Students Make the Most of Their Time with American Chemical Society
by Rhonda Van Pelt
Nine Colorado College chemistry and biochemistry students presented their research at the Spring National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, which took place March 20-24 in San Diego.
Afterward, some of them spoke about their work and their experiences in California. All were first-timers at the ACS meeting, and all felt it went well and provided networking opportunities.
Victoria Rosa ’24 has been researching the blood-brain barrier, a semi-permeable membrane that separates the brain from the circulatory system.
“Knowledge of a compound’s ability to permeate the BBB is an essential factor in drug development,” she says.
Drugs targeting diseases of the central nervous system, such as mental illness, must be able to cross the BBB, but drugs intended to treat diseases outside the central nervous system, such as an antibiotic prescribed for a urinary tract infection, must not cross the blood-brain barrier.
Rosa has been interested in science for as long as she can remember.
“My interests within science have morphed with time as I have had the opportunity to explore different disciplines,” she says. In elementary school, “I recall having an insatiable interest with studies of the brain and a deep drive to understand the chemistry and biology that governs it.”
Rana Mohamed Abdu ’22 also has been interested in science since childhood.
“I love that there is always more to learn and the challenge that it provides. I love asking questions and problem-solving and I found chemistry to be a creative and scientific puzzle that excites me,” she says.
Abdu enjoyed meeting chemists and talking with them about their research. The experience has motivated her to continue what she’s doing.
Her research explores making chemical compounds using molybdenum and fluorinated ligands, molecules attached to a metal atom by coordinate bonding. It was part of a project she worked on last summer at Boston University.
“The hope is that these compounds can catalyze reactions that thus far have been difficult to perform,” she says.
Abdu will head to graduate school next fall to pursue her doctorate in inorganic chemistry.
Aleesa Chua ’22 also plans to start on her doctorate program in the fall; she’ll work in analytical chemistry, focusing on mass spectrometry research.
She and her research group worked on a methodology that would enable using latent fingerprints in biomarker discovery and analysis. They want to use mass spectrometry and machine learning to distinguish between healthy and diseased fingerprint samples. Chua conducted the research at the University of Kansas.
She was happy to present her project to a range of people, from high school students to professors, at the ACS meeting.
“I love science due to its applicability to everyday life. We can use science as a way to better understand how the world and the things within it work. I also love how there are no limitations with science. Each finding you make only fosters a new set of questions,” Chua says.
Markus Bergstrom ’23 was drawn to science around fifth grade.
“To me, learning and doing science are like unlocking the secrets of the universe. Science can explain and predict a wide range of phenomena, and it can lead to technologies that improve people’s lives,” he says.
He’s involved in the Distributed Drug Discovery (D3) program, which works with organic chemistry students in colleges around the world to create molecules that could help the more than 1 billion people impacted by “neglected” diseases. Those affect low-income countries where pharmaceutical companies don’t have the financial incentive to develop drugs needed to alleviate the diseases.
The program also will help mitigate what happens when bacteria evolves to resist the antibiotics currently in use.
His next research project, this summer at the University of California Irvine, will relate to either carbon dioxide capture or creating fuels to store solar energy.
Justin Tee ’22 also is part of the D3 program, and has focused on finding greener, safer alternatives to chemicals that can be toxic, caustic, and carcinogenic — and potential precursors to phencyclidine (PCP).
“The big picture dream of this project is that every institution would teach this lab such that we create a collective pharmaceutical company powered by intro-level organic chemistry students,” he says.
In San Diego, he was able to meet others doing similar projects and learn how to improve the research.
Tee “fell hard” for science in the first grade.
“What has made me stay in love with science is the realization that the many disciplines and fields form a covert ‘language of the universe,’” he says.
Tee plans to transition from organic chemistry to focus on climate change, and hopes to work on developing more efficient solar cells, carbon-capture technology, and instrumentation to detect greenhouse gases.
Ayush Chitrakar ’22 will go to the University of Michigan for graduate school and hopes to earn a doctorate in chemistry, he says.
For about one year, he and Elaine (Yiren) Zhang ’23 studied rosinweed, a potential alternative to sunflower or canola oils. It’s prevalent in the Midwest and tends to resist drought and insects.
“As this plant continues to be crossbred, the natural insect resistance could make this crop well-suited to organic or low-input production systems,” Chitrakar says.
The pair worked with samples from the Kansas Land Institute, and Zhang ran all of the 99 genotypic samples.
“Without her, this research would not have been possible,” Chitrakar says.
Like the other students, his fascination with science started early.
“I like the never-ending aspect of science. There is always something more you can do with your project, another idea to try. In that way, you can always learn something new.”