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Cameron Turtle in the lab. (Photo via UW)

Earlier this week, two University of Washington seniors were named Rhodes Scholars for 2012, making the UW the only public university in the country with two students to receive the honor this time around. The students are Byron Gray, a triple-major in political science, law, societies and justice; and Cameron Turtle, a bioengineering major.

We talked with Turtle via email this week to find out more about his background, his studies and his plans in bioengineering.

How old are you and where did you grow up? I am currently twenty-one years old and will be twenty-two by the time I leave for Oxford. Unlike many of the Rhodes Scholars, I have not skipped in years of schooling up to this point.

I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada until I was seven when my father was hired as a professor of finance at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Pullman is a small college town with a population of about 30,000 (the majority of which is students). I attended Franklin Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School, and Pullman High School. As it was a relatively small school I was able to participate in a wide variety of activities. Of foremost importance was my participation in Math Team, led by Dr. Linda Moore. I also found great pleasure and opportunity for leadership in athletics. I was a four-year-three-sport athlete and captain of our football, basketball, and track teams my senior year.

Within the field of bioengineering, what is your primary area of focus? What interests you about bioengineering, and what do you see as the long-term promise of the field?  My primary area of focus in the field of bioengineering is cardiac regenerative medicine. I have conducted the majority of my undergraduate research in Dr. Michael Regnier’s lab which aims to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms of cardiac function and dysfunction in order to design novel therapeutics. My primary area of focus has been the assessment of engineered protein variants that can alter, and potentially improve, cardiac function in a variety of conditions. I have also been involved in investigations of cell therapy to treat myocardial infarction (heart attack). I aim to continue this type of work during my time at Oxford, likely working under Dr. Hugh Watkins.

My interest in bioengineering arose as I saw an opportunity to use my skills in science and mathematics to directly impact the field of medicine. Though many undergraduate bioengineers are interested in pursuing medical degrees following their graduation, my goal is to develop tools and techniques that can improve options faced by patients. I am particularly interested in gene and cell therapy strategies that offer potentially curative solutions for many cardiac disorders.

How does it feel to be a Rhodes Scholar, and what do you hope to accomplish at Oxford? Being named a Rhodes Scholar is an incredible honor that I have not yet been able to fully appreciate. The award demonstrates a trust in my preparation and potential for success that will inspire my years at Oxford.

During my time at Oxford I hope to supplement my background in cardiac mechanics with novel skills in stem cell culture, differentiation, and application in cardiac medicine. I also look forward to building a network of colleagues with whom I may collaborate during my career. Outside of academics I hope to explore London and the rest UK and gain an appreciation for a culture that I have yet to experience.

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