Students Adapt and Thrive during J-Term Research with Dr. Scott Bur

Posted on February 23rd, 2021 by

Over January Term, Dr. Scott Bur and 15 research students worked to design and synthesize a molecule which would inhibit Plasmodium falciparum (the parasite responsible for malaria). The results could lead to a new avenue for treatment of the disease.


Bur’s research has been an ongoing project since 2017. Bur alters the project focus year to year and will continue through Summer 2021. In this most recent J-term experience, they examined human proteins. 


J-term provides a great opportunity for students to get real lab experience. Research student Axel Lange ‘22 (Chemistry) said, “due to COVID-19, I missed a lot of lab experience from organic chemistry I and II, and this research provided a chance to make up for that and learn new methods while becoming more confident working in a lab.”


Bur’s research this January was unique due to social distancing guidelines and fewer days within the term. “It felt like we needed two or three more days to really make it work,” said Bur. All students were able to use lab space, but with a socially distanced structure. All one-on-one meetings were moved to an online format.


The results of Bur’s ongoing project have been published for his work in the summer of 2020 and submitted for publication to Journal of Chemical Education. Bur’s students have presented their research contributions at the Midstates Consortium Symposium and the Fall Research Symposium. There are future plans to present at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting post-pandemic. 


Malaria research targets Gustavus’ core value of Justice by finding results beneficial to economically unstable countries in South-East Africa. Bur also demonstrates the value of LifeLong Learning through his own growth. During his sabbatical last year, Bur transitioned from organic chemistry into biochemistry and molecular biology. 


The most enjoyable part of doing research is the “ah-ha moment” according to Bur. On the final day of J-term, Bur had students coming through his door to thank him for the opportunity. “I think this kind of an experience gives them a sense of what medicinal chemistry research is like, and they fall in love with it,” said Bur. 


Lange reflected on his work saying, “This research study provided me with experience which will be helpful when looking for more research experiences in the future, along with job/grad school applications.” 


Bur advises all students to partake in research saying, “Do it. And it doesn’t matter what discipline it’s in. A lot of what research does is it trains you how to ask questions, and how you would approach answering that question.”


Research project funded by The National Science Foundation (NSF). 


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