UNO student wins Richard Holland Future Scientist Award

photo by Cassie Wade/The Gateway

Jessica Wade

University of Nebraska at Omaha senior Harim Won’s participation in the INBRE (IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence) has earned him research experience and the Richard Holland Future Scientist Awards.

Won was one of 10 undergraduates to receive the award Aug. 8 after presenting his research on Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite commonly found in cat feces.

“This parasite has infected 30 percent of the world’s population, and symptoms are asymptomatic so many people don’t know that they have it,” Won said. “It’s the leading parasitic cause of birth defects in the United States, second leading cause of food-borne death in the world and because we’re such a big agriculture state, it actually causes millions of dollars of loss in agriculture every year because it can infect livestock.”

Won’s research focuses on how the parasite switches life-stages. He said he wants to understand what is happening on a molecular level as this transition takes place.

His research topic was suggested by UNO professor Dr. Paul Davis after Won expressed interest in molecular biology, Won said.

Won said receiving the award is an honor.

“It’s kind of another feather in the cap sort of deal, it will be helpful to have on the CV when I apply to graduate schools,” Won said. “It’s a huge honor, always great to be validated for the work you do.”

UNO biology professor Dr. William Tapprich has administrative oversite of the INBRE program on UNO’s campus. The INBRE program was developed by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to improve biomedical research in Nebraska, Tapprich said.

The Richard Holland Future Scientist Award is an award that’s given to the student that has the top presentation at the annual conference of INBRE scholars, which is a statewide program where eight Nebraska universities’ INBRE scholars give presentations of their research work at this conference. Then, the future science award is given to the top presentation at the conference, Tapprich said.

The award is recognition that Won has presented top-quality research, Tapprich said. It also shows he’s able to present that research in a forum of other scientists in a way that shows he’s highly qualified to move to the next level.

“Getting this award is not only important for Harim’s career, it’s also very important for our department and also very important for UNO,” Tapprich said. “It gives UNO a high recognition of the scientific excellence that happens on this campus.”

The INBRE selects four students at the end of their sophomore years for this mentored research experience that gives them access to research labs at both UNMC and UNO, Tapprich said.

“They work with investigators at UNMC and UNO for the last two years of their undergraduate program,” Tapprich said. “It also puts them in a position to receive a fellowship to go to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. at UNMC.”