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Connor Bischak ’10 Will Use Fulbright Grant to Study Protein Structure

Connor Bischak ’10 will soon become one of the only researchers in the world to employ an emerging technology that will explore dynamic protein structure.

A Fulbright Research Grant will allow Bischak to join the lab of professor Martina Havenith at the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany this fall. He will assist the research team in using Terahertz (THz) spectroscopy, a technique used by only a few labs around the world, to determine how large segments of proteins move in solution and interact with water molecules.

THz spectroscopy, Bischak explains, utilizes a laser that emits electromagnetic radiation in the THz range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which lies between the infrared and microwave bands. The technology is used so rarely because many labs lack the high-powered laser sources needed to operate the instrument

Through THz spectroscopy, scientists should be able to better comprehend the role of water in protein folding. This research may lead to an understanding of protein misfolding and aggregation, which can cause such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and type II diabetes.

“The role of water in protein folding is often overlooked,” says Bischak. “Seemingly innocuous changes in the hydration shell around a protein, such as a change in pH or salt content, can have dramatic effects on the dynamic protein structure.”

A chemistry major with a minor in German, Bischak studied abroad in Berlin during his junior year, but didn’t have a chance to see much of the country outside of the city. “Next year I hope to see more of Germany and hopefully visit both Bavaria and the southwest region,” he says. “I would also really like to spend Octoberfest in Munich.” He eventually plans to attend graduate school for physical chemistry. -Brenna McBride

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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