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Beckman Scholars are focused on research

  • Top undergrad researchersBrittany Lewis and Frederick Lambert take a minute from lab work in William & Mary’s Integrated Science Center to share a congratulatory hug. Both have been named Beckman Scholars, an honor that also will allow them to continue their research through the summer after they graduate in 2011.

    Photo by Joseph McClain

    Top undergrad researchers
  • Recording dataBrittany Lewis ’11 discusses recording data with Margaret Saha, Chancellor Professor of Biology at William & Mary. Lewis is investigating the cellular development of the nervous system, using frog embryos.

    Photo by Joseph McClain

    Recording data
  • In the hoodChemist Rob Hinkle and Beckman Scholar Frederick Lambert check on the progress of ongoing chemical reactions. The balloons contain argon gas, allowing the reactions to take place in an inert environment. Afterwards, Lambert will examine the compounds using TLC—thin layer chromatography.

    Photo by Joseph McClain

    In the hood
This summer, two members of William & Mary's class of 2011 are working on important scientific research projects as Beckman Scholars. Frederick Lambert of Powhatan, Va., and Brittany Lewis of Andover, Mass., are receiving financial support for continuing their mentored research work over two summers plus their senior year at the College.

William & Mary has been an invited participant in the program sponsored by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation since its inception in 1997. Over the years, the College has had 19 undergraduate scientists, including Lambert and Lewis, serving as Beckman Scholars.

"The Beckman Scholars program is one of the most valuable and important programs in the nation for supporting young researchers in the sciences," said Carl Strikwerda, William & Mary's dean of Arts & Sciences. "William & Mary being invited to participate every year speaks volumes about the quality of undergraduate education and research in the sciences here at the College."

Frederick Lambert is a chemistry major. He is working in the laboratory of Robert Hinkle, associate professor of chemistry, investigating the potential use of bismuth compounds as chemical catalysts. They are working toward using  safe and inexpensive bismuth catalysts for the synthesis of dihydropyrans-a structural unit commonly found in antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs. Lambert says his Beckman scholarship will help him advance his blossoming scientific career on several levels.

"I really would like to do an M.D./Ph.D. program. This is going to help me see the whole research side and further what research I have done," he said. "The funding that comes with being a Beckman Scholar will allow me to concentrate on my honors thesis and get that done my senior year."

An interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in neurosciences, Brittany Lewis is conducting research in the lab of Margaret Saha, Chancellor Professor of Biology at William & Mary. Lewis is investigating the development of the nervous system, using frog embryos.

"My specific project is looking at how calcium ions affect the nervous system and how neurons differentiate and acquire a neurotransmitter phenotype," she said. Her work will shed light on the process by which a single type of cell can give rise to hundreds of different cell types, knowledge that could lead to advances in stem cell biology, cancer research and regenerative medicine.
Lewis also intends to enroll in an M.D./Ph.D. program after leaving William & Mary. Saha notes that Lewis scored a "spectacular" 40 on the Medical College Admission Test.

"While I'm not locked into a specialty in either the medical or graduate school fields, I already know I enjoy obstetrics and gynecology, and there's a good chance I will end up continuing research with the developing nervous system," Lewis said. "And as for my eventual career, I would love to work as a research physician, dividing my time equally between the care of patients and research in my chosen field."

Like virtually all Beckman Scholars, Lambert and Lewis were accomplished undergraduate researchers even before being accepted into the Beckman program.

Lambert has worked on bismuth-related projects in the Hinkle lab since his freshman year, making a number of advances in the understanding of bismuth-catalyst reactions. The Beckman Scholars Program will let him continue research after he graduates. He and Hinkle have presented some of their work at last year's National American Chemical Society meeting, will be discussing more recent advances at this year's meeting and expect to submit a paper on their work to a peer-reviewed scientific journal within the next few months.

Lewis was published in a peer-reviewed journal during her sophomore year. She was co-first author on a paper involving the effects of calcium channels in the developing nervous system, work that is continuing  as a Beckman Scholar.

The Beckman Scholars Program allows young researchers such as Lambert and Lewis to devote the summer after they graduate to their research. This feature of the program allows them to concentrate on finishing their projects without the burden of academic classes.

In addition, both Lambert and Lewis will present their work and meet other young scientists at the Annual Beckman Scholars Symposium in Irvine, Calif. " I'm really excited to go to the undergraduate research symposium," Lambert said. "It's going to be a great way to meet my peers and to see what everyone else is doing."