Richmond student-athletes are no strangers to hard work. That diligence extends into the summer months as many are studying abroad, interning in the United States or abroad or doing research for their major.
Senior swimmer Lauren McRae is doing just that. Since her sophomore year, McRae, a Chemistry major, has been working on a research project in the Gottwald Science Center.
“It’s computational theoretical chemistry,” she said. “Specifically I look at molecular dynamics, and I run simulations. The projects that I’m working on right are proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease.”
Over the course of two years in the lab, the project has certainly evolved. Initially the project started looking at one aspect of a protein than after two semesters the direction of the research shifted.
“We looked through some literature and decided to look at another aspect of the protein,” she said. “Now I’m starting to write a manuscript on it [the research]. I’ve also started helping this other girl who is looking at another protein that may also be involved in Alzheimer’s.”
McRae’s passion with science, specifically chemistry started back in high school, but it wasn’t love at first sight. After taking an honors chemistry class, her teacher suggested she try AP [Advanced Placement] Chemistry, so she did.
“While I was taking it I didn’t really like it. It was a lot of work and kind of overwhelming at times,” she said. “Then, after awhile, I realized that it was something that I really enjoyed, so I thought coming in [to the University of Richmond] I would major in chemistry and a psychology with neuroscience, but then I started taking chemistry classes and I really fell in love with that.”
The idea for her project came to be because of her initial thought of studying neuroscience.
“Alzheimer’s was brought up in a lab and when I started in the research lab, I still thought that was the path I was going to go down so when I told my professor she suggested this project for me.”
The rest is history.
The option is on the table for students to take the summer off and not complete research, however, McRae immediately knew she was going to take advantage of the summer months to continue her research. It certainly paid off when she was awarded the Research Achievement Award last spring.
McRae also has aspirations to go to graduate school for Chemistry following her final year at Richmond, and that is very heavily research based so she will have a leg-up on classmates.
“My ultimate goal is to get a PhD in Chemistry,” she said. “It’ll probably be something experimental just because I already have a solid computational background from what I’ve been doing here at Richmond. I think expanding on my knowledge of experimental chemistry will be helpful for my future plans.”
Prior to entering graduate school, McRae hopes to have her manuscript published.
“My professor and I go back and forth with edits because we want to add the knowledge that I’ve found about this protein to the scientific community, so I’m trying to find the best way to put that in the paper.”