Welcome to Pomona's Beckman Scholars site. What is The Beckman Scholars Program? Established in 1997 by the Arnold and Beckman Foundation, The Beckman Scholars Program is an invited program for accredited universities and four-year colleges in the United States. It provides scholarships that contribute significantly in advancing the education, research training and personal development of select students in chemistry, biochemistry, and the biological and medical sciences. The sustained, in-depth undergraduate research experiences and comprehensive faculty mentoring are unique in terms of program scope, content and level of scholarship awards (approximately $26,000 for two summers and one academic year). Click here to visit the Arnold and Beckman Foundation
Our 2020-2022 Beckman Scholars
Samuel Khasnavis (Mentor: Professor Nicholas Ball)
Sam (PO ‘21) is a Chemistry & Philosophy double major and Biology minor working in the Ball Lab. As a Beckman Scholar, Sam is investigating the mechanism behind the calcium-based Lewis acid activation of sulfur(VI) fluorides towards Sulfur(VI) Fluoride Exchange (SuFEx). Specifically, Sam is using physical organic chemistry concepts and conducting 19F NMR kinetic experiments to characterize a model SuFEx reaction by its reaction parameters. In collaboration with the OMO Group at Chapman University, Sam’s experimental findings are being mapped onto computational findings modeling the mechanism of activation and predicting factors preventing catalysis. SuFEx chemistry is a recently emerging field within click chemistry and the mechanisms behind these transformations remain largely unexplored. After his time at Pomona, Sam plans to pursue a PhD in chemistry and is open to subsequently obtaining a JD and practicing as a chemical patent attorney. Amongst other activities unrelated to lab, Sam enjoys weight training, throwing discus on the Pomona-Pitzer Track and Field team, curing meat at home, and is notably partial towards cookie dough.
Jacob Al-Husseini (Mentor: Professor Mal Johal)
Jacob Al-Husseini (PO ’22) is a chemistry major currently working in the Johal group. Through the support of the Beckman Scholars Program, Jacob is working alongside physician-scientists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to develop and characterize novel cancer therapeutics for pediatric brain tumors. Specifically, looking at the mechanistic underpinnings and effective range of nanoparticle-based. Auger electron therapy. Auger electrons are high energy electrons ejected from high-Z metal cores when bombarded with external sources of radiation. The emission of these Auger electrons strongly correlates with double-stranded DNA breaks and damage to the mitochondrial membrane, both of which strongly correlate with cellular apoptosis. The key issue that remains to be addressed, however, is the effective therapeutic range of these Auger electrons. Accordingly, Jacob is developing tunable thin-film systems to physically separate nanoparticles from cancer cell culture, systematically increasing the distance between the nanoparticles and cells until cell death is no longer observed. After Pomona, Jacob hopes to pursue a career as a physician-scientist focusing on translational research. While not in the lab, Jacob enjoys rock climbing, ski-mountaineering, and surfing.
Daniela Pierro (Mentor: Professor Daniel Martínez)
Pierro (PO ’23) is a biology major and philosophy minor working in the Martínez lab. She is using bioinformatic methods to answer questions in molecular ecology, specifically investigating the cellular pathways and gene regulators involved in octocoral bleaching. Millions of marine species rely on reefs for reproduction, spawning, and shelter from predators, and benefit from the physical and trophic structure that octocorals provide. These species face an existential threat, however, as anthropogenic climate change is causing average ocean temperatures to warm. During thermal stress, the mutualism between the coral host and its endosymbiotic zooxanthellae breaks down, robbing the host of its main energy source. Daniela is examining the transcriptomic response of the octocoral Sympodium sp. and its zooxanthellae during this breakdown. Functional enrichment analysis allows the exploration of candidate genes involved in gene regulation and several innate immune response pathways, as well as the identification of unexpected genes and pathways, that may play critical roles in the heat stress response. Her research can help predict corals’ natural adaptive capacities in the context of future warming, as well as inform current conservation efforts. In the future, she aims to pursue a PhD focusing on coral conservation and host-symbiont interactions. Outside of the lab, she loves snorkeling, ceramics, teaching singing lessons, and exploring the outdoors.
Louie Kulber (Mentor: Professor Sarah Olson)
Louie (PO ’23) is a Classics and Molecular Biology double major working in the Olson Lab. As a Beckman Scholar, Louie is exploring the secretion of proteins with signal peptides in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans. Specifically, his project focuses on elucidating the secretion pathway of PERM-2, PERM-4, and CBD-1, structural proteins of the vitelline layer of the C. elegans eggshell, a protective extracellular matrix. Preliminary data suggest that these proteins do not use COPII machinery for secretion, despite all encoding signal peptides which should direct them through the conventional COPII-mediated secretory pathway. Proteins with signal peptides represent 30% of genes in the human genome, but their unconventional secretion is not well understood and the extent to which proteins are unconventionally secreted is unknown. To tease apart their secretion pathway, Louie is designing a high throughput genetic screen. With this data, he hopes to assemble a pathway. After Pomona, Louie plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist in structural and cell biology. Outside of the lab, Louie enjoys languages, outdoor activities, and, most of all, cheese.
Our 2017-2019 Beckman Scholars
Maryann Zhao (Mentor: Professor Jane Liu)
Maryann (PO '18) is a Molecular Biology major. With the support of the Beckman Scholarship, Maryann aims to develop an efficient platform for engineering whole cell RNA-based biosensors for selected ligands of choice. The mechanism behind the biosensors relies on RNA regulatory elements called riboswitches to detect the target and transmit a measurable signal. By using techniques such as dual genetic selection and fluorescence activated cell sorting, Maryann will perform directed evolution in order to isolate a novel riboswitch capable of sensing dopamine, her target molecule. If successful, potential applications for the platform could be to generate whole cell diagnostic tools that are sensitive toward biomarkers in clinical samples. Prior to her role as a Beckman Scholar, Maryann spent time in the Arnvig lab (University College London) investigating how naturally occurring riboswitches regulate resuscitation promoting factors in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. She worked in the O’Leary lab synthesizing polymers with enhanced release profiles for the administration of Ciprofloxacin to the lungs. After her time at Pomona, Maryann plans to pursue a career in medicine as physician researcher with particular interests in bleeding disorders and genetic diseases. Whenever she’s not in lab, Maryann spends the majority of her time either playing tennis with the Pomona-Pitzer tennis team or looking for a new adventure outdoors.
Christian Woroch (Mentor: Professor Nicholas Ball)
Chris (PO '19) is a chemistry major working in the Ball group. With funding from the Beckman Scholars Program, Cris is developing an easy and versatile synthesis for generating sulfonamides from sulfonyl fluorides. Sulfonamides are a critical functional group for many pharmaceutical and agrochemical products, but the most common methods to synthesize them require the use of unstable sulfonyl chlorides. Sulfonyl fluorides are a more stable alternative to sulfonyl chlorides, but are difficult to activate. In collaboration with Pfizer, Cris has developed a Lewis acid assisted reaction that has been successful for a handful of aromatic, heteroaromatic and aliphatic amines. In addition to his work in the Ball Lab, Cris worked as an Amgen Scholar at UCSF in the Fujimori group studying sulfonyl fluoride covalent labeling probes in lysine demethylases. After Pomona, Cris plans to pursue a PhD and work in renewable energy generation and storage. Outside of the lab, Cris enjoys cooking, backpacking, basketball, running, volleyball, and playing classical guitar.
Brendan Terry (Mentor: Professor Matt Sazinsky)
Brendan (PO '20) is a Chemistry major and pre-MD/PhD student. As a 2018 Beckman Scholar in the Sazinsky lab, Brendan led a project to determine and analyze the structure of the enzyme RHA-P, which converts valuable natural compounds into bioavailable forms with significant health benefits and potential applications in drug discovery. In a first-author paper published in Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics that resulted from work Brendan did as a Beckman Scholar, he and his co-authors described the 2.2 Å unbound crystal structure of RHA-P and analyzed its substrate-binding using in silico protein-ligand docking experiments. For his thesis research, Brendan is using the results from this paper to inform the directed evolution of RHA-P into a more organostable and thermostable biocatalyst that could one day be used industrially. The excitement and challenge that Brendan feels when doing his research in the Sazinsky lab have persuaded him to study biochemistry in graduate school. For his PhD in Medical Science, Brendan will attend Cambridge University at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute under the co-supervision of Professor Sir Shankar Balasubramanian and Professor Wolf Reik. After his PhD, Brendan would like to attend medical school so that, one day, he can spend his days caring for patients as a physician while researching how to improve their health as a biochemist. In addition to his lab research, Brendan enjoys reading, playing soccer, and eating delicious foods all over Los Angeles.
Christina Beck (Mentor: Professor Jane Liu)
Christina (PO ’20) is a Molecular Biology major currently working in the Liu Lab. As a Beckman Scholar, Christina is investigating the genetic regulation of carbon metabolism processes in Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera disease. More specifically, her project focuses on the transcriptional control of the fru operon, which encodes a number of proteins required for fructose transport and metabolism. Fructose metabolism is of particular interest because of its connection to the formation of biofilms, slimy matrices of bacteria which promote colonization and disease pathogenesis in the human host. To tease apart the genetic regulation of the fru operon, Christina is designing a series of transcriptional reporter fusions to identify protein regulator binding sites in the operon’s promoter region. In addition to her work in the Liu Lab, Christina has also worked with Dr. Amandine Maréchal at University College London, studying supercomplex formation in the mitochondrial electron transport chain. After graduation, Christina plans to pursue a PhD, focusing on structural biology and protein biochemistry. When she’s not in lab, Christina enjoys reading, hiking, and scoping out new coffee shops in the SoCal area.