Summer research allows Kirsten Funk ’21 to work collaboratively with professors

Despite restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirsten Funk ’21 of Menasha, Wisconsin, was able to participate in two summer research opportunities.

Through the Keck Graduate Institute of Claremont, California, Funk was part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program that was held virtually this year, with “with lab assistance being our hands within the lab,” she says.

She worked with a group of students to decide what drug killed a selected bacteria the best and whether that chosen drug would be a good candidate to be repurposed for the bacteria and illness.

“I learned a lot about the process of repurposing drugs and how this is performed along with the industry and financial side of repurposing drugs,” Funk says. “I learned how the drug industry worked along with how these drugs kill the bacteria.”

She says this knowledge will help her as she works to become a surgeon and will benefit her during medical school because she already will have graduate school lab experience.

Also this summer, Funk worked with Ripon College Professor of Chemistry Joseph Scanlon. She created this opportunity herself by expressing an interest in working with Scanlon.

Working virtually via Zoom calls, Funk and Scanlon studied the mechanism of the Hugerschoff reaction and the effect of changing the halogen added.

“Understanding this phenomenon could lead to us examining other related reactions with bromine and iodine to see if this is systemic and we would gain a great understanding of the reactivity of bromine and iodine,” Scanlon says. “This would be useful for chemists to design reactions in the future.”

He says the project was inspired by experimental research by Associate Professor of Chemistry Patrick Willoughby and was done in collabrati8onn with him.

“The Hugerschoff reaction has been used to create useful molecules, for example, Professor Willoughby has published an article using the reaction to make catalysts for kinetic resolution of alcohols,” Scanlon says. “If we can determine the mechanism of the Hugerschoff reaction, it can be improved and applied to more situations.”

Funk’s work on the project included performing calculations via WebMO and reported results to Scanlon. She says this taught her to analyze and understand data through the calculation, and this will assist her in understanding how chemical structures differ, as well as how to problem-solve when things don’t go as expected.

Funk presented her research at the MU3C conference hosted virtually by computational chemistry faculty at Iowa State. University in August.

She is grateful for both opportunities that allowed research to continue through the pandemic and for the faculty researchers for taking students in during a different/difficult time and adapting the research to an online/virtual setting.

“These research opportunities have truly changed my life and added a plethora of skills to my skill set,” Funk says. “Trying new methods and being open to new ideas will help me throughout my schooling and life for the rest of my life. Life will not always go as planned and you may get a bump in the road, but there is always a way to get through it.”

Funk is majoring in chemistry-biology with a minor in health. She also serves as president of the Society for Pre-Health Professionals and works as an emergency medical technician and ride-along coordinator for the City of Ripon.

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