Chemistry Students Present Research at International Biophysics Conference

June 19, 2019

Seeking to enhance their learning experiences outside of the classroom, two St. John’s chemistry majors joined an estimated 6,000 scientists at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD, during the spring semester and presented their individual research on the alpha-synuclein protein. 

The students, Daisy Alvarado ’19C and Dalia Hasan ’19C, were both Clare Boothe Luce Undergraduate Research Scholars at St. John’s last summer.  

“It was an amazing opportunity to showcase our research alongside our mentor, Professor Frank X. Vazquez, Ph.D.,” said Ms. Hasan. “We were also introduced to research that was very similar to ours, and we learned research techniques that we could implement in our work.”

“The research that Daisy and I conducted is technically ‘biophysics,’ but our lab is a computational chemistry lab,” said Ms. Hasan. “In the lab, we apply thermodynamics and physical chemistry onto biological systems.” 

Her research, “Molecular Dynamics Studies of Dynamin Oligomers in Solution,” explores how various domains of dynamin—a type of enzyme—move with respect to each other. 

“Daisy and Dalia are amazing students who did impressive work in my research group,” said Dr. Vazquez, Assistant Professor of Chemistry in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They are both extremely intelligent and hard-working students and have done a great job learning how to use computational chemistry to study protein systems. Their work will lead to a new understanding of how proteins interact with each other inside of the cell.” 

Ms. Alvarado’s research, “Multiscale Investigation of Monomeric Alpha-Synuclein Structure and Aggregation,” focuses on large aggregation of the protein 𝛼-synuclein, known as Lewy bodies, which are the major hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

At the conference, the pair also attended seminars about career opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, as well as strategies for applying to graduate school. 

In the fall, both Ms. Hasan and Ms. Alvarado plan to continue their studies in graduate school. 

“Ultimately, I would like to work in a pharmaceutical company where I can research new therapeutic drugs for neurovegetative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s,” said Ms. Alvarado. 

After earning a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, Ms. Hasan would like to return to the classroom as a chemistry professor. “I love teaching and helping my peers,” she said. “To be able to teach in a college setting while conducting research is a huge dream of mine.”