Students Find their Calling during Summer Research

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Luciano Manfredi’s summer research with his faculty mentor, Jonas Mureika, resulted in a paper that was published earlier this year.

“When I came to LMU, I was convinced that I wanted to become a medical doctor,” said Samuel Lardy, a transfer student who recently earned his degree in chemistry. That all changed for Lardy after participating in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering’s 2016 Summer Research Scholarship Program. In its first year, the program funded 12 students, mentored by seven faculty members for six to eight weeks on a variety of research topics.

Lardy worked with Jeremy McCallum, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, to identify compounds or substances that inhibit protein aggregation in diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes. They synthesized small organic molecules and tested them to see if protein clumping stopped or reversed so that they might be able to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

“This was a real-world application showing the power of chemistry, which ultimately made me decide to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry,” said Lardy.

“That’s really why I became a professor,” said McCallum. “I just want students to find their passion and pursue it.”

For Luciano “Lucho” Manfredi, a junior physics and mathematics major, the research program reinforced his decision to pursue physics.

“It confirmed for me that this is what I want to do,” said Manfredi. “It really taught me how to solve a problem no one knows the solution to, giving me skills that can’t be taught in a classroom.”

Manfredi and mentor Jonas Mureika, professor of physics, studied quantum characteristics of black holes. According to Manfredi, this area merits further exploration because it merges general relativity, the theory of gravity that shapes big things like galaxies, with quantum mechanics, which governs the behavior of tiny things like elementary particles. The project was challenging for Manfredi as Mureika encouraged him to become an independent researcher.

“You learn what it’s like to be an academic, where your full-time focus is solving a problem,” said Mureika. “Most importantly, you learn that there is no road map from start to finish.”

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Students conducted research on a variety of topics spanning the disciplines of chemistry, biochemistry, biology and physics.

“By far, research has been the most transformative experience – the one that taught me the most,” said Manfredi. As an international student from Argentina, the program’s funding also helped cover living expenses while he researched. That research resulted in a paper Manfredi published earlier this year with Mureika.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Manfredi.

Other students awarded 2016 summer research scholarships by the college included Jacqueline Agopian, Alexander Arroyo, Steven Gigli, Kelly Hunter, Katherine Johnson, Sarah Kodama, Daniel Moghtader, Larry Palato, Shannon Pilcher and Joshua Ramsey. They were mentored by professors Wendy Binder, Lambert Doezema, Emily Jarvis, David Moffet and Martina Ramirez.

The summer research program was funded entirely by a few generous alumni. Students lived on campus during the program, received a stipend to alleviate the need to have a summer job and — most importantly — were able to focus intensively on research.