Thanks to encouragement from the chemistry department faculty, Beckman Scholar Sally Fisher, ’11, has discovered a love for research.

Later this month, Fisher and her Beckman mentor, chemistry professor Carol Parish, will have the opportunity to spend significant computer time on the ANTON supercomputer in Pittsburgh, Pa. as a result of Fisher’s nationally competitive proposal and her research on protein folding.

This is the first time the supercomputer has been made available to the public. Fisher said she wrote a proposal, requesting computing time, last summer on a whim.

Fisher’s senior honors thesis, “Dynamics and folding pathways of the tetratricopeptide repeat region in the cargo binding domain of Kinesin motor proteins,” involves using computer simulation and modeling to build the system for protein structures. One of her projects would be the first known computational study of the structure of the domain, along with the intermediate applications for Kinesin protein folds.

“The branch of computational chemistry I work in is incredibly cross-disciplinary,” Fisher said of her work writing programs. “It involves a lot of physics, huge biological applications. It really brings in all branches of science together, and it’s really cool to be able to develop yourself in all these different fields at once.”

Fisher said she has always been interested in the sciences, and began experimental work in biology and computational work in chemistry after a professor approached her about a project her freshman year. She stayed on campus full time that summer, falling in love with computational research.

“I switched my major from biology to chemistry, and I’ve stayed every summer ever since,” Fisher said. “The department and my mentor have been so big in encouraging me. I’d never considered doing research before as a career. They’ve been my biggest cheerleaders—that’s why I’m so involved in doing the research.”

Fisher is one of two Beckman Scholars at the University of Richmond for the 2010-11 academic year. Richmond was selected to receive a grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, to in turn provide research support to five science students over the course of three years. Each scholar receives $19,300 to support his or her research over the course of two summers and one academic year. The funding also covers travel to a summer conference for Beckman Scholars, where they present the results of their research. Out of the 150 universities invited to apply for the grant, only nine to 15 proposals are funded; this is the second time Richmond has received the grant.

Parish said Fisher has authored the first draft of a paper, which will soon be submitted to Biochemistry. Fisher is also on track to be a co-author on at least two other peer-reviewed publications in the next year and a half.

“Sally is an extremely bright and hard working student, with a poise and independence well beyond her years,” Parish said. “She is a role model to others in the laboratory, and she accepts this leadership role graciously and seriously.”

Fisher has applied to graduate schools and been accepted to two so far—with full tuition scholarships, Parish noted. Fisher wants to get her Ph.D. in chemistry and wants to continue research in a similar field, such as method development, and apply it to protein folding simulations.