Chris Gothard

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?
Protein recognition is an important interaction in a variety of biological processes. One type of protein interaction involves the hydrogen bonding of one strand of a protein b -sheet to the exposed edge of another. In Professor James Nowick’s research group, we develop small molecules that assemble into dimers as way of mimicking b -sheet interactions. This model has enabled us to control dimerization affinity by designing mimics that vary in the number of hydrogen bonds that they can form. To determine binding affinities, we utilize nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques to measure the relative proximity of each hydrogen atom. With this information, we can understand dimer conformation, or binding mode, and calculate binding constants for different b -sheet mimics. Continuing efforts in this research may lead to a better understanding of protein interactions, and ultimately a means of controlling these interactions.
2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

After graduating from the University of California at Davis with a B.S. in biology, I began working in the peptide manufacturing industry. Peptides are involved in many biological processes, but often require synthetic organic chemistry to produce for research purposes. I was initially interested in the biological importance of peptides, but I later acquired an appreciation for synthetic peptide chemistry. My first experience with chemical research involved developing small-scale synthetic processes for peptides and then scaling up these procedures for large-scale manufacturing. I particularly enjoyed the creative thought process of devising an effective and cost-efficient reaction scheme. In doing so, I independently sought out scientific literature in order to learn new techniques and reactions that could be applied to the synthesis of my target molecule. The exposure to this independent thought process captured my attention and my interest in pursuing a career in research.

3. How has research enhanced you education?

As a result of my research experience, I have acquired laboratory skills that will be used throughout my research career. A familiarity with the laboratory environment has also enabled me to excel in chemistry courses at UCI. The hands-on experience I received in the laboratory has served to compliment and reinforce my understanding of related topics in my course work. In addition to enhancing my academic performance, undergraduate research has helped me become more aware of the wide range of disciplines in the chemistry profession. As a consequence, I will be able to make an informed decision as to my career choice.

4. What has been you favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?
One important difference between academic research and industrial manufacturing that I observed, was the way in which the results of experiments are interpreted. In the manufacturing industry, the successful production of the compound of interest is the most important result of the experiment. In academic research, on the other hand, both the anticipated and unexpected results are important in shaping the future direction of the research. I have learned that the unanticipated results of research often lead to additional interesting questions. When I was measuring the dimerization propensity of a b -sheet mimic that I had developed, for example, I observed a mode of binding in the dimer conformation that had not been seen in previous experiments. This finding opened the door to new research projects that involve the different modes of dimerization of b -sheet mimics.
5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

My experiences as an industrial peptide chemist stimulated my interest in research. While working in industry, however, I realized that to continue to grow as a scientist, I would require an advanced degree. When I decided to return to academia to obtain a second bachelors degree in chemistry, I immediately began undergraduate research in order to explore my future career options. I was fortunate to find a research group that was not only consistent with my background as a peptide chemist but also enabled me to apply knowledge from my first degree in biology. Research in bioorganic chemistry has enabled me to address my interests in both chemistry and biology and I hope to continue studying in this field by attending graduate school in Fall 2001.

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

Research has provided me with a rich and challenging learning experience, a result partly due to my genuine interest in the field. Although research can involve new and exciting discoveries, the majority of time is spent working long hours in the laboratory. I urge students to gain exposure to the laboratory early in their academic careers by enrolling in undergraduate research and laboratory courses. By doing so, you can determine if research is consistent with your expectations. Also, because much of the initial learning involves acquiring basic laboratory techniques, do not be discouraged if at first you are not conducting research. These basic skills that you acquire can later be applied to an area of research that interests you. Finding an area of research that is of interest is especially important since not all types of chemistry are interesting to all chemists. By starting undergraduate research early in your academic career, you will have more time to explore the many different fields in chemistry and be able to make thoughtful career decision.

Past Researchers of the Month

Dec. '00 Chris Gothard
Nov. '00 Kristoffer Nicolaisen
Oct. '00 Bryan Sommerse
Sep. '00 Ryan Stafford
Aug. '00 Carol Chao
Jul. '00 Gopi Manthrapagada
Jun. '00 Heather Smith
May '00 Pany Tehrani
Apr. '00 Kirsten Cappel
Mar. '00 Shelly Brown-Riddle
Feb. '00 Nader Nassif
Jan. '00 Rebecca Kanter
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