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UA student gets NASA scholarship for tiny medical robots



University of Arizona engineering junior Malcolm Gibson is focusing on developing tiny robots to precisely deliver medicine and other treatments in the human body.

NASA announced Tuesday that Gibson was awarded a two-year aeronautics scholarship valued at $40,000.

Gibson has been working for two years on MEMS, or microelectromechanical systems, that can be steered through the bloodstream to a specific organ to deliver treatments exactly where needed.

While such microbots may appear to have little to do with flying, biomedical engineering plays a big role in aeronautics, said Tony Springer, lead for communications and education at NASA Aeronautics Research.

About 500 “cream of the crop” students applied for the 20 undergraduate and five graduate scholarships offered, Springer said.

The scholarship program’s goal is to attract top engineering talent to NASA in particular and the aerospace industry in general, he said.

Jeff Goldberg, dean of the UA College of Engineering, said, “We like to think our students are really strong and this shows they are strong on a national level.”

Gibson, 21, who is pursuing double majors in aerospace and mechanical engineering, said his research work and educational background helped him earn the scholarship.

“Even though the global aspect of the project is not related to aerospace, I’ve been focusing more on the mechanical aspects,” he said. “They are looking for motivated students who are involved in research, even if not directly related to aeronautics.”

The scholarship, which begins in September, offers $15,000 per year to cover tuitions costs for two years and $10,000 for use during a 10-week summer 2010 internship at a NASA research center.

Gibson, who plans to continue his MEMS research through graduation from UA, will leave in mid-August for five months of research and study at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems in Zurich, Switzerland.

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