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Cambridge Calling

Jeremy Kim/For the Diamondback; Ethan Schaler, a senior mechanical engineering major, won one of 14 Churchill Scholarships to the University of Cambridge.

By Leah Villanueva

Staff writer

Published: Friday, February 11, 2011 in The Diamondback

Ethan Schaler has big dreams for a student passionate about researching the smallest technologies.

And now, with a prestigious scholarship in hand and a year of studying in England in sight, he may be one step closer to living those dreams.

Schaler, a senior mechanical engineering major [and Keystone Program Teaching Fellow], has been awarded one of 14 national Churchill Scholarships to the University of Cambridge. The award, about $45,000, is considered one of the most prestigious and competitive of its kind and will support Schaler throughout his one-year graduate degree program in the United Kingdom.

Schaler said while his achievement hasn't fully sunk in yet, the prospect of taking his studies and research to the next level is thrilling.

"I think it's going to be a real fun experience," Schaler said. "Don't know what sort of doors will open shortly after, but it'll be a real nice way to get a master's in a year, meet some very interesting people, do research in a very stimulating setting."

Schaler, who plans to get his master's degree in micro- and nanotechnology, said these studies are a stepping stone to furthering his doctoral studies in the United States in an area he's truly passionate about: microrobotics, which are robots measured by inches and centimeters in size that can easily fit in the palm of his hand.

But Schaler said he hadn't always been interested in microrobotics. In fact he discovered his passion while researching at this university.

"It's a cool area," he said. "It's really hard to build robots that size right now, so they have a lot of area for improvement, because you're always fighting these challenges of ‘how much battery do you have?'"

Schaler also serves as project manager of Engineers Without Borders. Schaler led a group project to build a bioretention facility in Edmonston, combining technology with natural systems to filter rainwater.

Seeking to use engineering as a mechanism to help global communities, Schaler has also served as project manager for similar projects in South America and Africa. Schaler said he's developing a project in Thailand, noting these undertakings entail everything from installing solar-powered water pumps to building community health centers.

Travel has been an important component of his studies, Schaler said. In addition to his global projects, Schaler spent the summer after his freshman year in Japan. Amid backpacking in the mountains, trips on the bullet trains and other cultural excursions, Schaler said he found his niche at the RIKEN government research center, where he worked to develop new nanotechnology.

It was there, he said, that years of studying engineering clicked for the first time.

"You never really see what you learn in schoolwork a lot of times as an engineer," Schaler said. "Your teacher teaches stuff, but there's often a disconnect between what you learn and actually doing it."

Fellow EWB member and junior bioengineering major Esmaeel Paryavi described Schaler as a strong leader and competitively driven student. His friend receiving such a prestigious scholarship, he said, came as no surprise. In fact, he didn't even know Schaler had won until the university announced the news.

"He's always got this competitive thing to him … but he never tries to make a deal out of it," Paryavi said. "He's just really humble about everything."

With a head full of grand ideas, Paryavi said Schaler has the tools to realize his dreams.

"A lot of the things he does and the research that he does, some of his ideas … I can't even understand it, it's like way above me and way beyond me," he said.

Engineering professor Santiago Solares, who recommended Schaler for the scholarship, said his best student's latest accomplishment came as no surprise.

"One of the things I wrote in my recommendation is that out of all the students I've written recommendations for, Ethan is the best of everybody," he said. "I can't think of one thing he couldn't do well. I think the University of Maryland is very lucky to have him."

February 15, 2011

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