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Trustee Scholar Matthew Coughlin ’07 (Boyertown, Pa.) conducted research this summer to detect the presence of glutamate in enzymes, producing results that may have applications in the study of biosensors.

Glutamate, an amino acid, is a principal component of protein. Coughlin, a chemistry major, worked with Tina Huang, assistant professor of chemistry, trapping enzymes in an effort to measure their response to the glutamate.

They collaborated through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, which allows students to conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Coughlin, a member of Lafayette’s tennis club, says that the EXCEL research allowed him to create solutions to problems instead of looking in a book.

“Doing research requires different thinking compared to classroom learning, and I need to develop that ability if I plan on being a chemist,” he notes.

Coughlin used electrochemistry to trap enzymes on an electrode surface. He anchored a specific compound called a thiol to the electrode, causing a reaction that produced a polymer and trapped the enzymes.

“In the presence of glutamate, the enzymes embedded in the polymer will produce a response which we can measure,” he explains. “Hopefully this work will have applications to other systems and the study of biosensors.”

Coughlin says he was eager to get into the laboratory and start the research. His major roles included running various experiments and making the electrode surface.

Coughlin appreciates Huang’s light sense of humor, which he says helped ease the burden of extensive laboratory work. Her understanding of the material and allowance of his freedom in the laboratory were among the assets that made their working relationship strong, he says.

“[Professor Huang] has become a guide as I became comfortable with research, which is significantly different than simply taking a class,” he says.

“The Lafayette Experience is teaching me to think,” Coughlin adds. “The opportunity to do research as an undergraduate is helping me to learn the type of thinking required for successful chemists.”

He is a graduate of Saint Pius X High School.

Selected from among Lafayette’s top applicants, Trustee Scholars have distinguished themselves through exceptional academic achievement in high school. They receive from Lafayette an annual minimum scholarship of $7,500 (totaling $30,000 over four years) or a grant in the full amount of their demonstrated need if the need is more than $7,500.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News