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National Science Foundation Grant to fund undergraduate research

Rachel Pellegrino Sep 22, 2021

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded Dr. Takashi Suyama a $225,000 grant for his work involving undergraduate students at Waynesburg. The project, “Directed Evolution of Cytochrome P450 for Synthesis of Pyrrole Marine Natural Products,” aims to synthesize medicinally important compounds from marine natural products.

“Many promising drug leads from the ocean remain unstudied because our synthetic technologies today are not good enough to synthesize them rapidly or easily,” said Dr. Suyama, assistant professor of chemistry. “To provide a remedy for this challenge, we are taking a marine bacterial enzyme called cytochrome P450 and modifying it to do the chemical reactions that are not feasible with the pre-existing synthetic technologies.”

It is one thing to do research, but to do research that is funded by NSF is a whole different level because of the prestige and the credibility that comes with working on an NSF project.” 

Dr. Takashi Suyama, assistant professor of chemistry

The federal research grant will not only fund research supplies and equipment, but it will also provide funding to hire a staff scientist to mentor students as well as a student researcher to assist with the NSF project.

For each year of the project, undergraduate students can apply to be the Research Initiatives in Biomedical Sciences Scholar (RIBS). The position, which is available during the academic year and the summer, comes with a stipend as well as opportunities to present research locally and nationally.

The Fall 2021 RIBS Scholar is Andrew Gordon, a senior biochemistry major and Jeffrey and Regina Taussig Ohio Honors Scholarship Awardee.

“The RIBS scholarship allows me to focus more on scientific research while financially enabling me to attend conferences, present my research and network within the scientific community,” Gordon said. “The fact that this scholarship provides me with opportunities to grow is an understatement. In just the past few weeks, I have cultivated skills like time management, creative thinking and problem-solving as a student researcher.”

The undergraduate research project supplements traditional coursework with novel and authentic research experiences that will prepare students for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Waynesburg University aims to continuously provide students with opportunities like this to grow in their fields of study.

“Research experience is the single most important thing in the undergraduate career for those who want to advance to graduate schools in science,” Dr. Suyama said. “It is one thing to do research, but to do research that is funded by NSF is a whole different level because of the prestige and the credibility that comes with working on an NSF project.” 

Similarly to Dr. Suyama, Gordon believes that innovative undergraduate research–such as this project–has the ability to differentiate students in their fields of study.

“This undergraduate research opportunity benefits me primarily by opening doors to research opportunities and advancing my scope of knowledge in preparation for medical school,” Gordon said. “I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity because not many undergraduates are compensated for research.”