Undergraduates Participate in Advanced Research Internship

Projects centered on computational chemistry

Ashlee Colbert (front row, center) and Michael Concepcion-Santana (front row, right) with Robert Doerksen (back row, far right) and his research group.

Ashlee Colbert (front row, center) and Michael Concepcion-Santana (front row, right) with Robert Doerksen (back row, far right) and his research group.

OXFORD, Miss. – Two students received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer to work with Robert Doerksen, associate professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Mississippi, as part of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

Funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CHE-1156713, the program is commonly referred to at Ole Miss as the Physical Chemistry Summer Research Program. The program is directed by Nathan Hammer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and principal investigator on the grant. Its purpose is to recruit students from other universities who are interested in gaining hands-on experience covering a broad range of topics primarily related to chemistry.

Michael Concepción-Santana, a junior at Universidad Metropolitana Recinto de Cupey in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Ashlee Colbert, a junior at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, worked with Doerksen from May to August.

“I love science research and got a chance to try it as an undergraduate, so I am passionate about giving students like Ashlee and Michael a similar experience while they are at the stage of considering various career paths,” Doerksen said.

Concepción-Santana and Colbert assisted Doerksen with a project that uses computational tools to analyze protein-ligand interactions in the presence and absence of water. The research could potentially lead to new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

“New medicines are needed for the millions who are suffering,” Doerksen said. “It is essential to channel our funding and energy strategically to recruit a new generation of researchers who dare to invest in the deep understanding of the fundamental sciences needed to be able to make significant contributions to rational design of the next generation of drugs.”

A biomedical engineering major, Colbert said she was immediately drawn to the REU program.

“I was initially interested because I wanted to broaden my experience in medicinal chemistry,” she said. “I wanted to try out different areas of research not necessarily focused on engineering.”

Colbert said she plans to continue research in this subject area and will eventually use the experience to explore thesis topics. Concepción-Santana hopes his experience at Ole Miss will help him pursue a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry.