With the addition of Jeffrey Gu ’25 and Marco Stettler ’25 to its list of students who have won Goldwater Scholarships, William & Mary confirms the strength of its STEM programs and the importance of its emphasis on undergraduate research. 

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to help the United States produce highly qualified professionals in the critical fields of natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. The scholarships support researchers in the final two years of their bachelor’s degree program. 

For the 2024-2025 academic year, Gu and Stettler join 436 other undergraduate students nationwide, chosen from a pool of 1,353 applicants nominated by 446 academic institutions.

Since its inception, the program has supported 10,720 undergraduate students who intend to pursue research careers. Many have gone on to complete doctoral degrees and have been awarded some of the most prestigious postgraduate awards and fellowships in the world.

Professor of Applied Science Christopher Del Negro, whose neurobiology lab Gu and Stettler joined during their first year, defined both students as “technically excellent and intellectually fearless,” with “superb accomplishments at very early career stages.”

Gu explained that he and Stettler began working together in Del Negro’s lab in their first year at W&M and have become close friends. 

“Being awarded the Goldwater Scholarship with him makes this award all the more special,” said Gu. “I am incredibly proud of his achievement.”

Stettler was also delighted when he heard the news.

“I was working in the lab and immediately put down what I was doing out of excitement to meet up with Jeffrey and exchange pats on the back,” he said. “It’s nice to have a peer who’s matched or exceeded me in every way possible.”

Gu and Stettler are co-authors of “Inspiratory and sigh breathing rhythms depend on distinct cellular signalling mechanisms in the preBötzinger complex,” a study published in February 2024 in the Journal of Physiology.

Jeffrey Gu ’25

Gu, a 1693 Scholar, was introduced to neuroscience research in his sophomore year of high school by his mentor, Yuan Luo.

“Dr. Luo sent me to Georgetown University for a summer internship where I was trained in electrophysiology under the tutelage of Professor Jian Young Wu,” said Gu.

As he began his undergraduate studies at W&M, Gu joined Del Negro’s lab to continue his research using electrophysiological techniques.

During his research at W&M, Gu developed an interest in exploring the connections between emotion and breathing. During a Freeman Intern Fellowship in East Asia last year, Gu initiated an international collaborative research project with Fusao Kato’s research group at Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan. The data collected from that project will be used in a manuscript that the group hopes to publish in the coming months.

“My current research studies synaptic connections between the amygdala and the brainstem,” said Gu. “This research not only provides a better understanding of the mechanisms through which breathing and emotion are related but also sheds light on pathologies that affect the two brain regions, such as SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy).”

In the future, Gu plans to pursue a doctorate in neurophysiology and conduct translational research on aging and neurodegenerative disorders to improve the quality of life in the elderly.

Dan Cristol, Chancellor Professor of Biology, has mentored Gu through the 1693 Scholars program, of which Cristol is director.

“This Goldwater honor is well-deserved as Jeffrey has taken great advantage of the conducive undergraduate research climate at W&M, doing graduate level work as an undergraduate,” said Cristol.  “He has a huge future ahead of him, and I can’t wait to see what this 1693 Scholar gets up to down the road.”

Marco Stettler ’25

Stettler has an impressive track record of neuroscience research at both W&M and the Department of Neuroscience at Copenhagen University.

“I’m interested in how ensembles of neurons in the brain generate rhythmic activity, particularly in the context of rhythmic breathing,” said Stettler, whose future plans include pursuing a doctorate and conducting research in neuroscience.

“Marco has a voracious appetite for understanding brain mechanisms at the cellular level,” said Del Negro. “His deep desire to discover brain mechanisms regularly leads Marco to the original literature, where he reads original research reports and then spends hours in my office talking about research methods and theories he has not yet learned about in classes.”

When Stettler became interested in discovering how opioid drugs slow and stop breathing, Del Negro arranged an opportunity for him to join a lab at the University of Copenhagen to work with an associate who developed a unique, experimental approach to studying long-term opiate effects on breathing neurons and microcircuits.

“Marco consistently approaches the cutting-edge of knowledge in our field and works tirelessly to advance that knowledge,” said Del Negro.

Stettler explained that new frontiers in research inspire him.

“Researchers are present-day voyaging explorers; the prospect of discovery excites me,” said Stettler, who also noted the influence of Del Negro’s mentorship in his dedication to research.

“Christopher is an exemplary research mentor,” said Stettler. “How he manages to so thoroughly support Jeffrey, me and other students in the laboratory while excelling in other dimensions of his professional and personal life is beyond me.”

Additionally, Jennifer Bestman, assistant professor of biology, was Stettler’s neurobiology instructor in his sophomore year and continues to work with him in his teaching assistant role.

“Marco is an exceptional student who exudes curiosity and enthusiasm for neuroscience and his research,” said Bestman. “He is thoroughly deserving of this honor. When talented students like Marco are recognized by winning prestigious national awards like the Goldwater, it also underscores that W&M’s commitment to providing meaningful research opportunities for our students is one of the things that makes our college remarkable.”

Current William & Mary students interested in applying for a Goldwater Scholarship should contact the Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs

, Research Writer