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Marquis Scholar Karin Hessler ’04 (Hamburg, N.J.) a biochemistry major, is using a technique called high performance liquid chromatography to build a nonbiological model of a cell membrane. The model includes a solid silica-based support, packed into a column, called a “stationary phase.” Hessler is seeking a viable way to test drugs without hurting or killing animals.

Hessler is working as an EXCEL Scholar with Jessica Wysocki, assistant professor of chemistry. Their project has included injecting various biomolecules into a stationary phase, calculating the thermodynamics of their partitioning and observing retention times, says Hessler. “We also are attempting to modify our stationary phase to give it a polar exterior and a nonpolar interior so it has the structure of a cell membrane.”

The student, who also worked on the project last semester, says the current work focuses on injecting nucleotides, which are components of nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA, into the stationary phase.

They have not had much luck in getting precise retention times, she says, because the stationary phase is extremely sensitive to small changes in structure, possibly due to the acidity level of the nucleotides.

“However, the trouble that we experienced with the nucleotides taught me the important lesson that not everything works in the laboratory,” says Hessler. “Sometimes you have to make various adjustments, and other times you just have to concede that something won’t work.”

Hessler believes the research experience will be helpful because she plans to go to graduate school in biochemistry.

“Chromatography is an important technique in biochemistry that can be used to separate various proteins on the basis of their physical and chemical properties, such as size and charge,” the student says. “The laboratory experience is also invaluable. I feel like I will be better prepared for the future just from continually working and learning new things in the lab.”

She calls Wysocki “extremely knowledgeable, yet easy to approach” and “a great mentor.”

“She always finds time for my questions and is open to discussion,” says Hessler. “Not only does Professor Wysocki help me in the lab, but she also provides guidance for me outside of it. She helps me when I am having trouble understanding something in another class, and has helped me during registration by recommending when I should take various chemistry classes.”

Likewise, Wysocki says Hessler has matured as a scientist. She is starting to think of herself as a scientist and to dive into lab work on her own, devising new ways to approach the project, comments the professor.

Hessler, a graduate of Pope John XXIII Regional High School, says she is enjoying the EXCEL program very much.

“It is a great opportunity for undergraduates to get to know the faculty and work one-on-one with a professor who really cares about your interests and your future,” says the student. “As a student in the EXCEL program, you get to do interesting research that potentially gives you a head start in your career. At Lafayette, EXCEL means what it says.”

Categorized in: Academic News