New Science Hall of Fame inductee: Richard Haburcak '18

Only a junior, he has been a coauthor on six published papers, including one in which he's the first author. His success is the result of Brandeis' commitment to letting undergraduates participate in cutting-edge scientific research.

Brandeis Now has started a Science Hall of Fame to highlight the spectacular work of undergraduates. By working closely with a professor, students get to participate fully in academic research. As a result, they can wind up as coauthors on papers published in prestigious scientific journals.

Our newest member of the Science Hall of Fame: Richard Haburcak '18.

Major: Chemistry

Lab: Professor of Chemistry Bing Xu

What are you researching?
The process of self-assembly of small molecules, specifically small peptides that undergo enzyme-instructed self-assembly (EISA), is ubiquitous in nature and linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Recently, we found that the ligand-receptor interaction can modulate EISA by altering the energy landscape of self-assembly, giving rise to complex coupled kinetic and thermodynamic processes and revealing transient and emergent hall of fame

Can you explain that in plain English?
Simply put, molecules that self-assemble are like ridiculously small Lego bricks that like to stick to other Lego bricks, eventually building complex structures. Protein molecules that self-assemble like this have been linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. We basically found a way to adhere gum to the Lego bricks so they acquire new properties and build different types of structures. The hope is to create a new compound that could be used for treating diseases.

What's the most critical thing you've learned about doing scientific research?
Science isn’t fast, and it certainly isn’t predictable. A lot of care is needed to test whether the picture you have in your head is really what is going on in the test tube. But perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that you can’t do science by yourself.

Have you been involved with any published papers? How did that come about?
One of my papers was accepted in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS). I had been working on this project (the gum sticking to the Legos one) since the end of my first year at Brandeis. To see it appear on the "Just Accepted Manuscripts" page felt amazing.  I'm listed as the first author. I also have the privilege of being a coauthor on a few other papers from our lab. I am truly grateful to my group for adding me to the projects.

Future career plans: Professor and researcher.

Links to Richard's other papers:
Chemistry: A European Journal. December 7, 2015. "Enzymatic Dissolution of Biocomposite Solids Consisting of Phosphopeptides to Form Supramolecular Hydrogels."

Bioconjugate Chemistry. August 10, 2015. "Supramolecular Detoxification of Neurotoxic Nanofibrils of Small Molecules via Morphological Switch."

Plos One. April 21, 2016. "Nanonets Collect Cancer Secretome from Pericellular Space."

Journal of the American Chemical Society. December 18, 2014. "Ligand–Receptor Interaction Catalyzes the Aggregation of Small Molecules To Induce Cell Necroptosis."

Chemical Communications. February 12, 2015. "Enzyme transformation to modulate the ligand–receptor interactions between small molecules."


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