which the lithium ions move. Matthews is developing new, non-flammable solid polymer electrolytes, which would be inherently safer than liquid electrolytes for applications like implanted biomedical devices.
Matthews has synthesized and characterized two solid polymer electrolytes. The first allows lithium metal to be safely used as the battery anode, which results in a battery with higher energy density. The second incorporates water as a component, which results in improved battery safety and no need for a dry manufacturing environment. Matthews demonstrated that batteries incorporating these electrolytes can function for hundreds of charge-discharge cycles without significant fade in energy output. Next, he plans to characterize and improve the interfaces between the electrolytes and electrodes to improve battery cell performance.
Matthews co-authored a paper in the journal Electrochimica Acta and was selected as the top student poster presenter in a fuels, petrochemicals and energy category at the 2019 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting.
“These are remarkable accomplishments for an undergraduate and clearly demonstrate a strong work ethic,” Kofinas said. “I am confident he will contribute to many more impactful experimental results over the remainder of his undergraduate career.
Matthews also takes time to help others. Last summer, he mentored four high-school students on a research project as part of the university’s ESTEEM (Engineering Science and Technology to Energize and Expand Young Minds) Summer Engineering Research-Quest for underrepresented minorities.
“Our scholars are a uniquely talented group, already making discoveries in their fields of study—from developing more stable batteries and innovative power supplies to streamlining the pathway of drug design and understanding the contributions of RNA in cancer and other diseases,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Infantino has led UMD’s Goldwater Scholarship nominating process since 2001.
Written by Abby Robinson
Karin Melnick of the University of Maryland, College Park, has been awarded the AMS Joan and Joseph Birman Fellowship for Women Scholars for the 2020–2021 academic year.
Justin Wyss-Gallifent - 2020 Employee Dean's Outstanding Lecturer Award Principal Lecturer, Department of Mathematics
Sheeba Varghese (B.S. ’94, mathematics; B.S. ’94, secondary education) selected as Top Leadership Trainer of the Year by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP)
Vaughn Osterman BS’19 is a mathematics alumnus whose research has been published in the International Journal of Number Theory. His fellowship proposal involves research in dispersing billiards. He plans to attend the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall.
Ralph P. Pass III Fellowship: Shin Eui Song and Zachary Greenberg
Patrick and Marguerite Sung Fellowship in Mathematics: Dani Kaufmann and Tessa Thorsen
Mark E. Lachtman Graduate Student Award: Ian Johnson and Yue Fan
2020 SIAM Student Chapter Certificate of Recognition: Brandon Alexander.