Just five years ago, Marcus Forst, CST ’19, found himself in a sudden fight for his life after receiving a terrifying medical diagnosis. But that life experience ultimately led him to the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, as a Knight-Hennessey Scholar at Stanford University.
A newfound passion
In 2015, as a first-year student, Forst found himself struggling to breathe. He checked himself into the hospital, expecting pneumonia. The reality was much worse. A huge, cancerous tumor had grown between his heart and lungs, causing his chest cavity to fill with mucus.
Forst was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Doctors immediately started him on an intensive, six-month chemotherapy regimen. It would ultimately take three years of medical care to force the cancer into remission.
But while living at home and undergoing treatment, Forst found the silver lining. As part of an academic scholarship from Temple, the physics major had earned a $4,000 research grant. He decided to use it by studying special magnets that can grow or contract when placed near other magnets, and may prove useful when designing new electronic circuits.
It introduced Forst to a new love: research. “I had to do research from my house,” Forst said. “But it turned out to be super fun and actually a pretty great escape from the less positive day-to-day.”
Next came the accolades
During his junior year, Forst earned a 3.99 GPA in Temple’s Honors Program, and became the first Temple student to win a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. The national honor enabled him to study abroad in Erlangen, Germany, where he researched computational physics and picked up programming skills.
As a senior, Forst was named a Knight-Hennessey Scholar, an international scientific fellowship similar to a Rhodes or Fulbright scholarship. The award came with three years of no-strings-attached funding, enabling him to engage in scientific research of his choosing at Stanford while also obtaining a PhD in applied physics.
From beating cancer to combating COVID-19
After arriving at Stanford, he continued his study of cutting-edge materials, but once COVID-19 swept across the country, Forst shifted his focus. He joined up with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Berkeley and the University of California San Francisco to study solutions for the pandemic.
Forst led the assemblage of a specialized microscope to study human antibodies, ultimately helping to advance scientific understanding of humans’ immune response to the virus.
At Stanford, Forst now regularly encounters some of the greatest scientific minds from around the world, and, he said, he’s proud to represent Temple.
“My whole life I felt I had been missing something because I was excluded from this club of elite universities,” Forst said. “But now I realize that Temple has given me experiences and perspectives that I would not have gotten anywhere else.”
—by Kyle Bagenstose, KLN ’11, and Lauri Kochis