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Marquis Scholar Margaret Tammaro ’08 (Dunellen, N.J.) performed experiments on protein folding that could lead to a greater understanding of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

The biochemistry major submitted her findings to the scientific journal Biochemistry.

She collaborated with Yvonne Gindt, assistant professor of chemistry, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students 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.

Tammaro was responsible for identifying the type of photosynthetic protein and measuring the type and amount of energy needed for the folding and unfolding of that protein found in refined pond scum.

Gindt received a $100,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue her research with Lafayette students on understanding protein folding and aggregation, which has potential biochemical implications for a number of diseases. Her students have presented their work in a variety of forums in the last few years, including national American Chemistry Society meetings.

“Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are thought to be caused by protein misfolding, so we’re just trying to better understand how the protein folds,” says Tammaro, a member of the student chapter of American Chemical Society.

She adds that the project’s practical applications made it a very valuable undertaking as she honed her skills with laboratory instruments and expanded her knowledge of lab practices.

“Margaret learned a lot of practical knowledge that could be of great use for graduate school or industry, so she got a great foundation there,” Gindt says. “It also helps her understand what a professional scientist does. There is this stereotypical notion that scientists work long hours and are kind of nerdy, and hopefully this has given her a more balanced outlook on what we do.”

Tammaro learned that conducting experiments is just as much about not finding an answer as it is about finding one.

“It’s a lot of trial and error. Here things don’t always work out. We don’t know what we’re going to get, and sometimes we’re not even sure if the method is going to be the correct one to find what we’re looking for,” Tammaro says. “But the unknown makes it exciting.”

She plans on continuing her EXCEL research to help decide whether a career as an academic chemist is one she’d like to pursue.

Gindt notes that Tammaro’s experience in the lab will benefit her as she advances through her coursework, and the EXCEL Scholars program will help her build strong relationships with the Lafayette faculty and scientists throughout the research community.

Tammaro graduated from Bishop George Ahr High School in 2004.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Tammaro receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News