UIC biochemistry major named Goldwater scholar  

Four years ago, when Puranjay “Jay” Gupta was a junior in high school, he walked into a lab for the first time, at the University of Illinois Chicago campus in Rockford. Immediately, he remembers, he was immersed in the “magical” hum of science equipment.  

After performing his first experiment, a basic cell culture technique, he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.  

“Watching something as small as a cell inform such huge scientific principles and discoveries was a huge inspiration for my choice as a career to be an MD/PhD,” said Gupta, from Rockford.  

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Gupta, a second-year UIC student expected to graduate next year, is preparing for his future by working in the Regenerative Medicine and Disability Research Lab at UIC. He aims to earn an MD and PhD in medical school, and he wants to specialize in orthopedics and biochemistry in a way that allows him to develop innovative implants that provide better patient outcomes.

Though he’s only 20 years old, he’s already presented his research at a national conference. He was 18 when he presented his paper on cardiac toxicity caused by metal implants at the Orthopedic Research Society conference. 

In recognition of his academic achievements and research, Gupta was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduate researchers in STEM disciplines. The highly competitive $7,500 merit scholarship will fund his final year at UIC.  

Gupta is one of 508 Goldwater Scholars chosen this year from an initial pool of approximately 5,000 natural science, engineering and mathematics students nominated by representatives of 446 colleges and universities nationwide. He is the sixth Goldwater Scholar from UIC in the last six years.  

“Receiving this award has been both an exhilarating and humbling experience,” Gupta said. “I would like to view this award as a shared achievement for all of UIC.”  

Student in a lab
Puranjay Gupta is the recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduate researchers in STEM. (Photos: Martin Hernandez/University of Illinois Chicago)

Gupta is pursuing a biochemistry major at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a minor in public health. He is on the Dean’s Student Advisory Board in the college.  

“Collaboration is a pillar of my research philosophy,” Gupta said. “My current research involves working with materials and computer science engineers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, exploring biochemical interactions within simulated orthopedic models.”  

In addition to his work in the Regenerative Medicine and Disability Research Lab, he is part of the Heiferman Research Group, where he helps lead a project seeking to use gaze-tracking technology in cataract surgery.  

“My goal is to integrate this technology with three-dimensional heads-up displays to improve surgical outcomes,” Gupta said.  

But his involvement in clubs at UIC is what has shown him the human side of medicine, he said.  

Gupta co-founded and serves as co-president of Physical Therapy for Ukraine, a UIC club sponsored by the physical therapy department. They have connected physical therapists with families in Ukraine to provide healthcare services remotely.  

Student in a lab
Gupta works in the Regenerative Medicine and Disability Research Lab at UIC.

He also serves as co-director of the UIC chapter of National Alzheimer’s Buddies. They interact with patients diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s to alleviate their social isolation and prevent the progression of the disease.  

“While my research has undoubtedly provided me with the research acumen to achieve this award, my clubs have provided me with the necessary perspective to understand the human aspect of medicine,” Gupta said.  

Mathew Mathew, Gupta’s research advisor, called him an observant, dedicated learner who has proven his passion and aptitude for medical research. Mathew is a professor and director of faculty research and Cedric W. Blazer Endowed Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the College of Medicine Rockford.

“His innate curiosity, adaptability and resilience have collectively contributed to his unmatched success and potential as a medical researcher/physician,” Mathew said. “It has been exciting to see his growth. I am confident that the future of medical science and development is bright and limitless with rising accomplished scholars and critical thinkers like Puranjay.”  

Gupta credits his successful pursuit of the Goldwater Scholarship to the guidance he received from UIC’s Office of Undergraduate Research and External Fellowships during the application process. 

“Jay’s success in the Goldwater competition is a testament to his intellect, dedication and research mindset,” said Kim Germain, director of Undergraduate Research and External Fellowships, who advised Gupta. “For UIC more broadly, Jay’s Goldwater Scholarship is evidence of UIC’s strengths in providing opportunities in and through undergraduate research, embracing our undergraduates’ contributions to the university’s research mission and advancing the field of biomedicine.”  

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