MIT’s Mehtaab Sawhney and Duke’s Azim Dharani Among 15 Named 2020 Churchill Scholars

Mehtaab Sawhney

BOSTON–MIT’s Mehtaab Sawhney and Duke University’s Azim Dharani are among 15 individuals named 2020 Churchill scholars. The prestigipus Churchill Scholarships are given in science, mathematics, and engineering to American students for a year of Master’s study at the University of Cambridge, based at Churchill College.

The program was set up at the request of Sir Winston Churchill in order to fulfil his vision of US–UK scientific exchange with the goal of advancing science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic, helping to ensure our future prosperity and security, according to Churchill Scholarships.

Azim Dharani

Sawhney, a senior from Commack, New York, has been named a 2020 Churchill Scholar and will pursue a year of graduate studies at Cambridge University in the U.K. Sawhney will graduate this February with a BS in mathematics and a minor in computer science at MIT. At Cambridge, he will undertake Part III of the Mathematics Tripos master’s degree before returning to the U.S. to enroll in a mathematics PhD program. He aspires to become a professor of mathematics specializing in combinatorics, according to MIT News.

Sawhney completed his first year of undergraduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and then transferred to MIT. At MIT, he has contributed to more than a dozen published or submitted academic papers, a rare feat for an undergraduate student. The majority of his research has been done in combinatorics under the tutelage of Professor Yufei Zhao in the MIT Department of Mathematics.

“Mehtaab is an incredibly talented and energetic mathematician,” states Zhao. “I constantly learn so much from talking to him. Working with Mehtaab on research has been one of the most fun and rewarding activities that I have done since joining MIT as a faculty member.”

Sawhney began his impressive rise in mathematics in high school, where he was a participant in the United States Mathematical Olympiad. He found the activity of solving problems fascinating. In high school, he got his first real taste of research through the MIT Primes-USA Program, which pairs high school students with graduate students to solve problems collectively but remotely. Here he first encountered combinatorics, an area of mathematics that focuses on counting.

Mehtaab Sawhney

Sawhney continued to work on math problems in the Math Olympiad, International Science and Engineering Fair, and then eventually the Putnam Mathematical Competition (where he was an honorable mention in both 2016 and 2018). He volunteers his time with the U.S. Mathematical Olympiad and the U.S. Team Selection Test as a grader and reviewer.

Duke University senior Dharani is a senior Angier B. Duke scholar from Lewisville, Texas, and is completing a major in chemistry and minors in computational biology and classical archaeology. He is the 22nd Duke undergraduate to receive this honor.

Dharani’s chemistry adviser and one of his recommenders, Stephen Craig, was Duke’s 12th recipient.

“Azim and the Churchill Scholarship are wonderful fits for each other,” Craig said. “Azim’s ability to appreciate and connect both the fine technical details and big-picture context of his scientific interests is remarkably mature, and I am delighted that he has the chance to take a ‘deep dive’ into another vibrant, leading research environment at Cambridge.”

Dharani plans to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry at Cambridge, while working with professor Erwin Reisner, a pioneer in the field of semi-artificial photosynthesis. During his fellowship, Dharani aims to combine his interests in computational chemistry and biophysics to develop efficient metal-based solar fuels.

At Duke, most of Dharani’s research focused on developing metal-binding, prostate cancer-targeting drugs with professor Katherine Franz. Outside of Duke, he has pursued computational chemistry research at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the D.E. Shaw Research institute.

Before he departs Duke for Cambridge, Dharani plans to complete an independent senior honors thesis simulating the activity of disordered proteins involved with cancer signaling for improved anti-cancer drug design.

Dharani is a Goldwater Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and has received the American Association for Cancer Research Undergraduate Fellowship. He is a teaching assistant for introductory chemistry and serves as the co-president for the Undergraduate Research Society, for which he develops programs to help underclassmen get involved with research. In his free time, he enjoys watching stand-up comedy, cooking with friends and gardening.

After his study in the UK, Dharani will return to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. Dharani’s ultimate goal is to lead a research team devoted to addressing impactful and challenging scientific problems and teaching undergraduates at a top research university.


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