Across the Pond and Back: Chemical Biology in Edinburgh, Scotland
Undergraduate student Eric Mohan ’20 (CLAS), recipient of an Office of Undergraduate Research award, shares his experience conducting research abroad.
“I am the recipient of the 2019 Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) award, and I had the privilege of spending last summer in the laboratory of Professor Dominic Campopiano, in the School of Chemistry at the prestigious University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. This was an amazing experience to work with a renowned professor helping solve an unmet and urgent medical need related to the resurgence of antibiotic resistance. My project focused on the inhibition of an important enzyme found in many infectious bacteria, such as those causing Tuberculosis. I was tasked with synthesizing, modeling, and characterizing the pathway by which a compound, ERG240, blocked the branch chain amino acid aminotransferase enzyme. I used optically active coupled reactions in this work. We then co-crystallized the inhibitor with the enzyme and employed x-ray crystallography to fully understand the mechanism of the enzyme. My research was presented as a poster at the Fall Frontiers program 2019 at UConn, Storrs.
A special thanks to the Department of Chemistry Undergraduate Program Director, Professor Nicholas Leadbeater, for enabling my study abroad. Edinburgh’s historic university dating back to the medieval period of Harry Potter’s fame has developed some of the greatest scientists, as notable as Charles Darwin and many Nobel laureates, who studied here. Prominent on display at the Museum of Science is also the breakthrough in genetic engineering, Dolly, the world’s first cloned sheep. I also learned that the Scottish-born scientist, Sir Fraser Stoddart, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in chemistry after he immigrated to the US.
So how is this seamless international ecosystem that allows foreign students to study and work abroad made possible? And should Nobel prizes be our metric of affirmation for scientific success? What about international policies that enable our youth to follow their paths of self-improvement and aspire to do good in other ways? This thought took me back to an event ‘Pancakes and Politics’ with senator Chris Murphy, being a recipient of the Senator’s award for academic and leadership achievements back when I was in high school. While truly honored for this recognition, I was particularly impressed by the presence of a group of young teenaged baseball players. Through tremendous efforts and creativity of Senator Murphy striving for international global peace, he was also honoring these kids as they were slated to go on tour of Cuba to act as our young emissaries of goodwill.
As a senior, I cherish every opportunity to represent my school, my teachers and the leadership that is vested in helping me achieve success, even as I strive to someday become a medical doctor. I encourage my junior chemistry colleagues to gain some study abroad experience to complement what we have at UConn. Maybe getting some play time in a foreign country could improve chances of hitting a home run.”