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It has been 10 years since astronaut Ronald E. McNair, an MIT graduate, died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
And now the first McNair Scholar in the nation to receive a PhD has come to MIT to do postdoctoral research.
Dr. Eric T. Crumpler was selected to participate in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, funded by the US Department of Education, while an undergraduate at Michigan State University.
Currently, 98 colleges and universities participate in the program begun in 1989 to honor the memory of the astronaut. The grants provide both financial aid and other assistance to low-income and first generation undergraduates as well as those from under-represented groups. Some 25 to 50 students receive assistance at each institution, according to the Department of Education.
As its name implies, while the program assists undergraduates, it is geared to those who intend to do graduate work.
Nettavia Curry, the McNair program coordinator at Michigan State University, said Dr. Crumpler is the first person to come out of any of the programs with a PhD.
In 1995, she said, Dr. Crumpler returned to MSU as keynote speaker at the university's McNair/Summer Research Opportunity Program.
Ronald McNair, who received the PhD in physics from MIT in 1976, was one of seven persons killed in 1986 when the rockets carrying the Challenger into space exploded shortly after liftoff.
At MIT, the Ronald E. McNair Scholarship Fund, financed primarily by black alumni/ae, provides financial assistance for undergraduates.
Dr. Crumpler received two bachelor's degrees from MSU in 1990, in German and in chemistry, and a master's degree in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1991. His PhD from Northwestern will be formally conferred in June.
Why did he come to MIT?
"Robert Langer," he replied.
He explained that Dr. Robert S. Langer, Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, is working in the area he is interested in--biodegradable polymers for specific applications. "Vaccine design is where I mostly want to go," he said.
Currently, his research involves the stabilization of immunochemicals for delivery by the bioerodable polymers that have been developed in Dr. Langer's laboratory. Eventually, this work could lead to treatment of brain cancer, among other purposes.
Dr. Crumpler, who grew up in Detroit, recently was the subject of a feature story in The Detroit News. He told the newspaper he always wanted to be a chemist and conducted his first experiment in the 10th grade, testing nylon 66 to see what a polymer was. "This experiment was the first step in the right direction," he recalled. Dr. Crumpler's eventual goal is to teach at one of the nation's top research universities.
His wife, Dawn, is doing postdoctoral research in numerical analysis of material fracture at the University of Maryland at College Park and will join the faculty there as an assistant profesor in August.