Undergraduate chemistry researchers win awards at conference


Josh Temple stands near his poster as he talks about his research.
Josh Temple received a first place award for presenting his research on the structure of an immune cell receptor called CXCR4 and a protein called SDF-1.

Nearly two-dozen undergraduate researchers from JMU took advantage of a fall conference at the University of Maryland Baltimore County to sharpen their presentation skills, with six of them earning first place awards and another three getting second place awards.

"The conference at UMBC is an all undergraduate conference where the students can learn from their peers and gain valuable experience presenting their results to other professionals in the field," said Dr. Brycelyn Boardman, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. "Presenting experimental findings to the larger scientific community is extremely important."

The 17th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in Chemical and Biological sciences at UMBC on Saturday, Oct. 25, featured 21 JMU undergraduates.

Dr. Dan Downey, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, also attended the conference and judged non-JMU research projects. "It's a great student conference. They're getting judged. They present for two hours and they get grilled," he said.

Students presented research on a wide variety of topics in the chemistry and biological fields with 276 posters presented this year. Presenters came from across the country as well as foreign countries, Downey said.

Joshua Temple, a senior biophysical chemistry major, presented his research on the structure of an immune cell receptor called CXCR4 and a protein called SDF-1 when bound together. CXCR4 plays a critical role in the spread of cancer and HIV-1 infection.

Temple conducted the research along with Lauren Holden and Tracey Handel from the University of California, San Diego, and they hope that this structure will be used to design pharmaceuticals that combat cancer and HIV-1.

"UMBC provides an inviting yet competitive platform to present your research, whether you're a first-time presenter or have done so multiple times," said Temple.

Temple's research project was one of six JMU projects to receive a first-place award.

Kelly DuPont describes her research to a pair of judges in front of her poster.
Kelly DuPont, who won a second place award, discusses her research on the anti-viral protein BST-2.

Three other JMU research projects received second-place awards.

Kelly DuPont, a junior biochemistry major and second-place award winner, studied the anti-viral protein BST-2, which inhibits the release of viruses such as HIV-1 and HIV-2 from the cell. She worked with two other JMU students under the direction of Dr. Christopher Berndsen, assistant professor of chemistry.

"The conference helps you sharpen your presentation skills as you explain your research to others and answer questions from several judges.  The result is improved communication skills and a better understanding of your own project," said DuPont.

Student discusses his research while standing in front of his poster.
Michael Rudloff discusses his research on disease causing mutations in the M10 domain of titin.

Since most research conferences are held in the spring, the UMBC conference provided students with a chance to practice their presentation skills in preparation for future conferences.

"Being judged was not the most important part of the conference, but it was getting the valuable experience in presenting research," said Brenna Walsh, a junior chemistry major and first-place award winner.

Beyond presenting their own research and building presentational skills, students also got a chance to see what other researchers are working on.

"I was able to learn a lot about other people's research during the morning session when I wasn't presenting," said Rachel Policke, a sophomore chemistry major and second-place award winner. "There were a lot of other projects at UMBC that seemed interesting and very applicable to today's society and needs."

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By Josh Kelly ('15), JMU Public Affairs

Published Nov. 5, 2014

Published: Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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