Biochemistry announces summer 2021 awards, fellowships for student research

The Department of Biochemistry is pleased to announce recipients of its 2021 undergraduate and graduate student departmental awards and fellowships. The department celebrates the work and talent of its students, and these awards and fellowships are made possible by generous gifts to Biochemistry to fund research conducted by notably outstanding graduate and undergraduate students.

“These awards represent the excellence of our students and generosity of our supporters,” says chair Brian Fox. “We are proud to present these awards that help support undergraduates and graduate students in the lab.”

2021 award winner photos

This year’s awards include the Mary Shine Peterson Award, Undergraduate Summer Research Award, and Department of Biochemistry Graduate Fellowships. The 2021 winners are:

  • Mary Shine Peterson Award:  Renxi Li, Anna Christenson, Leta Landucci, Xi Chen, Lexi Luo, Justin Myrah, Xin Qing
  • Undergraduate Summer Research Award:  Sarah Fahlberg, Lukas Voigts, Pak Lun Kevin Cheung, Tristan Argall, Evelyn Okal, William Langholz, Quiwen Quan, Xindi Tang, Ann Seliger
  • Biochemistry Graduate Fellowship:  Yu Bao, Maxwell Rector, Joshua Choi, Kanika Jain, Jacob Rapp

The Mary Shine Peterson Awards are designed to recognize biochemistry undergraduates with demonstrated excellence in and commitment to research by providing funds to support them in biochemistry-related activities. Mary Shine Peterson Awards are sponsored by the Mary Shine Peterson Scholarship in Biochemistry fund and generous donors. The award is given to support students in the summer before their senior year or during their senior year.  Students may use these funds to support academic and research-related activities such as conducting faculty-advised research in a biochemistry lab on campus or overseas, traveling to participate in global health programs, or attending a scientific meeting to present a research-oriented poster or paper.

Leta Landucci, a 2021 Mary Shine Peterson Award recipient, is a senior working in the Fox and Ralph labs. She says, “I chose to come to UW-Madison to study biochemistry because I wanted to understand how and why things work the way they do, using chemistry to help rationalize biological phenomena integral to life.  I am incredibly thankful to have been awarded this scholarship, helping me pursue my research interests and grow as a scientific thinker. This summer I will study acyltransferases in the Ralph lab. Building our understanding in this area will enable the construction of an enzymatic toolbox that can be used to engineer plants better equipped for growth in harsh environments, optimized for greater efficiency in the production of biofuels.”

The Undergraduate Summer Research Awards help undergrad students gain immersive research experience early in their academic careers.  Receiving a summer award gives outstanding students majoring in Biochemistry the financial flexibility to work in a faculty research lab full time without needing to secure outside income for summer living expenses. In return, students work in the lab for the equivalent of 30-40 hours/week for eight weeks during the summer which concludes with writing a research report on their findings. This year’s awards were made possible by the following funds and their supporters:  Henry A. Lardy Undergraduate Research Fund, Floyd C. McIntire Biochemistry Award Fund, Dr. Shang-Chen Pan Fund in Biochemistry, E.W. Hopkins Fund, Jerome J. Stefaniak Biochemistry Scholarship Fund, Eric Bey and Amanda Boley Scholarship Fund, and Carl Krieger Memorial Fellowship Fund.

Tristan Argall is a junior working in the Hoskins lab, studying biochemistry as a pre-med student with hopes of becoming a physician. Tristan is a recipient of an Undergraduate Summer Research Award, saying “This award allows me the ability to continue my lab work over the summer. I am continually blown away by how fortunate I am that Dr. Hoskins has taken me under his wing. Without him, I would not be doing this research in alternative methods for treating pathogenic fungal infections, specifically investigating the inhibition of the spliceosome as a means of treatment. I am extremely thankful for this award.”

Graduate student fellowships are awarded to graduate students in recognition of exceptional research accomplishments. The fellowships cover a student’s tuition and stipend for an academic year, which provides that student flexibility in their research endeavors by not being tied to a specific grant. This also frees up grant funds for research, for example allowing faculty to purchase new equipment for labs. Students who receive these fellowships are part of the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), the joint graduate program of the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry.  This year’s department graduate fellowships are sponsored by the Dr. James Chieh-Hsia Mao Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fund, William R. and Dorothy E. Sullivan WDGF in Biochemistry Fund, Denis R. A. and Martha Washburn Wharton Fund, William H. Peterson Fellowship in Biochemistry, and Steenbock Predoctoral Fellowship in Biochemistry.

Yu Bao is a grad student in the Landick lab studying RNA polymerase behavior and working on discoveries which may facilitate development of novel antibiotics targeting bacterial RNA polymerases. Yu shares that by receiving a 2021 graduate fellowship, “I can buy a new laptop with a stronger processor, as part of my experimental data analysis heavily relies on image rendering and computation capabilities. My research work on protein is just like solving a puzzle: we know how it looks and we know what it can produce, but we don’t know how it works. I feel excited every time I get a tiny clue leading to the final solution.”

Jacob Rapp is one of the recipients of a 2021 graduate fellowship and is in the Romero lab researching automation and AI in the process of protein engineering.  Jacob states, “Beyond the freedom offered by the financial assistance, this award represents validation and for that I am immensely grateful. Depending on which direction my work evolves, (the fellowship) may allow me to purchase new robotic hardware, or start experimenting with eukaryotic proteins, or even allow me to deepen my relations with industry. Possibilities abound, and I am excited to see what makes the most sense going forward.”

Congratulations to all 2021 award recipients.