Au Presents Plenary Talk at NIST SURF Colloquium

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Jennifer Au (B.S. '11).

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) alumna Jennifer Au (B.S. '11) was one of two Clark School students invited to deliver a plenary talk at the 2011 National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) Colloquium, held in Gaithersburg, Md. in August. This was the second summer Au participated in the program, continuing research she began in 2010.

Au's presentation, titled "Enzyme Digestion and Mass Spectral Characterization of Glycoproteins," discussed her work developing mass spectrometry-based methods of measuring the sugar chains on proteins. Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique that allows researchers to determine the identity, structure, and amount of specific compounds in a sample of material.

"Many biopharmaceuticals are proteins [whose] sugar chains...can influence the effectiveness of the drug, as well as its interaction with the body," Au explains. "Since these sugar chains can vary from sample to sample, biopharmaceutical companies are required to monitor them in order to ensure product consistency. The methods we're developing will yield improvements on current technology for quantitative sugar measurements."

"It was a pleasure to have Jennifer as a research assistant over the past two summers," says her mentor, Dr. John Schiel, a member of the Organic Chemical Metrology Group at NIST's Material Measurement Laboratory. "Glycoprotein characterization using mass spectrometry was a new topic to [her]. She quickly understood the underlying principles, obtained a solid grasp on the necessary techniques, and performed experiments yielding high quality data. Her contributions over a relatively short period of time have been very impressive."

Au is no stranger to the lab, having taken part in a number of research projects throughout her undergraduate studies. In 2009 she attended a Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program at the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals at Iowa State University, where she measured the fatty acid tolerance of E. coli. The following summer she served her first NIST SURF with Schiel. During the 2010-2011 academic year she was a member of ChBE assistant professor Ganesh Sriram's Metabolic Engineering Laboratory, where she worked to determine the biomass composition of poplar tree cells and analyze isotope labeling patterns of amino acids in cells. Of all of her experiences, she says, working at NIST has been the most influential in helping her plan her future.

"The NIST SURF helped me decide that graduate school and research were right for me," says Au, who will be a first year graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware this fall. Currently, her plans include a career in biotechnology, but she says she's open to seeing where her Ph.D. studies will take her.

"I’ve gained so many lab skills and learned so much about the incredible work going on at NIST…[and] the direction of biotechnology-related research," says Au. "The best thing, however, were the people I met during my two summers there. My advisors, my fellow SURF students, and the other scientists tie this whole program together and I hope to stay in touch with them long after this summer is over."

Published August 11, 2011