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Heather McMahon and Kate Alfieri with their award-winning poster.
Heather McMahon and Kate Alfieri with their award-winning poster.

Fords' Research Recognized By Prestigious Scientific Society

A poster created and presented by Kate Alfieri and Heather McMahon from the class of ’10 was named the best undergraduate poster at the 23rd Annual Symposium of the Protein Society, which was held July 25-29 in Boston. Alfieri and McMahon, both students of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Casey Londergan, were honored at a banquet on July 28.

Their poster, entitled “Covalently Bound Thiocyanate as a Localized Probe of Membrane-Protein Interactions,” demonstrated a new experimental protocol for exposing the geometry of the binding between peptides (molecules formed by joining two or more amino acids) and membrane surfaces. “Membrane-bound peptides and proteins are notoriously difficult to characterize,” says Londergan, “and any new technique able to shed light on structural details of their binding interaction is highly significant.”

McMahon focused on a peptide that stabilizes myelin (nerve fibers that protect and insulate neurons) around nerve cells. When these proteins malfunction, says Londergan, they are implicated in the development of multiple sclerosis. Alfieri worked with an antimicrobial peptide that has often disrupted the membrane around bacterial cells.

McMahon values the feedback she received from the symposium attendees who viewed the poster. “It is incredibly useful to hear what others think about our research,” she says, “because it affirms that we are moving in the right direction, and also gives us new ideas for future experiments.”

“It felt good to be recognized for the hard work we put in this summer,” says Alfieri. She appreciates the way in which her research uses new analytical techniques to answer questions that have been asked before by other scientists. “Our technique could help contribute broadly to the field of protein science and could be employed by other labs interested in protein dynamics,” she says.

“I’m very proud of each of them and of their scientific achievements,” says Londergan. “Each is an example of the kind of scholar we hope to develop in our students at Haverford.”

Along with McMahon and Alfieri, Londergan’s student Connor Bishak ’10 also attended the symposium and presented a poster. Bishak’s and McMahon’s research is supported by Londergan’s grant from the Research Corporation; Alfieri’s research is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Scholars Program. Londergan’s and his students’ travel to the symposium was made possible by the Louis Green Fund.

-Brenna McBride

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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