Justin Nnaemeka Nwafor ’21, an ACS-certified chemistry main and arithmetic and physics double minor, was awarded the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize at Graduation for his honors thesis, “Why are Glycines 31, 33, and 35 Extremely Conserved in all Fluorescent Proteins?” The work is a big and thorough take a look at a novel query that impacts the final understanding of fluorescent proteins on the chemical stage.
Named for the late president emeritus of the Faculty and his spouse, the Oakes and Louise Ames Prize is given to a graduating senior who has accomplished the yr’s most excellent honors examine. The prize is obtainable by the trustees in recognition of the standard of educational achievement that Oakes and Louise Ames fostered throughout their 14 years of service to Connecticut Faculty.
Since 2019, Nwafor has been working within the lab of Jean C. Tempel ’65 Professor of Chemistry Marc Zimmer, conducting analysis targeted on detailed characterization of the construction and performance of fluorescent proteins, which emit gentle when excited and can be utilized in quite a few methods to “gentle up” processes within the cell that might in any other case be troublesome to see and monitor. Also known as the microscopes of the 21st century, fluorescent proteins have revolutionized the fields of organic and medical science and are utilized in a variety of analysis, from imaging most cancers cells to monitoring the replication and migration of the COVID-19 virus via human epithelial cells.
Nwafor’s thesis work particularly examines the position of three glycines which can be conserved in additional than 90% of organisms with fluorescent proteins and investigates why these glycines are present in the identical places in such various organisms as jellyfish, corals and sea squirts. Nwafor used computational strategies to find out the structural penalties of fixing these glycines to bigger, much less versatile amino acids, utilizing 5 completely different applications to arrange and hydrate the buildings, discover the bottom power buildings, run molecule dynamics, analyze the outcomes and discover water channels. Nwafor labored with two different undergraduate researchers to run 12 simulations, every of which took roughly one month and generated hundreds of buildings.
Nwafor’s experimental evaluation means that the three glycines play a vital position within the folding pathway of fluorescent proteins. As there’s nice common curiosity in how these necessary proteins perform, the work will quickly be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed educational journal, with Nwafor as first writer.
Affiliate Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Chemistry Division Tanya L. Schneider stated Nwafor’s work “displays his deep engagement within the examine of chemistry at Connecticut Faculty and his collaboration with different members of the Zimmer analysis lab, and represents an unusually excessive stage of scientific achievement for an undergraduate researcher.”
Zimmer, who served as Nwafor’s thesis adviser, stated that along with working in his lab, Nwafor accomplished computational chemistry internships with Rosetta REU and with Pfizer, Inc.
“I’ve taught at Conn for 30 years and have had greater than 80 analysis college students, and Justin has essentially the most computational chemistry information and abilities of any pupil I’ve ever had,” Zimmer stated, noting that Nwafor is a first-generation school pupil, a Science Chief and a member of the varsity males’s basketball workforce.
“I nominated Justin for the Ames award as a result of he has a graduate-level understanding of the undertaking and methods used.”
This fall, Nwafor will start a post-baccalaureate analysis program at Johns Hopkins College, after which he plans to pursue a Doctorate of Drugs and of Philosophy.