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Students Win Prestigious Travel Awards
December 10, 2007

Two Calvin College biochemistry students have received student travel awards to present their research at the Biophysical Society annual meeting.

Sarah Kamper and Laura Porter-PedenSeniors Sarah Kamper, 21, of Grand Rapids and Laura Porter-Peden, 23, of Longmont, Colorado, will use the awards to attend the annual meeting February 2–6 in Long Beach, California to present their research on a particular enzyme and its complementary inhibitor.

Kamper and Porter-Peden partnered on the research with Calvin chemistry professor Kumar Sinniah and several faculty from Cambridge University. “Although the money amounts are not huge, these are fairly prestigious awards for students because they are being picked from a very large applicant pool,” Sinniah said.

Kamper and Porter-Peden will be presenting posters on their work with carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme which, when it becomes overactive in the eye, builds up pressure that can damage the optic nerve and cause glaucoma. “The inhibitor we’re studying is based on medical drugs that inhibit the enzyme and decrease its activity. We’re studying the interaction between the enzyme and the inhibitor,” Kamper said.

Both students have already presented their research at the American Chemical Society national meeting last spring, and they are the lead authors (along with Sinniah and the Cambridge collaborators) of an article titled "Investigating the Specific Interactions between Carbonic Anhydrase and a Sulfonamide Inhibitor by Single-Molecule Force Spectroscopy" in the November issue of the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir. (This is Kamper’s second paper in her research career with Sinniah and Porter-Peden’s first.They hope to publish another paper on their work at the end of spring semester.)

The duo have enjoyed both the lab work and the writing process.

“I’ve learned a lot more about enzymes and inhibitors,” said Kamper, “and, in a broader sense, I’ve learned about the process of research and how to write a scientific paper.”

“It’s been a really good experience as far as learning a lot of lab skills and the thinking involved in designing an experiment,” Porter-Peden said. “I’ve also learned about what it takes to write scientifically and how to get a paper published. Through the process of writing, my whole understanding of the research and results was expanded,” she said, adding: “I think it’s also fun to get to know a professor through working on a research project, and I enjoy the community that gets formed among the student summer researchers.”

Kamper, who is in the process of applying to graduate programs, envisions a career in bio-inorganic chemistry, the study of the role of metal ions in the body. “I like the independence of being able to carry out a whole experiment from beginning to end, discovering things that have not been known before and contributing to scientific knowledge,” she said.

Porter-Peden is likewise applying to graduate programs in biochemistry and molecular biology. “I would love to be a professor at some point and do research as well as some of the teaching and mentoring that I’ve gotten at Calvin,” she said.

The two students are excited about the awards and the opportunity to share their work with a larger audience. “I didn’t realize how big of an honor it was, so in some ways the excitement has grown as I’ve realized it was more prestigious than I thought,” Porter-Peden said. “It’s validation of the fact that we have put in good work, and someone has recognized that.”

“This is a great honor for Sarah and Laura and for Calvin College as well," Sinniah agreed. "We have a thriving undergraduate research program at Calvin during the summer, and have been blessed by a large number of top quality students.These kinds of awards recognize that work. The entire department is proud of both Sarah and Laura, and what they have accomplished.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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