Donor supported undergraduate research

Submitted by Diana Knight on
Undergraduate Researcher Christine Wu works in the lab of Associate Professor Dan Fu with her graduate student research mentor, Robert Espinoza.

Twenty-one undergraduate researchers working with Chemistry faculty received a $2,000 stipend from donor supported departmental scholarship funds to continue their research during summer 2022. In summer 2023, eighteen undergraduate students received a total of $53,100 from donor supported departmental scholarship funds to begin or continue research in chemistry.

The disbursement of these funds over the past two summers is the beginning steps to create research opportunities for more undergraduate students. This initiative stemmed from Chair Munira Khalil’s priority to support undergraduate research, as it is often a determining factor in graduate school admission and an imperative experience in the professional development of a scientist. The Undergraduate Awards Committee, chaired by Assistant Professor Alexandra Velian and including Undergraduate Adviser Casey Renneberg and Advancement & Communications Manager Diana Knight, plans to continue developing this scholarship opportunity, with input from a working group of students in the Department of Chemistry called ProCURE, Promoting Chemistry Undergraduate Research Equity. Among the goals of ProCURE are to increase access to funding for undergraduate researchers, facilitate mentorship training for graduate student mentors, and build a mentorship network for undergraduate students interested in or currently performing undergraduate research.

Following are testimonies from student beneficiaries of the Department of Chemistry’s Endowed Undergraduate Research Scholarship for summer 2022.

Reuben Allen stands behind a lectern with a microphone

Reuben Allen, B.S. Biochemistry, 2023

I have been fortunate to work as an undergraduate researcher with Professor Champak Chatterjee for the last year and a half. Looking back on this experience, I have come to recognize the unique enrichment that research provided to my education. In the biochemistry curriculum, I have spent most of my time assimilating the knowledge promulgated by my professors; this knowledge, while incredibly useful, is best characterized as the fruits of scientific labor rather than knowledge of scientific inquiry itself. This scientific inquiry is what makes undergraduate research such an important and necessary component of a well-rounded scientific education. It is one thing to accept a figure in a textbook as fact, but it is another to appreciate the years of clever scientific experimentation required to establish it. My work with Professor Chatterjee has also helped me experience what the day-to-day life of an experimentalist is like. Science requires a willingness to put in consistent and often monotonous effort to prepare experiments, but more than that, a good scientist perseveres when this effort yields poor results.

In my own research, I have been studying a very weak protein-to-protein interaction between the small ubiquitin-like modifier protein, abbreviated as SUMO, and a scaffolding protein, called CoREST, that forms a complex with transcriptional regulator proteins. Our hypothesis is that SUMO may assist in the localization of these transcriptional regulators to DNA, and more than once I would find that after many hours of protein expression and purification, the experimental approach we wanted to use, which works well for many other proteins with stronger interactions, was not amenable to this system. But not willing to give up, we eventually developed experiments capable of investigating such a weak interaction. At this point, not only have we discovered the structural binding groove of this interaction through nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (see image below), but we have identified cancer-associated mutations in CoREST that disrupt this interaction, suggesting pathological implications for transcriptional regulation in human cancers that they occur. More than any other experience as an undergraduate, this work allowed me to realize that a career in research is something that I want to pursue and made it possible for me to be accepted to graduate school in chemistry at MIT.

AlphaFold predicted structure of the small ubiquitin-like modifier protein 3 (SUMO-3, blue) bound to a truncated peptide from the REST corepressor 1 (CoREST1, purple)

An AlphaFold predicted structure of the small ubiquitin-like modifier protein 3 (SUMO-3, blue) bound to a truncated peptide from the REST corepressor 1 (CoREST1, purple); this structure overlays a portion of the SUMO-3 heteronuclear two-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance spectrum. Ligand-induced chemical shift perturbations are colored red > orange > green > cyan. By characterizing the CoREST-SUMO interaction, members of the Chatterjee lab work towards mechanistic insight into the biochemical cross-talk involved in epigenetic regulation. They are especially interested in the role of CoREST1 mutations in the misregulation of biochemical pathways in human cancers.

But for all the positive aspects of undergraduate research I have mentioned, proper attention to research requires a major time commitment, and combining this with a full-time course load and other scholastic activities, we must consider the financial barrier research presents to students. During the summer of 2022, I commuted by ferry each day so that I could do my research on campus. Without the funds provided by the departmental summer research scholarship, I could not have afforded the cost of transportation or saved enough money to buy groceries for this school year.

Not every student has the financial resources to dedicate their time to lab work creating a systematic bias for who can participate in and reap the rewards of research. It is through scholarships like the summer research stipend offered by the department that we can increase accessibility to research opportunities. Therefore, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the scholarship donors who made my research possible.

Headshot of Audrey Hill

Audrey Hill, Chemistry major, Class of 2024

I came all the way from Maryland to attend school at the UW with my main motivation being the opportunity to participate in high level undergraduate chemistry research. Thanks to this scholarship I was able to completely focus on this research over the summer of 2022.

I work with metal organic materials known as macrocycles in Assistant Professor Dianne Xiao's inorganic chemistry lab. Previous work by my graduate student mentor, Leo Zasada, outlines the synthesis and characterization of CuTOTP-OR (TOTP6- = 2,3,6,7-tetraoxidotriphenylene, R = linear C2, C4, C6 and C18 alkyl chains) macrocycles. In this paper they report ambipolar charge transport in the CuTOTP-OC18 macrocycle. My project over the summer focused specifically on the CuTOTP-OC18 because of this charge transport and their long alkyl chains that allow them to readily disperse in organic solvents. I hypothesized that if the macrocycles would self assemble into tubes and, if those tubes could be aligned, the film would show greater charge transport. Over the summer, I was able to observe many different and interesting film ordering and morphologies through atomic force microscopy (AFM), an imaging technique in which I advanced my expertise over the summer through my full time position and support from this stipend.

Atomic Force Microscopy Image: film prepared by evaporation induced self-assembly of CuTOTP-OC18 macrocycle out of 1 mg/ml Toluene

Atomic Force Microscopy Image: film prepared by evaporation induced self-assembly of CuTOTP-OC18 macrocycle out of 1 mg/ml Toluene

The financially ability to participate full time expedited my project and development in lab. This scholarship was invaluable in my ability to further my research and interest in the field and to build my confidence as a researcher and scientist. I cannot thank the donors who gave me this opportunity enough!

Ingrid Jeacopello

Ingrid Jeacopello, B.S. Environmental Science and Terrestrial Resource Management, minors in Chemistry and Quantitative Science, 2023

Receiving a summer research stipend made it possible for me to spend the summer doing something I have dreamt of doing for years: research with a renowned analytical chemistry lab. Within the Theberge group I worked on many projects with graduate students and had the opportunity to spearhead a new project with fellow undergraduate students that has continued during the school year. The integration of rapid testing to the CandyCollect project was my main focus. The goal of this project is to create a more comfortable diagnostic method for a slew of illnesses at home or in the doctor’s office. It required me to learn how to make devices using a CNC milling machine, elute bacteria from those devices, and then examine the results using a fluorescent microscope. The project required lengthy experiments and collaboration with my group and mentor. I also had the opportunity to help run human subject experiments utilizing REDCap, which I learned how to use and create studies. I am grateful for every day I was able to spend in the lab; without the scholarship from the Degering Trust Fund I would have been forced to obtain employment that would not have enriched my life as a budding researcher and chemist.

Maya Xiang, Biochemistry major, Class of 2025

It is my third to fourth year in Washington while all my family are in China. Due to Covid restrictions, I have not had the ability to visit them since 2020. I have no housing or support here and as the exchange rate between Yuan and US dollars rises, more pressure is put on my family.

This scholarship helps me afford on campus housing in the summer so that I can attend research meetings and in-person classes. Being only 8-minutes from my main lecture hall and research building saves me time and money on transportation.

During the summer of 2022, I took 18 credits of coursework while conducting analyses on two-stage quizzing, a specific testing type where the student takes the exact same quiz twice, once individually and once within groups. In the research, we want to analyze the students' changes in confidence level with and without using the two-stage quiz. We expect that the two-stage quiz strategy will bring students more confidence compared to traditional testing methods. As I have enough time in summer, I have successfully obtained and compiled all the data we needed and built a loop in R that prepared to run data analysis. I am learning the logistic regression for the ordered variable analysis. This test will perform the loop to get the result!

This is my first research opportunity at UW and I really appreciate all the help I received along the way.

Funds that supported $42,000 in research scholarships in summer 2022:

  • George H. Cady Endowed Lectureship in Chemistry
  • Ed F. And Clara M. Degering Trust Fund
  • George H. Hitchings Endowed Scholarship Fund
  • Seymour Rabinovitch Endowed Chair in Chemistry
  • Ritter Endowed Scholarship Fund

Funds that supported $53,100 in research scholarships in summer 2023:

  • George and Agnes Irene Cady Endowed Fund in Chemistry
  • Chemistry Scholarship Fund
  • Ed F. And Clara M. Degering Trust Fund
  • George H. Hitchings Endowed Scholarship Fund
  • Lewis R. and Joan M. Honnen Endowed Fellowship in Chemistry
  • Benton Seymour Rabinovitch Endowed Fellowship
  • Boris and Barbara L. Weinstein Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Chemistry

On Husky Giving Day, April 6, 2023, we asked you to join us to support a summer stipend for an undergraduate researcher through the Chemistry Scholarship Fund. It was because of YOU that we were able to disburse an additional $13,100 in summer stipends for our undergraduate researchers! Private support like yours makes a world of difference. THANK YOU!