Daniel Haller grew up in Waxhaw, NC (Union County) and attended Marvin Ridge High School just south of Charlotte. While he remembers always loving science, he has many other passions which round out his life. In middle school he explored his love for music by learning to play the clarinet. He remembers noticing a high school student with an oboe which piqued his curiosity. It was then that he made the change over to the oboe and has been playing ever since. Daniel also has a passion for reading and writing. Upon selecting his major area of focus for college, Daniel considered career possibilities in Oboe performance and authorship, but ultimately selected a focus in the sciences. In reflecting on this, Daniel remarked that, “pursuing all of your interests is important as they all contribute to your knowledge base regardless of which field you land in professionally.”
Daniel’s passion for science was sparked at an early age through everyday life with a mother and father who work as engineers. A dinner conversation which focused on atoms was not an unusual occurrence in the Haller home. He feels lucky to have them in his life and attributes his early consideration of a career in science to their supporting presence.
Day to day life at home helped Daniel to see science as a realistic contender for a future career, but he also recalls being influenced by a “really excellent teacher”. This teacher introduced Daniel to biology content that he truly loved and also invited him to consider competing in science and engineering fairs. Daniel, who lived in region 6 in NC, was able to participate in science and engineering fairs across multiple years. He participated on a three person team whose scientific research varied from year to year across multiple categories. Haller and teammates Jainith Patel and Ashwin Kulshrestha, now at Stanford and Duke respectively, did research in psychology, mathematical modeling, and computer science. He enjoyed the competitions and noted that the fair experience impacted the way that he does science currently. One thing that stood out to him was that his team was able to receive feedback from professional scientists and had to get comfortable with constructive feedback and seeing science as an iterative process. He also remarked that participating as a member of a team of scientists gave him important collaboration skills and helped him to learn that science is all about working together with people who bring different skills and expertise to the table.
Daniel’s team was successful regionally and as a result was promoted to the NC State Science and Engineering Fair (NCSEF) and also the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in (2017 Los Angeles, 2018 Pittsburg). Participation at ISEF, with all expenses paid for the team through regional funds, allowed the team of researchers to engage with over 1800 students from 80 countries. When asked about the ISEF experience Daniel commented, “That was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I will never forget that rush of excitement. It is kind of like the Olympics for science fair.”
He especially relished having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and continues to keep in touch with some of them today. The experience made Daniel feel like he was part of a worldwide community and notably a community of people with similar interests.
In reflecting on his science and engineering fair experience, Daniel noted the following as the biggest impact of participation:
“I think the biggest benefit that participating in the science fairs gave me was that it prepared me really well for the reality of doing actual research. When you are doing assignments in a classroom, everything is laid out so that you succeed, in that if you don’t have the answer you can ask someone or look it up. All the steps are laid out in front of you. But when you are doing real research, the solutions to your problems don’t exist yet and you have to come up with creative strategies to solve problems that you encounter.”
For Daniel, one of the hardest parts of the science fair process was coming up with what they wanted to research. He noted that none of his projects had to do with his current research interest and that he felt a bit of a novice in all three fields when the team got started. He realizes that through the process he learned a great deal about all three fields and still draws on it, implementing some of this knowledge in his current research.
Daniel Haller is currently at North Carolina State University as a Park Scholar, studying chemical and biomolecular engineering, minor in biotechnology. He works under the guidance of assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Nathan Crook, emeritus professor of biology Robert Grossfeld and mathematics lecturer Elisabeth Brown and was recently awarded the Goldwater Scholarship. His research involves working with probiotic yeast. Haller is interested in using the yeast to create beta carotene for use in the prevention of vitamin A deficiency. He is currently planning to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering, likely in synthetic biology and specifically in disease treatment.
We asked Daniel to provide 1 piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering. His advice was,
“Develop all of your interests both inside and outside of science. Well-roundedness and an interdisciplinary acumen are becoming increasingly important. Follow your curiosity regardless of whether it is inside your field, because it will come back and support you.”