No matter where his career takes him, AAAS member Nik Evitt wants to make science matter. | Hector Garcia-Molina
The first spark of curiosity that leads to a career in science can come from many places. AAAS member Nik Evitt, a Stanford University undergraduate in chemical engineering, found it during high school in the bottom of a test tube.
"I was really fascinated by how much was going on in just a couple drops of liquid and by the intricate systems in that incredibly small world," he said in a recent interview.
On July 3, Evitt won a Forge Scholarship from the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. Students often use the scholarships to trade part-time jobs for more time in the lab, according to Dylan Lane, communications specialist for Tau Beta Pi. "Our goal is to support those who are going to advance the engineering profession," he explained. "We're not just looking at good grades, we're also looking at character and extracurricular activities that involve the community."
Beyond exceptional classroom performance, Evitt spent the past two years working in the Swartz Research Group on engineering new biological pathways that turn bacteria into miniature chemical factories. These techniques may one day allow the production of fertilizer and biofuels at a fraction of the current environmental cost.
Over the past year he's also been part of small team that developed a project-oriented medical bioengineering course for undergraduates that pairs them with a physician and a technical mentor—the first such class at Stanford.
True to the spirit of AAAS, Evitt says he's trying to instill that scientific spark to the next generation of kids. As the local chair for Tau Beta Pi's MindSET program, he helps offer extracurricular science programs to K-12 students in under-resourced areas.
"The goal is to provide more opportunities so that people can discover how much fun learning can be. A lot of people are very interested, but it's hard when the resources aren't there," he said. "Once you develop that curiosity, learning becomes fun and school becomes fun instead of work."
The Forge Scholarship provides an award of $2,000 to support the senior year of study, which Evitt will begin this fall. He plans to apply for graduate school and hopes to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. degree. No matter where his career takes him, Evitt wants to make science matter.
"You can accumulate as much knowledge as you'd like," he said, "but it won't really do that much do unless you take the time to share it with others, work on communicating it well, and are passionate about improving people's lives."