U.Va. Student Receives Gates Cambridge Scholarship

February 16, 2010

February 12, 2010 — Will Jacobs, a fourth-year engineering and physics major at the University of Virginia, has received a 2010 Gates Scholarship.

The Gates Cambridge Trust, established by a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, awards scholarships for graduate study at the University of Cambridge on the basis of intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to provide service to their communities. Jacobs' scholarship is worth in excess of $140,000.

Jacobs, 21, of Fredericksburg, will graduate in May with bachelor's degrees from both the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts & Sciences and pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at Cambridge.

"I was absolutely thrilled when I got the call," he said. "I called my mom right away."

Jacobs' research will focus on computer modeling of molecular motors, which convert chemical energy to mechanical energy.

He said Cambridge was his first choice for pursuing his doctoral studies.

"It is an intellectual community like the Academical Village that Jefferson envisioned," Jacobs said. "These are not people who just do their research from 9 to 5 and then go home."

Jacobs, a Lawn resident, is an Ann Vernon and Gilbert J. Sullivan Jefferson Scholar, Rodman Scholar, a member of the Raven Society and plays piano in the University's jazz ensemble. He has participated in two research groups: the Computational Materials Group and the Center for Electrochemical Science and Engineering.

He is also a manager for the Charlottesville Community Bikes program, a non-profit bicycle shop that works with the Virginia Organizing Project to promote environmentally responsible transportation, recycle bicycles and make cycling accessible in the community. He said his community work was important to scholarship officials.

"The Gates Foundation is very interested in people involved in leadership toward reducing global inequities," Jacobs said.

He has also received a 2009 Harrison Undergraduate Research Award and a 2009 Goldwater Scholarship. Jacobs applied both awards toward research concerning the computational investigation of hypersonic impact on carbon nanotube-reinforced polymer composite materials. Sponsored by NASA, this research forms the foundation of his theses for both his engineering science and physics degrees.

"Will is clearly brilliant," said Robert Kelly, a professor of materials science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science for whom Jacobs has been a research assistant for 2 1/2 years. "He is one of the top two undergraduates I have known in 20 years here. But he is very humble and he doesn't toot his own horn."

Kelly, who has been a mentor for Jacobs, said the undergraduate has worked on several projects involving corrosion of metals.

"He is someone who will make waves whatever he does," Kelly said.

"We were very proud to learn that William Jacobs has been awarded the prestigious Gates Scholarship," said James Aylor, dean of the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science. "He exemplifies the amazing talent of our undergraduate students and I'm sure that he will continue to make us proud as he furthers his research at the University of Cambridge."

Lucy Russell, director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, praised Jacobs for his work with the Undergraduate Research Network, where he was layout editor of The Oculus, the undergraduate research journal.

"As a Gates Scholar, Will becomes a member of an influential international community," Russell said. "Cambridge will be a wonderful place for him, and I am very pleased that he has been chosen for this honor. He has taken full advantage of many opportunities at U.Va. and I know he will do the same at Cambridge."

Jacobs said he wants to teach.

"I see myself as a professor," he said. "I have enjoyed the little bit of teaching I have done and I would like to couple that with research."

— By Matt Kelly