Conducting research in a lab is one of the most important elements of an education in chemistry. Research experiences allow students to develop as scientists and gain practical skills and experience. That’s why Evan Pugh University Professor of Chemistry Stephen Benkovic and his wife Patricia Benkovic established the Benkovic Research Scholarship, which supports these important educational experiences for chemistry majors.
The Benkovic award provides financial support for undergraduates who are conducting outstanding unpaid research on campus under the direction of a faculty member. This year, nine students have been named recipients of the Benkovic Scholarship: Lauren Chamberlain, Basel Karim, Kavisha Kharawala, Timothy Lou, Amy Matera, Jarod Olson, Adam Sabatose, Ethan Savage, and Emily Thompson.
Lauren Chamberlain is a junior chemistry major. She plans to conduct research in the Elacqua lab, where she will be working on the dimerization of trans-anethole. This reaction is a [2+2] cycloaddition that is catalyzed using a single-chain polymer nanoparticle (SCNP) that a graduate student in the group created. The nanoparticle is a crosslinked co-polymer that incorporates the photocatalyst triphenylpyrylium tetrafluoroborate (TPT) and the electron relay styrylpyrene (SP). The dimerization is being studied to prove the faster reaction rate and recyclability of the SCNP compared to traditional photocatalysts.
Basel Karim is a fourth year student who is double majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. Karim plans to work with Paul Berg Early Career Professor of Chemistry Xin Zhang. Within the Zhang group, Karim will help to develop biochemical assays to study protein folding states. By studying these states and the methods to visualize them through fluorescent reporters, the group can develop assays that directly correlate to factors that induce misfolding and refolding. These assays will help scientists to study protein folding diseases—such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease—with the goal of understanding aggregation and alleviation pathways.
Kavisha Kharawala is a sophomore chemistry major. Kharawala plans to work with Weinreb Early Career Professor of Chemistry Ramesh Giri and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Elizabeth Elacqua on upcycling polystyrene-based polymers. The premise of this project is that existing materials, such as plastics, can be chemically transformed into new materials with altered properties. This is often preferable to recycling, which is limited to certain types of plastics and can result in diminished performance of the material as a result of the material breaking down in processing.
Timothy Lou is a sophomore who is currently working with the Lear group, lead by Associate Professor of Chemistry Ben Lear. Lou plans to use his Benkovic scholarship to work on the synthesis and characterization of gold (Au) nanoparticles; he will investigate the ligand exchange mechanism and the effect of the ligand ratio.
Amy Matera is a junior chemistry major. She plans to conduct research in the Zarzar lab, where she will be studying different methods of applying polymer films to a glass surface to make an adhesive layer that can support the particle size needed for structural color. Throughout the process of testing different polymers, Matera will analyze how each one reacts with a glass surface to see the intensity of visible color. Structural color is considered a natural mechanism that is used around us without interpretation. “To have visible vibrant color without inks or dyes is a step into a world without using toxic chemicals in our everyday lives,” Matera adds.
Jarod Olson is a junior chemistry major working with the Showalter lab. During transcription, the eukaryotic RNA Polymerase II C-terminal domain undergoes multiple reversible serine phosphorylations that help to coordinate the multiple enzymatic processes that must occur to create a functioning messenger RNA. Olson’s research focuses on how the phosphatase Fcp1 is recruited to the polymerase, which is critical for removal of phosphoserine marks at the end of a round of transcription. Olson plans to use computational chemistry to predict the structure of centFcp1 in solution and to model its interaction with Rap74.
Adam Sabatose is a rising senior in the chemistry major. He plans to work with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Elizabeth Elacqua, where he will be continuing his research on synthesis and characterization of aromatic co-crystals, which he began during the spring semester. Sabatose notes, “I hope that any discoveries I catalog or make myself can lead to new known co-crystals and new or better nanothreads down the line. In this quarantine time, my work has shifted to more of a literature reviewing role, but that is still quite helpful in putting all of the relevant data in one place and hopefully identifying trends that haven't been noticed yet.”
Ethan Savage is a junior chemistry major. He plans to join the Sen group, where he will be conducting research to understand and control the motion of disk-shaped, catalytic micromotors that move autonomously in hydrogen peroxide solutions. These metallic microparticles convert chemical energy to mechanical work without external power input. Micromotors are a rapidly growing area of research due to their potential applications in cell-specific signaling, drug delivery, and microfluidic pumping. Savage will fabricate disk-shaped micromotors of different diameters and thicknesses to understand how aspect ratio affects particle motion.
The Department of Chemistry congratulates Lauren Chamberlain, Basel Karim, Kavisha Kharawala, Timothy Lou, Amy Matera, Jarod Olson, Adam Sabatose, Ethan Savage, and Emily Thompson on receiving this award.