Two scholars

Lab results: Science students earn top scholarship

May 17, 2024


University of Richmond students Marcos Hendler, of Rye, New York, and Aine MacDermott, of Lexington, Virginia, have each been awarded a prestigious Beckman Foundation Scholarship to support faculty-mentored student research in the sciences.

Beckman Scholars are selected among undergraduate biology and chemistry students based on commitment to research, strong academics, and potential to become scientific leaders.

Hendler, a chemistry major who is a rising senior, is studying computational chemistry focused on molecular therapies used to prevent or fight cancer, with implications for future treatments. His faculty mentor is chemistry professor Carol Parish.

“Being able to see and analyze the functionality of molecules using algorithms and other computer programs can provide structure-activity insights that are fundamental to a better understanding of these important drugs,” said Hendler, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. “The results can include how molecules can be triggered to react with anticancer behavior only under very specific cellular conditions.”

MacDermott, a biochemistry & molecular biology major who is a rising junior, is researching ancient DNA under the mentorship of biology professor Melinda Yang. MacDermott is focused on the evolution of the alcohol metabolism gene ADH1B in present-day and ancient East Asian humans.

“This research will help clarify the origin, intensity, and timing of how and when variants of the ADH1B gene became prevalent in East Asian populations,” said MacDermott, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of genetics. “That’s important because this gene can affect predisposition to alcohol dependence and abuse, can lead to the Asian flush phenomenon — which is excessive blushing upon alcohol consumption — and creates a much greater risk of contracting esophageal cancer, which is one of the deadliest cancers worldwide.”

Beckman Scholars continue their education at some of the most prestigious graduate programs in the nation and many are competitive for and receive additional notable opportunities, including Goldwater scholarships and NSF graduate research fellowships.

“The Beckman Scholars Program champions scientific leaders of the future,” said Carol Parish, Floyd D. and Elisabeth S. Gottwald Chair of Chemistry who directs Richmond’s Beckman program. “Under the dedicated mentorship of UR faculty, our Beckman Scholars are advancing important scientific research while gaining world-class training experiences.”

Hendler and MacDermott join current Beckman Scholars Abigail Ali and Auden Wilson, rising seniors, and Helen Xia, who graduated May 12.

UR has had 26 Beckman Scholars since 2006. Scholars work at least 10 hours a week during the academic year and full-time for two 10-week summer terms in a faculty mentor’s laboratory. They receive $26,000 which covers travel, lab supplies, and the faculty mentor’s stipend.