Top ScientistGAMBIER, Ohio (April 5, 2004) In just two years at Kenyon, Karly Burke has tackled biochemical research of the sort that many students don't see until graduate school. She'll be headed to graduate school herself, she hopes-a dual M.D. and Ph.D. program, ideally-to continue exploring the causes, mechanisms, and treatments of neurological diseases and cancer. Those programs are notoriously tough to get into, but Burke should be a strong candidate. She has just received one of the nation's most prestigious awards for undergraduate science students: the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.
Burke, a sophomore from Woodbury, Minnesota, was one of 310 students chosen for the scholarship, out of 1,113 nominated by colleges and universities across the country. The scholarships, established in 1986 to honor the long-time U.S. senator, are designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in engineering, mathematics, and the natural sciences. A biochemistry major, Burke will receive $7,500 per year, the maximum award, to help defray college costs during the next two years.
Burke has been involved in two challenging, and very different, research projects at Kenyon. Starting in the second semester of her first year, she worked with Professor of Chemistry John Lutton, creating a computer-generated molecular model of a serotonin transporter, with the ultimate aim of finding more efficient, precisely targeted antidepressant drugs. She continued her work through the summer as a summer science scholar at Kenyon. This year she left the computer screen for the lab bench, working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Rosemary Marusak to investigate the benefits of dexrazoxane drugs, which help protect the heart from dangerous side effects of an aggressive anticancer medicine, doxorubicin. This research may lead to the development of a perfect "companion" drug to doxorubicin. Meanwhile, she's planning another summer of biomedical research, this time at the Mayo Clinic in her home state.
Burke enjoys the independence of lab research, as well as the way it combines the methodical with the creative. In research, she finds that material from diverse courses suddenly comes together in revealing ways-in the serotonin project, for example, she drew on courses ranging from organic chemistry and biochemistry to animal physiology and neuroscience. Above all, she loves the fact that research projects take her beyond the classroom. "Unknown questions in science excite me," she wrote in her scholarship application, adding: "I want to ensure that my work benefits people."
Burke, who came to Kenyon with her twin sister Kelly-also a strong science student-chose the College in part because of the close interaction she could have with faculty members. "I also liked the fact it's noncompetitive but people still work really hard at what they're learning," she says. While pursuing a demanding schedule of science courses, she has enjoyed classes in fields such as political science, and she plays the clarinet in the College's Symphonic Wind Ensemble.