Since her sophomore year at Richmond, Emily McFadden, ’13, has focused her undergraduate research on the link between damaged DNA and cancer growth.

McFadden’s work in the lab under the supervision of her research mentor, chemistry professor Michelle Hamm, landed the biochemistry and molecular biology (BMB) major a grant from the Beckman Foundation. The scholarship will support McFadden, as well as cover research supplies and travel to present her findings at national conferences.

“DNA stores all the information your body needs to run properly,” Hamm explains. “If the DNA becomes damaged, diseases such as cancer can result. Emily’s research is focused on better understanding this link.”

McFadden says her research focuses on the efficiency of specific enzymes' abilities to replicate and repair the damaged DNA. “An enzyme's repair efficiency is crucial for proper replication and function of DNA,” she says. “Left unchecked, this lesion can propagate and lead to the development of diseases such as Parkinson's or cancer.”

Her research will be supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation’s Beckman Scholars program. The program recognizes exceptionally talented undergraduate students who have performed research in chemistry and the biological sciences. The foundation selects scholarship recipients based on their potential to become prominent leaders in their scientific and professional pursuits.

McFadden credits her success in the sciences to an interdisciplinary major. Studying BMB, she says, “exemplifies the notion that no field of science is independent of all others.

“I enjoy learning about specific areas of chemistry and molecular biology, but learning how to apply them to multiple biological functions on a larger scale is what made me choose the BMB major,” she says. “This concept goes along with my ideal career of being both a scientist and humanitarian, which I believe should be simultaneously studied and practiced.”

McFadden says that she enjoyed working with Hamm — an opportunity that gave her insight into what it takes to become a researcher.

“Working with Dr. Hamm has given me invaluable experience in the research field,” McFadden says. “Following procedures, having deadlines, and being able to verbalize my work are just some of the more important skills I’ve learned from having Dr. Hamm as my mentor. One of the best ways to learn science is by doing science, so being able to take theories I’ve learned from lecture and apply them to my research is very rewarding.”

McFadden’s experience with Richmond professors is not only helping her become a researcher; she says it has also encouraged her to work as a tutor at the University’s Academic Skills Center.

“Having a personal connection with your professors allows you to ask questions and talk to them as equals instead of simply lecturers,” McFadden says. “I value professors who take the time to explain concepts to students, and so I enjoy being able to help other students understand subjects that I enjoy.”