Day: September 15, 2023

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship – Fall 2023 Recipient – Ann Varghese

I began my Ph.D. journey in Chemistry in the Fall 2019 under the guidance of Dr. Tatyana G. Karabencheva-Christova. Prior to joining MTU, I earned a master’s degree in Applied Chemistry from Mahatma Gandhi University and a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Calicut University, India. It was during my master’s program that I developed a profound interest in computational chemistry, which ultimately led me to pursue advanced studies in this fascinating field.

My research primarily focuses on exploring enzyme characteristics and mechanisms through the application of multilevel computational methods, including Molecular Dynamics (MD), Quantum Mechanics (QM), and combined Quantum mechanics/Molecular mechanics (QM/MM). During my Ph.D., I had the opportunity to contribute to NIH-funded projects on the non-heme Fe(II) and 2-oxoglutarate dependent oxygenase, Fat mass and Obesity Associated Protein (FTO), and the Zn(II) dependent metalloprotease, Matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1), both of which have crucial implications in various types of cancers. In the former project, I investigated the enzymatic mechanism of FTO with its major substrate, N6-methyladenine in single-stranded RNA, and explored the influence of clinically relevant mutations Arg316Gln and Ser319Phe on different stages of the catalytic cycle. In the latter, I unraveled the water-mediated catalytic mechanism of MMP-1, conformational dynamics and long-range correlated motions assisting in catalysis and the role of the catalytic and structural Zn(II) ions in the overall stability of enzyme.

I am immensely grateful to the Graduate Dean Awards Advisory Panel and the Dean for recognizing my efforts and awarding me the Doctoral Finishing Fellowship. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to my advisor, Dr. Tatyana G. Karabencheva-Christova, whose guidance and support have been invaluable throughout my Ph.D. journey. I also extend my thanks to all the faculty and staff in the Chemistry department for their encouragement and assistance.

Doctoral Finishing Fellowship – Fall 2023 Recipient – Benjamin Barrios Cerda

First, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Graduate Dean Awards Advisory Panel for recommending me for this prestigious award. I also want to acknowledge the department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering for its support during my PhD studies. Most importantly, I thank my advisor Dr. Daisuke Minakata, who has guided me throughout my journey and equipped me with critical thinking skills. Without his unwavering commitment, understanding, and guidance, I would not have achieved the level of proficiency as a PhD student that I possess today.

I have been passionate about chemistry ever since I was in high school. Chemistry teaches you how matter transforms, and because matter is everything we are surrounded by, chemistry essentially helps you to understand the world. Many of the big problems our world faces can be tackled in some way from a chemical perspective. Energy, pollution, water scarcity, health, are some of the global issues that are actively being addressed with chemistry.

During my PhD, I have translated my chemistry background to the environmental engineering field by understanding how pollutants are transformed in natural and engineered water systems, such as lakes, rivers, or water treatment plants. My philosophy is that the molecular details of those chemical reactions have a profound influence on the rate of degradation and products distribution. This led me to publish papers where I show that we can use results from molecular simulations to explain phenomena at the bulk scale such as how fast reactions take place. Understanding these details will enable engineers to optimize operational parameters on the removal of contaminants, and will inform environmental policy makers about the fate of toxic compounds once released to bodies of water.