Brittany Nichols, of Gibsonville, North Carolina, will join researchers at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland in Germany after being selected for a Fulbright U.S. Student Research Grant.

Nichols, a graduate student in chemistry in the College of Science, is the first African-American student at Virginia Tech to be awarded a Fulbright.

“Fulbright will give me the chance to build upon my work at Virginia Tech, further explore my passion for research, and expand my skill set before graduating. I hope my selection will encourage others to apply,’’ Nichols said.

At Virginia Tech, Nichols designed polysaccharides, which are natural chains of sugars creating renewable, biodegradable materials. She will test them at the Saarland institute, where researchers develop drugs and therapies to combat infectious diseases.

Her work has “the potential to provide painless oral delivery options useful for a wide range of drugs,” she said. She will be looking for biological barriers that could interfere with a drug’s effects. “My goal is to give insight needed for optimizing the design of promising drug-delivery polymers,” Nichols said.

Kevin Edgar, professor of biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is Nichols’ Ph.D. adviser. Noting her high number of publications compared with other students, he said, “I truly believe that the time in Germany will teach her techniques she couldn’t learn here, which will be extremely beneficial to her research.”

Nichols, who has traveled outside the continental U.S. just once (on a family trip to Puerto Rico), is looking forward to exploring a new environment, though she admits she is concerned about learning enough German “to overcome the language barrier.”  

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program has offered recent graduates and graduate students opportunities since 1946. Fulbright grant recipients can research, study, and teach in more than 140 countries.

Nichols encourages others considering Fulbright to put aside hesitations and self-doubt. “I would emphasize persistence; I applied multiple times to other grants before being selected as a Fulbright finalist,” she said.

Nichols received a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a master’s degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, both in chemistry.

Students and faculty interested in Fulbright awards can contact Betty Anderson in the Global Education Office, a unit of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Alexa Johnson; Rommelyn Coffren contributed to this report.

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