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Two students named Beckman scholars

07/12/2007

Miami University students Alexander Berrebi, a senior microbiology major from Morgantown, W. Va., and Christine Hajdin, a senior biochemistry major from Sunbury, have been selected as 2007-2008 Beckman Scholars.

The scholarship program established by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation recognizes outstanding undergraduate students in chemistry and biological sciences research at select universities throughout the United States.

Supported by $19,300 scholarships, Berrebi and Hajdin will conduct research with their faculty mentors this summer and next and through the intervening academic year.

Berrebi is working in the laboratory of faculty mentor Katia Del Rio Tsonis, associate professor of zoology. His project involves research in the molecular and cellular mechanisms of retina regeneration in the embryonic chicken. Understanding the development of these tissues could provide possible tools for future therapies for retina degenerative diseases.

"My very first goal was to pursue a position in a laboratory upon arrival to Miami University as a freshman," says Berrebi. "The influence of having a father as a scientist and my own growing interest in research led me to the decision to become fully immersed in science both academically and in practice." Del Rio-Tsonis, who describes Berrebi as "very determined" and "excited about science," says he introduced himself during his first semester, and started working in her lab when he was a sophomore. "He came with lab experience, is very meticulous and understands science very well," she says.

He spent a good part of his first semester training in microsurgery of the embryonic chick eye. Doctoral students Natalia Vergara and Christian Gutierrez have also guided his training.

Berrebi has received other support for research at Miami including an undergraduate research award, and he has conducted research as a summer intern at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University with mentor Linda Vona-Davis. He also participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butler County program.

Hajdin is working in the laboratory of faculty mentor Michael Crowder, Volwiler Research Professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Her project involves characterization of metallo-ß-lactamase from the bacterium Aeromonas sobria (imiS), an enzyme that contributes to the antibiotic resistance of the bacterium. A. sobria causes gastroenteritis or septicemia in immunocompromised individuals and is resistant to many commonly-used antibiotics.

Hajdin has been committed to research since enrolling at Miami. She explains "during freshmen orientation they suggested that we get involved in research during the course of our undergraduate study. Eager to get on the ball - I started research that fall. I continued it because I really enjoyed the challenges faced in the lab. No longer were you doing pre-described experiments with expected results. Everything we do is 'never been done before work.' The results we obtained...could contribute to the scientific community - not just to a grade in a classroom."

"Christine is an extremely talented young scientist," says Crowder. "She is a co-author on two excellent manuscripts already, and I anticipate that she will have one or two more publications before she graduates. I anticipate great things for her in the future."

She has received other support for research including a Miami Hughes internship and an undergraduate research award. Among other volunteer activities, she participates in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Butler County program.

Miami was one of 13 institutions selected out of 122 invited to apply for the Beckman Scholars Program Institutional Award for 2006-2008. The award will provide five $19,300 scholarships over three years; Miami will costshare two additional scholarships. Miami was also the recipient of a 2003-2005 Beckman Scholar Program award.

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