Natalie Weir (S'09)
Chemistry major, amphibian aficionado, Judith Resnik Award winner
Seeking inspiration in the tropical rainforest
Natalie Weir was in awe of the abundance and diversity of the tropical rainforest and fascinated by how native tribes used the resources of the forest to meet their medicinal needs. After conducting field research in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, the chemistry major developed long-term research interests in producing medicines inspired by nature.
"Students should absolutely take advantage of the opportunity to conduct research with faculty. Frankly, I don't think there is a better learning experience available," said Weir.
In 2004, Weir traveled to Costa Rica to study tropical ecology with Duke University's Talent Identification Program. Three years later, she traveled to Peru to conduct a study of lowland tropical frogs with herpetologist Tiffany Doan, associate professor at Central Connecticut State University, and to Trinidad a year after that to collect specimens of Shreve's Lightbulb Lizard (Riama shrevei) for phylogeographical analysis.
Weir's research experiences didn't all take place in the tropical rainforest. She gained significant laboratory experience working with Biological Sciences Professor Chien Ho at Carnegie Mellon. Her research focused on how the chemical structure of hemoglobin relates to its biological function, which is an important step toward designing a hemoglobin-based blood substitute. Specifically, Weir has been investigating the impact of specific mutations in the distal heme pocket on hemoglobin's oxygen binding capability.
"Undergraduate research gives a practical context to coursework. Knowing that what you learn in class will be utilized in the lab provides a deeper meaning for academics," said Weir. "I apply what I learned on a daily basis."
Outside of the lab, Weir rowed for the Carnegie Mellon crew team for four years. Highlights from her crew career include a silver medal finish at USRowing's Club Nationals in 2008 and a bronze medal at the Dad Vail regatta in May 2009.
Weir will be attending the Ph.D. program in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products to realize her dream of being a natural product chemist.