St. Olaf College | News

Three students named Beckman Scholars

St. Olaf students (from left) Serina Robinson ’15, Carlos Rivera ’15, and Emily Reeves ’15 have been selected as this year’s Beckman Scholars.

St. Olaf College students Serina Robinson ’15, Emily Reeves ’15, and Carlos Rivera ’15 have been selected as this year’s Beckman Scholars.

St. Olaf was one of 10 institutions across the nation to receive a grant from the Beckman Foundation in support of the prestigious scholars program. The three students selected as this year’s scholars will each begin a multi-year, faculty-mentored research project in biology and chemistry.

As part of the program, the students will receive stipends to conduct research over the course of two summers as well as funding for 10 hours of research each week during the academic year.

Robinson will be working with her advisor, Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Schade, to look at the biochemical mechanisms that regulate phosphorus cycling in phytoplankton. Robinson, who is majoring in chemistry and biology, became interested in phytoplankton and biochemical research when working in a lab that looked at algae as a biofuel source.

“I am most looking forward to presenting at the conference in Irvine, California, with the other Beckman scholars from across the country,” says Robinson, who notes that she and Schade may also visit a research station in Alaska this summer as part of the program.

Reeves, a chemistry major, will examine how silver nanoparticles react in the environment, specifically with an amino acid called cysteine. She will be working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Doug Beussman to bring understanding to a somewhat unexamined area of chemistry.

“The more papers I read, the more I saw the need for studying environmental implications, since very few people have done so to date,” says Reeves. “My experience in the Science Conversation program at St. Olaf has been by far the most important factor in helping me prepare my project.”

Rivera will look at the stabilization of certain nucleic acids in aqueous cosolute solution with the help of Associate Professor of Chemistry Jeff Schwinefus. Rivera, who is majoring in chemistry and mathematics, hopes to monitor the unfolding of certain nucleic acids, and then to refold and stabilize them.

“Ultimately, an understanding of how to better stabilize these nucleic acids in the body — through drug development — might solve such problems as aging and cancer,” says Rivera.

Rivera first became interested in the topic after reading about Creutzfelt-Jakob Disease, also known as Human Mad Cow Disease, which involves misfolded proteins.

“I am looking forward to getting experience doing innovative and rigorous scientific research at the undergraduate level,” he says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”