Searching for Big Discoveries

Fort Gratiot senior Christine Cuthbertson has been pursuing her interest in science since high school, and she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon…

Fort Gratiot senior Christine Cuthbertson has been pursuing her interest in science since high school, and she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“Ever since I was in high school, science was fascinating to me, and I enjoyed studying for it,” she says. “Science just clicks for me because it’s logical, and every problem has an answer.”

Her choice to attend Alma College came almost as easily to her as did her passion for science.

“I chose to attend Alma College because of the professor and student interaction,” she says. “I knew that those interactions would help me thrive as a student as compared to large-class sizes, and sure enough, it did!”

Cuthbertson’s passion for science and her choice to attend Alma College have come together to create huge opportunities for her. She has been involved in research with professors, has presented that research at a national conference and has completed an Interdisciplinary Research Experience for Undergraduates (IREU) at the University of Michigan.

During her IREU, Cuthbertson participated in research that was based on synthesizing a ligand for the Class 1A dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODA) enzyme.

“Through my IREU at the University of Michigan, I was awarded the opportunity to experience what graduate school will be like, and after getting a taste of it, I didn’t want to leave,” she says. “I know graduate school will be difficult, but it’s no fun to me if there isn’t a challenge.”

The experiences that Cuthbertson has had at Alma College helped to prepare her for her IREU in several ways. The advanced biochemistry class she took prior to her IREU gave her a rough understanding of the enzyme she worked with during her research, and the research she completed with Assistant Professor Jeff Turk gave her helpful experience.

“Even though the subjects I researched with Dr. Turk weren’t exactly in line with what I did during my IREU, having the lab experience outside of regular course work gave me an idea of how to do things on my own and how to problem solve if my mentor wasn’t immediately available when I had a question,” Cuthbertson says.

In addition to having the opportunity to complete an IREU, Cuthbertson also was able to present her research at a national conference, along with Alma students Joe Hanisko and Alex Kravat.

The research was presented in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry General Poster Session, and focused on finding an aromatic inhibitor for the Group-1 neuraminidase enzyme, which is found on the surface of the influenza virus. 

Cuthbertson plans on going to graduate school after graduating from Alma College and would like to learn how to answer the unanswered questions in science.

“I haven’t made any big discoveries yet,” she says. “But in doing research I have found that even the small triumphs are enough to keep me motivated to want to keep on working towards the bigger goal.”  

Story published on November 25, 2013