Chemistry professor Sarah Kirk wins natural sciences research grant

by University Communications,

Chemistry professor Sarah Kirk received a three-year, $48,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to continue designing a drug used to treat a retinal degeneration disease.

She is the first Willamette University faculty member to receive the award from the trust’s newly established College Research Program for the Natural Sciences.

“The goals of our research are to change the structure of a molecule and to try to understand how those changes make it better or worse as a drug,” she says. “This will help us understand the biochemistry that’s happening in the body.”

Five undergraduates will collaborate with Kirk in her research, supported by funds from the Murdock grant and Willamette’s Science Collaborative Research Program.

To date, Kirk has mentored 12 students on this particular project, with nearly all of them going on to graduate programs in chemistry or health-related fields. She’s also published three papers on her research, co-authored by two undergraduate students and a high school teacher.

The ability to share her research with students is one of the main reasons Kirk came to Willamette.

“Undergrads are curious,” she says. “They have a willingness and readiness to learn new things, and they pick up skills quickly. Whether they go on to do research or not, they’re learning how to problem-solve. My undergraduate researchers keep me energized and engaged in the process.”