Picture above: The 2014 Summer Research Group
Bruce Branchini, Ph.D.
Hans and Ella McCollum '21 Vahlteich Professor of Chemistry
Tara Southworth, B.S., Research Technician
Received a B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology from University of Connecticut in 1996 and a post-baccalaureate Certificate in Diagnostic Genetic Sciences. I have previous experience in solid tumor research, cytogenetics, and molecular genetics. My current research focuses on examining a proposed domain rotation of luciferase through site-directed mutagenesis and fluorescence studies. Outside of the lab, I enjoy walking my dog, reading, and spending time with my two sons.
Danielle Fontaine, M.A., Research Technician
B.A. in Molecular Biology from Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania in 1999 and M.A. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Boston University in 2002. I was a laboratory instructor for basic biology labs as well as anatomy and physiology lab coordinator while at Boston University. My current research focuses on site-directed and random mutagenesis of firefly luciferase. Our lab has developed a thermostable red- and blue- shifted version of firefly luciferase. Outside of lab I enjoy reading, being outdoors and sports.
Justin Rosenberg, B.A., Research Technician
B.A., Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) from Connecticut College. The BCMB program allowed me to perfectly blend my interests in both chemistry and biology. As an undergraduate, I performed research under Professor Marc Zimmer, studying firefly luciferase through computational modeling and analysis. Current research involves studying firefly luciferase domain rotation, characterizing luciferase substrate analogs, and examining enzyme crystal structures for potential site-directed mutagenesis. During the academic year, I teach science at the Norwich Free Academy in addition to organic chemistry labs at the college. Outside of lab I like to spend time at the beach, swimming, fishing, and boating, playing lacrosse and sculpting.
Curran Behney, B.A., Research Technician
B.A., Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Drew University, 2010. I joined the bioluminescence research group in early 2011. Currently, I am working on mechanistic and product analyses of firefly luciferase with novel mutations and substrates. I also study the light reactions of uncharacterized bioluminescent systems, making heavy use of LC/MS and other instrumentation. During the academic year I teach introductory chemistry labs, and outside of lab I generally like to be doing things outdoors, especially on the water.
Kelsey Row '14, Undergraduate Research Student
Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) major
I've been working in Dr. Branchini's lab since the beginning of my freshman year, and have recently switched from HPLC/LCMS work to more of a molecular biology track working on a mutagenesis project. In addition, I’m working on a project involving the classification of luciferin analogs. I hope to apply to medical school after college, with a specialized interest in surgery. Outside of lab, I enjoy Jeopardy! and dominating at gin rummy.
Yumi Kovic '14, Undergraduate Research Student
Connecticut College, biochemistry major with aspirations to attend medical school after college. I have been a part of the Bioluminescence Research Group since the beginning of the 2011 summer. For the past year I have been working on a project exploring the characteristics of novel luciferin analogs. These characteristics include sustained light emission, for some over an hour, and a variety of colors emitted through bioluminescence. Besides being in lab, I like to spend my time exercising, researching random topics on Google, volunteering with the paramedics at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, and as of late, teaching myself to cook (no fires yet!).
Audrey Davis, B.A,, Research Technician
B.A., Connecticut College, 2009, Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) major and a minor in Religious Studies. I joined the Bioluminescence Research Group in the spring semester of 2007, and shortly thereafter traveled to Italy to perform collaborative research with graduate students at the University of Bologna. In subsequent years I presented two posters at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), and completed an honors thesis titled “Improved Red-emitting Firefly Luciferase Mutant for Biotechnical Applications.” I took a brief hiatus from science to teach English in Japan with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). So lately my free time has been spent trying to learn Japanese, honing my karaoke skills, and selling all of my things on ebay.
Rebecca LaFleur, B.S., Research Technician
B.A., Molecular and Cell Biology and a minor in Chemistry, University of Connecticut, 2008 . As an undergraduate I performed research focusing on cellular motility and the cytoskeleton. My scientific work involves creating and characterizing mutant firefly luciferase, and I am going on to pursue a DVM degree at the Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. During my free time I enjoy hiking, skiing and car living in the deserts of southern California.
Kelsey Taylor '11, Undergraduate Research Student
B.A, Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology and minoring in Psychology, Connecticut College. I joined the Bioluminescense Research Group during the second semester of my freshman year and continued to work over the summers (2008,2009) and academic years. I traveled to Italy and witnessed collaborative research done at the University of Bologna in March 2009, and traveled to Missoula, Montana in April, 2010, where I presented the results of an independent study project, "Firefly Luciferase-RFP Fusion Proteins for BRET-FRET-based Protease Assays" with partner Sam Linder. During the summer of 2009 I worked at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo, NY in collaborator Dr. Andrew Gulick's lab where I learned x-ray crystallography and prepared crystals of luciferase mutants. The summer of 2010, I interned at Harvard Medical School with the Summer Harvard Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP) and conducted research on the transport of mitochondria in neurons in Dr. Tom Schwarz's lab. I am using various molecular biology techniques in addition to conducting live imaging studies with fluorescent proteins. I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the lab and am looking forward to conducting my senior honors thesis this coming year. Outside of the lab, I enjoyed running as a member of the College's Cross Country and Track Teams. I plan to attend graduate school for a Ph.D. in Biochemistry or Neuroscience. Kelsey Taylor was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship in 2010.
Samantha Linder '11, Undergraduate Research Student
B.A., Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB). I began working in Dr. Branchini’s lab the first semester of my freshman year. In the spring of 2009 Kelsey Taylor traveled to Italy, where we visited Dr. Roda's lab in Bologna. We observed our lab’s human-codon optimized luciferase being used to trace cancerous tumors in mice. In the spring of 2010 Kelsey and I presented our independent study research, “Firefly Luciferase-RFP Fusion Protein for BRET-FRET-based Protease assays,” at National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Missoula, Montana. While there we met many more driven undergraduate students presenting their own work—it was an amazing experience. For the summer of 2010 I spent my CELS funded internship in the Nutrition and Food Science department at Auburn University, under the guidance of Dr. Doug White. We researched the effects of leptin on obesity and diabetes using rat models, possibly offering a new means to treating type 1 diabetes in humans. I love the lab environment, along with the great people that work in it, and enjoy cooking, and writing/performing music. I am a member of MOBROC (Musicians Organized for Band Rights On Campus), and performed at various shows on-campus. I plan to attend graduate school and pursue the study of dietetics/food science. Or become a rock star.
Ha Eun Jessica Yi '12
Chemistry major. I joined Dr. Branchini's research group the summer of 2010. I'm excited to be part of the lab. I worked with Dr. David Lewis last summer, and I presented the findings at the end of the summer in Boston. I am planning to attend graduate school in the future and continue researching. Outside of the lab, I enjoy baking, cooking, reading, and crafting . I'm also a scholar in CISLA (Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts), and I plan to study and intern abroad in my junior year, hopefully in a Spanish-speaking country.
Milton Garrett III '14
Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology major (BCMB) with a pre-med track. I joined Dr. Branchini’s research group in the summer of 2012 and am excited to join the lab. I’ve previously worked with Professor Stanton Ching, for two years and conducted an independent study on synthesizing manganese oxide nanoparticles via a one pot reaction with various di-alcohols. I am a member of the college’s pre-health club and have completed the Paramedic Internship Program with Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. My goals after attaining an undergraduate degree are to enroll in a medical school and specialize in Endocrinology. I enjoy working in a lab environment and learning new things. Outside of lab I love to play/watch any sports, play apples to apples and taboo with friends, and play the piano.
Pictured at left: Branchini Research Group, 2013.
Derrick Roy '14
Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB) major. I can experience the vast field of biology while also being able to examine specific chemical interactions that allow all organisms to function. While I originally came to Connecticut College as pre-med, I recently have shifted my goal to attend graduate school in continuing research in my field. I joined the Branchini lab as an independent study student in the spring of 2012 with an interest in organic synthesis. My research has been primarily focused on synthesizing the novel luciferin analog benzothiophene luciferin and similar benzothiophene derivatives, which will help to further other projects in the Branchini lab. When I am not ‘nerding’ in the lab, out I enjoy walking dogs at the Connecticut Humane Society, playing classic Nintendo games and reading Steven King novels.
Anthony Guerrero '16
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major (BCMB) and a dance minor. I joined professor Branchini’s lab in the summer of 2013. I’m a Science Leader through Professor Marc Zimmer’s program. I’ve taken Professor Zimmer’s first-year seminar class, Glow, which gave me some background on Professor Branchini’s research. Science has always been my passion and I knew I wanted to start working in a lab as soon as possible to gain experience. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work with Professor Branchini and learn more about his research as well as important lab techniques. After college, I plan on going for my master's and maybe going for my Ph.D. In the future, I would like to become a professor at some college or university while also doing cancer research.
Justin Rosenberg, B.A., Research Technician
B.A., Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology (BCMB, Connecticut College.
The BCMB program allowed me to perfectly blend my interests in both chemistry and biology. As an undergraduate, I performed research under Professor Marc Zimmer, studying firefly luciferase through computational modeling and analysis. Current research involves studying firefly luciferase domain rotation, characterizing luciferase substrate analogs, and examining enzyme crystal structures for potential site-directed mutagenesis. During the academic year, I teach science at the Norwich Free Academy in addition to organic chemistry labs at the College. Outside of lab I like to spend time at the beach, swimming, fishing, and boating, playing lacrosse and sculpting.
Aliya Holland '17, Undergraduate Research Student
I am an undergraduate student at Wheaton College in Massachusetts with an intended major in chemistry. I joined the Bioluminescence Research Group in Summer 2014 and my research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. In the lab I have been learning to use a variety of different software, such as PyMOL and Seaview. I have been using these programs to produce images and animations of proteins, graph data, and produce phylogenetic trees. Outside of the lab I enjoy reading, watching TV shows and cooking.
Kristin Russo, Research Technician, B.S. Biology, Southern Connecticut State University 2014
I joined the bioluminescence research group in May, 2015. Currently, I am working on familiarizing myself with the instrumentation and methods used in the analysis of bioluminescent systems. Outside of the lab, I enjoy kayaking, knitting, and sewing.
Alex McGurk ’17, Undergraduate Research Student
I am currently majoring in ACS Biochemistry at Connecticut College with the goal of attending medical school afterwards. I have been working with Professor Branchini since October of 2014, specializing in the biochemistry portion of the research he conducts. I began working in this lab to better understand how proteins work and how to manipulate them to create a desired effect. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. A fun fact about me is that I love dogs and will hopefully own at least one for the rest of my life, and my current dog’s name is Toby.
Deniz Yetil '18. Undergraduate Research Student
I am a BCMB Chemistry Major at Connecticut College. I hope to go to medical school upon graduation, working in the U.S. Army soon after. I began working in the Bioluminescence Research Group in the beginning of Summer, 2015. I am interested in chimeric protein analysis and the expression of firefly proteins in kidney cell lines. My research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. I enjoy fixing objects, learning about new scientific advances, and hanging out with my friends. Fun fact: I play rugby for Connecticut College.
Rakhshi Qureshi ’18, Undergraduate Research Student
I am an ACS Chemistry and Anthropology double major at Connecticut College. After I graduate, I hope to attend graduate school and continue my studies to possibly attain a PhD. I wish to work toward a career in either Forensic Toxicology or as a Researcher. I was first introduced to bioluminescence in my high school by Professor Marc Zimmer. I continued to learn about bioluminescence with Professor Marc Zimmer in his freshman seminar class, during which we visited the bioluminescence bay in Puerto Rico. This deepened my interest of learning more about bioluminescence and motivated me to join the Bioluminescence Research Group to not only learn more, but also to become familiar with the different experimental techniques and gain experience in conducting research. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation. Aside from being in lab, I love to play volleyball, read, and eat.
Alea Wittenski, summer research student intern
I am currently a student at Three Rivers Community College and Middlesex Community College with majors in Biotechnology and Biomolecular Science. I joined Professor Branchini’s bioluminescence research group as an intern for my AS Biotechnology program and to gain job experience in the biochemistry laboratory field. My role in the project is the assaying of luminescence proteins and evaluating the bioluminescence from a luciferin analog. Currently, I am considering transferring to Connecticut College to major in ACS Chemistry. I am interested in synthetic chemistry as well as stereochemistry and nuclear chemistry. My long term goal is to work with an international chemical company like BASF, Bayer, or Nestle in one of their branches in Eastern Europe. Fun fact: I am an ex-SAG-AFTRA actress and had background roles in films like Labor Day and Exeter: The Movie. Also, at age 16, I performed at the Tansill Theater right here at Connecticut College!
Leah Salituro '17, Undergraduate Research Student
I am an ACS Chemistry major at Connecticut College and after I graduate I hope I am able to go to graduate school for research and to possibly obtain my PhD. I have been working in the Bioluminescence Research Group since the beginning of summer 2014. My interests lie in the organic synthesis aspect of this research and I work on synthesizing and purifying adenylates, with the goal to develop new substrates and reagents for reporter applications and for use in our bioluminescent research. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. Besides being in lab, I am also on the Connecticut College women's soccer team. When I am not at soccer or studying, I enjoy going running, reading books, and eating. Fun Fact: my dad and my uncle used to do research with Professor Branchini back in the day!
Munya Talukder '16, Undergraduate Research Student
Munya at the NURDS conference 2015 I am currently an undergraduate student at Connecticut College pursuing an ACS chemistry major with aspirations to attend Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I have recently joined professor Branchini’s research group not only to acquire experience conducting research but also to gain exposure to the various experimental techniques utilized in molecular biology. I wanted to explore a new field in which I would have the opportunity to learn material outside of my current field of study. My research project has been funded by the National Science foundation and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. It involves engineering luciferase variants for improved dual color reporter assay and bioluminescence imaging. The major objectives of this project is to develop green- and red-emitting luciferase mutants that express well in mammalian cells and produce two well separated bioluminescent signals. Outside of lab, I tutor chemistry through the science leaders program. During my free time I like to go on long walks, watch movies, paint, and go shopping with my sisters.