The last time Dr. Shuguang Zhang saw Julia M. Carpenter, they discussed the fellowship she had received to work this summer at the Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE), where she had been a UROP student since last spring.
"It's a great honor and she was looking forward to it," said Dr. Zhang, co-director of CBE, recalling the brief exchange last Friday.
Ms. Carpenter, 20, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, was found dead in her Random Hall dormitory room early Monday morning. The Middlesex County medical examiner was scheduled to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. There were no signs of foul play, according to Campus Police.
Dr. Zhang, who has known Ms. Carpenter since she was a freshman and he was her advisor, encouraged her to join his team under the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, working independently on a project to develop new methods for gene transfer. He said she was an excellent student and ideal laboratory worker -- "conscientious and motivated, friendly and helpful; she took good notes and kept the laboratory neat and clean."
Dr. Zhang said Ms. Carpenter's research involved developing ways to change one type of cell to another under environmentally induced conditions in a three-dimensional peptide scaffold hydrogel.
"Her work will have a tremendous impact on the basic study of biology, and treatment of a variety of diseases and aging," he said, noting that Ms. Carpenter "will certainly be one of the authors for the paper" when it is published. "This all [her death] is very, very sad," he said.
Ms. Carpenter, who grew up in Houston, where she attended Stratford High School, planned to attend medical school. She was an accomplished student and talented musician who entertained nursing home residents with violin performances when she was in middle school. At MIT, she was a member of Alpha Chi Sigma, the professional chemical society for students.
"I am very sad that Julie is no longer with us," said her advisor, Professor Daniel Blankschtein of chemical engineering. "Having a daughter who is a freshman at Brandeis, I can imagine what her parents are going through at this time."
Ms. Carpenter attended a rooftop birthday party at Random Hall Sunday night at which only soft drinks were served. The dormitory's housemaster called Campus Police at about 2:30am Monday after Ms. Carpenter's roommate found her on the floor of her room. Campus Police officers said Ms. Carpenter was dead when they arrived.
She is survived by her parents, Timothy and Kay Carpenter, and a younger sister, Lindsay Ann, all of Houston. The funeral service will be conducted tomorrow at 10am at the Memorial Drive Methodist Church in Houston. Donations may be made to the church in lieu of flowers.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 2, 2001.