Willamette student participated in selective summer research program

by University Communications,

Katherine Lacy ’15 spent her summer conducting hands-on scientific research through the Amgen Scholars Program at the University of Washington.

More than 3,600 people from across the nation applied to the program, but only 255 — including Lacy — were accepted.

“It was definitely a very valuable experience because of the connections I made and the people I met,” says Lacy, a math major. “I took away a new confidence that I could do research and I could contribute.”

The Amgen Scholars Program provides fully funded scientific research experiences to undergraduate students at 10 universities in the United States and three in Europe. The program launched seven years ago.

For her project, Lacy engaged in research titled, “Excited State Trans-Cis Isomerization of Azobenzene: A New ab initio Molecular Dynamics Approach.”

Under the guidance of professor Xiaosong Li, Lacy examined how the azobenzene molecule changed shapes when hit with light.

“It has a ton of different applications as a photo switch,” says Lacy, a native of Bothell, Wash. “(The research) has different biological applications to open and close ion channels and to control the nature of surfaces.”

In addition to her work in the lab, Lacy attended the annual Amgen Scholars U.S. Symposium, where students learned about biotechnology and drug discovery development, met and networked with other Amgen Scholars and talked with leading scientists.

“Last year, I was trying to decide if I should major in math or science. Through this experience, I learned there’s an intersection between the two. That’s where a lot of exciting research is happening,” Lacy says.

“This opened my eyes to even more possibilities. It has helped me to solidify the next step to take.”