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KU junior researching Chlamydia bacterium receives top national award

Tue, 09/06/2011

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas junior has been selected for one of the nation’s top undergraduate honors in microbiology. Dan Simon, a junior from Olathe, was one of only 39 students selected nationwide to receive an American Society for Microbiology fellowship for 2011.

As sophomores, many students are still trying to pin down a major. But Simon already knew he was going to study microbiology at KU and was instead trying to pin down research work. He had been interested in biology since high school, so he was eager to get hands-on experience in the field.

He e-mailed biology faculty to inquire whether he could be involved in any of their research projects. One of the researchers he heard back from was Scott Hefty, an assistant professor of molecular biosciences.

Hefty is working with a group of researchers to stop the spread of the sexually transmitted bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. The bacterium infects at least a million new people every year in the United States.

The group is studying what enables Chlamydia to reproduce and what preventive measures could inhibit infection.

Preventive measures have been Simon’s area of research. He has spent his time behind the microscope studying the effectiveness of compounds designed by Sunil David, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry, to inhibit the bacterium. He is also studying the stage of infection at which the compounds are affecting the bacterium. The end result that the researchers are working toward is a vaginal microbicide that would prevent infections in the first place.

Simon expects to work on this research project through the rest of his undergraduate career. He says the hands-on experience has helped him explore career paths and put his classroom learning into practice.

“I would really encourage undergraduates in biology to get involved in research. It helps you determine if research is a career path you’re interested in,” Simon said. “It’s also a great complement to classroom work. It adds a lot of educational value to what I’m learning because I’m applying those lessons on a project.”

Simon says that working with Hefty as his mentor has helped him gain valuable experience, but also advice and encouragement from an accomplished professional in the field.

“Working with Hefty has been helpful and influential. A mentor can give you a lot of support and guidance, which he has done,” Simon said. “He encouraged me to apply for the fellowship.”

Simon’s fellowship came with a stipend that paid his salary for summer research. He also received a two-year student membership in the American Society for Microbiology and funding to travel to the society’s conference next year in San Francisco, where he will give a presentation on his research.

The Department of Molecular Biosciences is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas. The College offers dozens of diverse majors in natural sciences and mathematics, social and behavioral sciences, humanities, international and interdisciplinary studies and the arts. More than 60 percent of KU students are enrolled in a major in the College, making it the largest academic unit on campus.



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