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Julia Baer’s Remote Summer Work Opens New Research Avenues for Lombardi Lab

“The Mount has always felt like home to me,” said Julia Baer, C’21, a chemistry major and biology minor who grew up visiting campus when her three older siblings all attended the Mount.

julia_baer_2-in-text.jpgBut this summer, from May 26 to late July, she conducted her research internship away from her mountain home as she virtually worked to complete 100 hours as a research assistant for the analysis of previously collected data from 2-D protein nuclear resonance spectroscopy (NMR) with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Patrick Lombardi, Ph.D. The work was funded by the Office of Competitive Fellowships.

“Julia’s goal this summer was to create a three-dimensional model of the protein-protein complex we are studying based on data the group had previously collected using several different biophysical techniques,” Lombardi explained.

Baer spent time reading literature and completing tutorials in order to teach herself how to use the protein docking program HADDOCK. She then tested different inputs and watched how the modelling algorithm responded. “When my results came back, I would analyze the generated models to see if the predicted binding interactions occurred,” she said, underscoring the investigation of these sites is important for the development of disease treatments.

“These models produced a set of testable hypotheses that form the basis of wet-lab studies currently being carried out by summer research internship award winners Rita Anoh, C’23, and Devin Shorb, C’22,” added Lombardi. “Julia’s ability to perform computational protein docking experiments has opened up new avenues of research for our laboratory, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with a researcher of her caliber.”

Staying Connected & Supported

A 2020-21 recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate award for students intending to pursue research careers in natural science, mathematics and engineering, Baer says conducting a virtual project was easier than anticipated thanks to Lombardi, who communicated regularly with her through email and Zoom meetings.

“Since I began working in his lab during my sophomore year, Dr. Lombardi has encouraged me to pursue various research and scholarship opportunities, and he has also helped me to develop skills in effective communication and in contributing to the development of future experiments,” she added. “His mentorship is a great example of the wonderful support I have received from the science faculty at the Mount.”

Learning Outcomes

Baer says her biology and chemistry courses provided a foundation for understanding the principles behind her research. She credits her science professors for teaching her how to critically read scientific literature to guide her understanding of new concepts. 

“This experience helped me develop the skills in analyzing data, learning new software programs and communicating results virtually,” she summarized. Those skills are necessary for a career in research.

Baer spent last summer conducting conservation research on the microbiome of blue mussels at the University of Connecticut Avery Point. Her research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation through their Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. After graduation, Baer plans to attend graduate school to study marine microbiology and research the impacts of climate change on biogeochemical cycling in marine environments.

Return to Campus  

“I am very excited to return to campus. The experience of remote learning has taught me that I am primarily motivated by those around me, whose intellectual curiosity magnifies my own,” Baer shared.