Wednesday, May 13, 2015

SMART Students!

Congratulations are due to our two SMART (Student Mentor Academic Research Team) award winners, Jared Larue (Biochemistry) and Chris Warkentin (Chemistry). The SMART awards have routinely provided financial support to our students for summer research.  Such an experience can be vital in securing enrollment in one's graduate school of choice.

The goal of Jared's work is to optimize the functionality of the arsenite oxidase enzyme to further research in potential decontamination methods. He will work with fellow student Cheri Stalcup (biochemistry) under the guidance of biochemist Dr. Gretchen Anderson.  They will begin by analyzing the DNA sequence obtained last summer for the large and small subunits of arsenite oxidase. If any mutations are found, they will use site-specific mutagenesis to correct them. Then they will vary the conditions in which E. coli are grown to optimize the production of active forms of arsenite oxidase. This won't be easy because both subunits contain weird cofactors (such as a molybdopterin cofactor, a 3Fe-4S cluster, and a Rieske-type 2Fe-2S cluster). The E. coli cells need to not only fold the proteins correctly and keep them solubilized, but also make and insert the appropriate metallo-cofactors. 

Chris's research will continue and build upon work done by analytical chemist Dr. Grace Muna, along with other IUSB students and alumni, on the development of nickel-modified glassy carbon electrodes (Ni-GCE) for the electrochemical detection of steroid hormones in local surface waters. He plans to explore whether the use of bimetallic nickel modified electrodes (Ni/Pt-GCE and Ni/Pd-GCE) will offer improved steroid hormone detection in terms of sensitivity and longer term electrode stability compared to Ni-GCEs. Chris is currently working on a BS Chemistry degree. After graduation, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in materials and nanoscience with applications in sustainable energy systems, specifically fuel cells, batteries, and photovoltaic cells. Further congratulations are due to Chris: a few months ago he was awarded an honorable mention in the prestigious 2015 Barry Goldwater Scholarhip and Excellence in Education Program.