Vinay Nayak, a senior at Yale, has focused his studies on how the Internet can be used to promote civic engagement in elections and government. He is also the son of businessman and political fundraiser Raghuveer Nayak, a key figure in the investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Samuel Greene, a U. of C. senior, will graduate with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a master's degree in physical chemistry.
The two were chosen for the prestigious designation out of a field of more than 200 U.S. finalists from 91 colleges. The scholarships pay all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
Nayak, 21, graduated from Hinsdale Central High School, where he won a Chicago Tribune All-State Academic Team scholarship and graduated as co-valedictorian in 2010.
Nayak gained experience in his field while working on President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, in which he managed national digital programs and social media accounts, according to biographical information provided by the Rhodes Trust. He was selected for a White House internship this year.
In an email statement to the Tribune, Nayak described gathering with other finalists in Chicago over the weekend and awaiting the selection committee's decision.
"When they announced my name I couldn't believe it," Nayak said in the email. "I don't think I've yet fully processed this amazing opportunity that I've been given, and I hope to make the most of it when I study at Oxford."
With plans to pursue a master of public policy at Oxford, Nayak said he hopes "to learn how we can use online tools to help those who are voiceless in the political process here in the U.S. and in countries around the world."
Nayak's father, a former fundraiser for Blagojevich and ex-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges involving surgery centers he operated in Illinois and Indiana.
Greene, 21, has done research on converting organic material to biofuel and, for the U.S. Department of Energy, on developing statistical methods for analytical chemistry measurements involving radioactive materials.
He said his most important work to date is a project in which he is building a computer model of methane emissions from Alaska lakes to better understand how the lakes will change in the future.
Greene grew up on the island of Oahu in Hawaii before moving at age 14 to Wisconsin, where he attended Madison West High School. Greene is the son of a Zen Buddhist priest and is himself a practitioner.
Greene used to play the piano and compose music, but he gave up those pursuits for science.
"My studies kind of took over, and I decided to focus more on the science, which is what I love to do the most," he said.
Greene will pursue a master's in physical and theoretical chemistry at Oxford. He said he wants to develop quantum mechanical computer models of energy technologies.