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Duquesne University professor inspired Goldwater scholar to excel

Aaron Aupperlee
| Monday, May 8, 2017, 12:22 a.m.
Computer Science student at Duquesne University, Madeline Galbraith, originally from Defiance Ohio, won the prestigeous Goldwater Scholarship. Her mentor, Duquesne professor Jeffry Madura, died right before she was awarded the scholarship. Galbraith is shown on Duquesne, Friday, April 29, 2017.
Computer Science student at Duquesne University, Madeline Galbraith, originally from Defiance Ohio, won the prestigeous Goldwater Scholarship. Her mentor, Duquesne professor Jeffry Madura, died right before she was awarded the scholarship. Galbraith is shown on Duquesne, Friday, April 29, 2017.
Duquesne University Professor Jeffry Madura. Madura died of a heart attack on March 14, 2017. He was 59.
Duquesne University
Duquesne University Professor Jeffry Madura. Madura died of a heart attack on March 14, 2017. He was 59.
Computer Science student at Duquesne University, Madeline Galbraith, originally from Defiance Ohio, won the prestigeous Goldwater Scholarship. Her mentor, Duquesne professor Jeffry Madura, died right before she was awarded the scholarship. Galbraith is shown on Duquesne, Friday, April 29, 2017.
Computer Science student at Duquesne University, Madeline Galbraith, originally from Defiance Ohio, won the prestigeous Goldwater Scholarship. Her mentor, Duquesne professor Jeffry Madura, died right before she was awarded the scholarship. Galbraith is shown on Duquesne, Friday, April 29, 2017.

Duquesne University's latest Goldwater scholar didn't get a chance to celebrate the prestigious award with the professor who helped her achieve it.

Madeline Galbraith, a junior in the school's honor college and a double major in physics and computer science, said she was at a conference presenting when she heard that her mentor, professor Jeffry Madura, had died.

“He really helped me to know how to do science like a scientist,” Galbraith said. “If it hadn't been for him, I probably would have dropped out of college.”

Galbraith, 21, of Defiance, Ohio, is the seventh Duquesne student in the last five years to win the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. She is one of 240 recipients of the $7,500 scholarship this year, one of 103 women to win the award and one of two people studying at Pittsburgh universities, joining Christina Cabana, a chemistry student at Carnegie Mellon University.

For Galbraith, winning one of the highest honors for students in science is a long way from where she came. Galbraith's high school in the northwest corner of Ohio is more known for its major league pitchers than its physicists. Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jon Niese graduated from Defiance High School. So did MLB All-Star pitcher Chad Billingsley.

“We were using microscopes from 50 years ago,” Galbraith said of her high school. “The physics teacher didn't even have a degree in physics.”

The physics teacher had a degree in music. The school didn't have science fair. Galbraith went to the local college for more advanced science classes, read articles in academic journals on her own and conducted experiments at home. She once took algae from the pond at her parent's house, put it in jars, put the jars in different locations with varying levels of sunlight and waited to see what happened.

As expected, the algae in the sun grew and the algae in the dark died, she said.

Galbraith checked a box on a college entrance exam saying she would be open to receiving information from colleges and quickly saw her inbox fill with emails about Duquesne. She said she couldn't figure out how to unsubscribe from the emails so she decided to check out the school.

After visiting and meeting some of the faculty, she was hooked.

“They had professors who actually cared about the sciences,” Galbraith said.

A few weeks into her freshman year, Galbraith met Madura. Galbraith said Madura showed her how to use a computer to study organic molecules and pushed her to learn how to code, eventually leading her to tackle computer science as a second major. She helped him with his research and loved spending time in his lab.

When Galbraith grew frustrated with classwork outside of his lab, Madura showed her how it related to and would help her research. It helped her focus, she said.

Madura came to Duquesne in 1998. He chaired the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry for 10 years. He was inducted into the university's Research Hall of Fame twice, named an American Chemical Society Fellow and received the Pittsburgh Award from the society's Pittsburgh chapter for his work.

Madura died of a heart attack on March 14, 2017. He was 59.

Madura received more than $10 million in research funding at Duquesne. He designed molecules that physically and chemically fit with other molecules in the body to interrupt pain signals and affect conditions associated with addiction and Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.

Galbraith said she hopes to go to grad school and earn a Ph.D. to continue research similar to Madura's.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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