Campus & Community

Bjork named Marshall Scholar

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Chemistry concentrator plans to work toward an M.Phil. at Cambridge University

Harvard senior Samuel Bjork has won a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, allowing him to study for two years in the United Kingdom at the university of his choice.

Bjork, a chemistry concentrator who lives in Eliot House, is one of 35 new Marshall Scholars nationwide. He plans to use the first year of his scholarship to work toward an M.Phil. in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, followed by an M.Sc. in chemistry, with a focus on synthetic organic or inorganic chemistry.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to explore areas of research, especially in the history of science, that I might not otherwise encounter in graduate school, and that might inform my future work,” said Bjork, a native of Cambridge, Minn., who now lives in Minneapolis. “I’d like to look at the development of evolutionary theory at the beginning of the 20th century and at some of the ethical issues surrounding current advances in biological engineering.”

Bjork has conducted research with Jack Szostak, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School; Andrew Myers, Amory Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology; and George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. His work in these labs has touched on the anti-cancer effects of tetracycline antibiotics and the study of ethanol production in a novel bacterium as a possible source of renewable energy.

“While it seems like a distant possibility at this point, I would love to lead my own research group someday,” said Bjork, who is teaching organic chemistry at the Harvard Extension School this semester. “I am increasingly interested in using the tools of synthetic chemistry in the rational design of molecules with useful reactivity patterns, especially as applied to environmental and energy problems.”

Bjork received a Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Public Service Fellowship to take a leave of absence after his sophomore year at Harvard, which he spent working at a pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic in Gaborone, Botswana. He helped to design teacher-training workshops on HIV education and worked with the Botswana Ministry of Education and the World Bank to implement these workshops for Botswana educators. He was also involved in community outreach and educational activities for HIV-positive teens.

For his first three years at Harvard,  Bjork was a violinist in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. He has written for Harvard Magazine,  the Harvard Book Review, the Harvard Crimson, the Harvard Gazette, and the “Let’s Go” travel guides.

“I bounced back and forth between the humanities and the sciences my first two years,” Bjork said. “Along the way, I was fortunate enough to take classes with more dedicated professors than I can name. Their patience, encouragement, and advice has meant a great deal to me.”

In addition to Andrew Myers, Bjork cites as especially important influences Cynthia Friend, Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science; Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor and Walter Jackson Bate Fellow; and Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science and Harvard College Professor.

Including Bjork, 247 Harvard students have won Marshall Scholarships, which were created in 1953 to commemorate U.S. aid to Europe after World War II under the Marshall Plan. The program is aimed at promising scholars and likely future leaders in their fields. Prominent Marshall Scholars include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, former Duke University President Nannerl Keohane, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.