At the age of 18, Shakked Halperin spent a year volunteering with Ethiopian children teaching high school math, English, percussion and art. Through that experience he developed a focus on improving the lives of others. Next fall, he will take that focus to the University of Cambridge after being named a recipient of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
Halperin, who graduated from the University of Missouri in December with a degree in biological engineering, is one of 40 recipients of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. He will pursue a Masters of Philosophy in Biological Sciences.
It was during his time volunteering with the Ethiopian children that Halperin realized he wanted to make a difference. He began a pursuit for safe global water supplies while working on the reconstruction of a failing wastewater treatment system in Honduras. There, he led a group of engineering students through the assessment, design and implementation of the reconstruction of the failed treatment plant.
He has already planned a project with a professor in Cambridge’s department of pathology that will expose him to all aspects of developing an application of synthetic biology, including theoretical idea conception, wet lab work, field testing, regulatory compliance and implementation.
“The project is in perfect alignment with my pursuit to secure global water supplies,” Halperin says. “I hope to create a sensor using synthetic biology that can mitigate arsenic poisoning by identifying safe drinking water supplies in developing countries.”
His undergraduate research work at MU included a supervised independent study program and participating in the Honors Undergraduate Research Program.
“Researching biological engineering as an undergraduate gave me an appreciation for the mechanisms that sustained living systems for billions of years at a level of complexity unparalleled by human innovation,” Halperin says.
He spent the summer of 2012 at the University of California-Berkeley where he conducted research through a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and last summer he participated in a research project through an REU at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
“Every so often, we are fortunate to meet exceptional students who perform beyond our expectations and Shakked is one such student,” says Shelia Grant, a professor of biological engineering who was Halperin’s faculty mentor at MU. “As an undergraduate student, Shakked independently performed graduate-level research. He was not hesitant about trying new experiments or learning new techniques.”
Halperin applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship because of its unique focus on building a community of future leaders committed to improving lives of others.
“The opportunity of this scholarship lies in the gathering of so many other passionate young leaders and so the responsibility that it brings is to use that opportunity to its full potential – that means forming bonds, discussions and collaborations with others in the community,” he says.
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is one of the world’s most celebrated honors for post-baccalaureate study. The highly-competitive scholarships are full-cost awards given to applicants outside the United Kingdom to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge.
This marks the second-consecutive year that a Mizzou alumnus has been awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Lindsey Murray, BS’ 03, began her studies at Cambridge in the fall after earning the scholarship last year.