Biology graduate Maria Liberti ’13 caught the research bug in high school when she conducted her first independent project testing the effectiveness of food preservatives.
At Lafayette, she transferred that passion to cancer research by studying how cancer uses the body’s signaling pathways for its survival. She conducted the research with Robert Kurt, professor and head of biology, who also advised her honors thesis. They presented their work at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. Her research with Kurt also helped her earn a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Boston University.
“There are so many biological uncertainties and questions that still need answering, and I wanted to be part of that greater scientific community to make a difference and answer some of those questions,” she says. “My research with Dr. Kurt prepared me for conducting research outside of Lafayette and was instrumental to my success in graduate school.”
Now a Ph.D. student in biochemistry at Cornell University, Liberti has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship that provides a three-year annual stipend of $32,000. Anna Eisenstein ’13 and Jessica Counihan ’10 also were awarded fellowships this year.
Liberti is studying the regulation of metabolism in cancer by therapeutically targeting glucose metabolism in cancer, also known as the Warburg Effect. Her studies will help scientists better understand the regulation of glucose metabolism in cancer and will provide insights on biomarker discovery and the development of novel metabolic inhibitors for cancer treatment.
She also received the Cornell Sloan Fellowship and has filed a provisional patent application on her research.
Eisenstein, an anthropology & sociology and government & law graduate, will use her fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the University of Virginia, where she earned her master’s degree this year. Her research explores wellness and illness in southwestern Uganda, specifically how people talk about and pursue health.
Eisenstein’s research with Andrea Smith, associate professor of anthropology and sociology, inspired her graduate study in the field. Through the College’s EXCEL Scholars undergraduate research program, she worked on Smith’s “Syrian Town” project, a far-reaching endeavor to reconstruct a racially and ethnically diverse Easton community demolished as part of the city’s urban renewal project in the 1960s.
Their work led to a publication in the Journal of Linguistics Anthropology and introduced Eisenstein to the important role of language in how people remember and communicate their experiences.
Counihan, who earned degrees in chemistry and the self-designed major architecture, spent several years as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Estonia before deciding to pursue a Ph.D. in metabolic biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been working on two projects, one focusing on cancer research and another on the effects of exposure to the herbicide acetochlor in mice.
The hands-on EXCEL, independent study, and honors thesis research Counihan conducted as an undergraduate with Joseph Sherma, Larkin Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, and Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor Emeritus of Biology, was pivotal, she says, in her decision to pursue a career in research. Their work led to presentations at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology and several journal publications. Much of her undergraduate research involved the study of neutral lipids (or fats), something she also studies in her doctoral work.
For information on applying for scholarships and fellowships, contact Julia A. Goldberg, associate dean of the College, (610) 330-5521.