Overland Park Resident Wins Prestigious Hertz Fellowship

October 14, 2006

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- OCTOBER 12, 2006 At 23 years young, Overland Park, Kan., resident David Zhang has already amassed an impressive list of scientific accomplishments, including filing and receiving patents for the creation of DNA-based catalysts for use in cell research. Now, the future research biologist can add a new honor to his achievement. Zhang is one of 15 students selected from more than 670 across the country to receive a full five-year graduate fellowship from the prestigious Fannie and John Hertz Foundation to support innovative biology research at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

The ability for a cell to reproduce is one of the defining characteristics of life. To understand what makes cells malfunction, causing disease or other abnormalities, scientists need to recreate and study cell formation in the laboratory, Zhang says. DNA offers a new frontier for creating cells, and is more suitable than protein as a catalyst. DNA-based catalysts are easier to design and control, and unlike proteins their function remains unchanged if the catalyst is modified or tweaked.

Of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, Hertz Fellows receive up to $240,000 each in support to pursue their own scientific interests with the best academicians at top research universities in the United States. This no-strings-attached support gives Hertz Fellows financial independence from the constraints many graduate students face of having to choose a university or a research project because of its funding.

After a competitive application process, Hertz Fellows are chosen for their creativity and leadership as well as for their achievements in science, says John Holzrichter, PhD, Hertz Foundation president. These young people represent the future of science in America, and the results of their research will make a significant contribution to the ongoing spirit of innovation in this country.

Zhang moved to the United States from China as a small boy, and obtained his citizenship when he was 17. Zhang, a martial arts practitioner and table tennis contender, hopes to spend his career in academic research, and has aspirations to one day form a start-up biotechnology company with cutting-edge products that bring rapid benefit to humanity. For now, Zhang will continue his research in building DNA-based catalysts, and plans to use them inside cells to bioengineer lifes properties in an effort to control how cells react to environmental changes and stimuli.

Zhang graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School, Overland Park, Kan., in 2000. He holds a bachelor of science in biology from the California Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 2005. Previous honors receiving the Caltech Grubstake Grant, and being named the National Alliance of Excellence ALEX Technology Scholar. He was also Axline Merit Scholar as an undergraduate. Zhangs father, Yunchang Zhang, is a chemist at B-E Aerospace, Inc., Overland Park, and his mother, Jianchu Zhang, is a homemaker and retired physician. He has a younger sister, Wendy, who is a senior in high school.