Lou Charkoudian '03 Wins NSF CAREER Grant
The assistant professor of chemistry will receive $560,681 to fund her research on natural product synthases and related outreach activities, including the creation of a professional development series to expose undergraduates to career opportunities in the chemical sciences.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lou Charkoudian is being celebrated for her dual role as a "teacher-scholar" with a CAREER Grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). These grants are the most prestigious awards given to junior faculty, and they honor those who effectively integrate outstanding research with excellence in undergraduate education. Charkoudian will receive $560,681 to fund her project "CAREER: Accessing Chemical Diversity through the Characterization and Redesign of Natural Product Synthases," which seeks to engage her students at Haverford in new routes to create hemical diversity by learning and applying lessons from nature.
"Nature has evolved remarkably simple routes to make very complicated molecules, many of which are too structurally complex to be synthesized by humans in the laboratory," says Charkoudian. "The funded research focuses on characterizing the chemistry of the most ancient and unique biosynthetic pathways, which have yet to be explored by scientists. The experimental procedures will lead to the identification of new chemicals and enzymes encoded by nature, as well as new tools to enable the engineering of natural pathways to build molecules of novel structure and function."
Over the next five years, this award will fund a fulltime research assistant for Charkoudian's lab, 10 undergraduate summer research students, new equipment for purifying proteins and molecules, materials and reagents, and travel, including a trip to visit a collaborator in the Netherlands. Additionally, the grant will enable the chemist to enact outreach activities, expanding the reach of her work. One such project will be the creation of a professional development series to expose undergraduates to career opportunities in the chemical sciences.
"I am also very excited that the grant will fund my lab’s BioArt outreach activities, in which we leverage pigmented bacteria to introduce fundamental concepts of chemistry and biology to populations traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, including participants of Haverford’s MAST program as well as adults with intellectual disabilities from the local Center for Creative Works," she says.
Charkoudian, who graduated from Haverford in 2003, joined the College's faculty in 2013. Since then she has led an undergraduate research lab on campus that studies ways in which chemists can enlist biology to discover—and even, make—molecules to better human health and the environment. (For example, recent studies from her lab and others suggest that humans have uncovered only about 10 percent of the molecules that soil bacteria can produce.)
" I feel very fortunate to be a teacher-scholar at Haverford College, an institution that supports the highest quality scholarly work, encourages collaborative research, and values the integration of original research in the classroom," says Charkoudian. " I credit much of my success to being a part of such an outstanding Department of Chemistry. My colleagues set a very, very high bar for excellence in the classroom and research lab, and have flooded me with support and encouragement as I try to meet that bar. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about how lucky I am to be a part of the Haverford College Department of Chemistry."