Student working in the lab
Beckman Scholar Auden Wilson at work in the lab.

Beckman awards at 25: Recognizing science scholars

January 2, 2024

Student Experience

The Beckman Scholars Program is currently celebrating its 25-year anniversary. As part of its celebration, the foundation is spotlighting awardees in a series of feature stories, including UR’s three current Beckman Scholars — Abigail Ali, Auden Wilson, and Helen Xia.

The University of Richmond is one of a select group of colleges supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, which provides funding for faculty-mentored, undergraduate student research. Beckman Scholars work at least 10 hours a week during the academic year and full-time during the summer in a faculty mentor’s laboratory. UR has had 24 Beckman Scholars to date.

Ali’s feature posted in December, and Wilson and Xia are slated to be highlighted in early 2024.


Abigail Ali conducts experiments with zebrafish.

A junior, Ali is a biochemistry and molecular biology major, who is researching methods to treat skeletal diseases like osteoporosis under the mentorship of biology professor Isaac Skromne. They are working with adult Casper zebrafish that have regenerative properties and are ideal for this research because they are genetically modified to have transparent skin, which makes it easier to track the medicine delivery.

“Our research looks at targeted treatment and ways to deliver medication directly to bones,” said Ali, who plans to attend a Ph.D. program after UR. “The opportunity to help people suffering from diseases that affect their quality of life is rewarding.”

Wilson, a junior who is double majoring in biochemistry & molecular biology and health studies, is researching light-activated chemotherapy treatments for lung and breast cancer under the guidance of chemistry professor Julie Pollock.

"Photoactivated chemotherapies are an improvement to traditional chemotherapies because they can be targeted for activation in specific parts of the body,” said Wilson, who plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D degree focusing on cancer research. “The drugs would have targeted effects like radiation therapy, but targeted activation means less side effects.”

Helen Xia's research has been published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.

Xia, a senior, is double majoring in biochemistry & molecular biology and minoring in leadership studies. Under the guidance of chemistry professor Wade Downey, Xia’s research focuses on the field of synthetic organic chemistry with indoles, organic compounds found in many natural products and medicines. Her research has been published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.

"It means a lot to me that the Beckman Foundation and the University of Richmond have supported my research endeavors and provided me the resources to conduct high-level research as an undergraduate student,” said Xia, who is also a Goldwater Scholar. She is currently applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs across the country.

Carol Parish, Floyd D. and Elisabeth S. Gottwald Professor of Chemistry and associate provost, directs Richmond’s Beckman program and said the students go on to highly competitive graduate schools and also receive other prestigious awards, including Goldwaters and National Science Foundation grants.

“Our Beckman Scholars are among our most talented science students,” she said, “and this immersive research experience helps set their careers in motion.”