Designing molecules to be better medicines

Jonathan Palmer ’19 uses chemistry to discover molecules that could become effective drugs

As a graduate student working towards a PhD degree in medicinal chemistry at the University of Washington, Jonathan Palmer ’19 uses a variety of chemistry approaches to learn more about which molecules might make good drugs.

Major: Biochemistry

Highlights from Beloit: Participating in research experiences and internships both on and off campus. Presenting research at national conferences. Studied abroad for a semester to experience research in a bigger (and messier!) lab environment.

Most relevant Beloit class: Protein and DNA Biochemistry. In that class I gained a really detailed understanding of protein structure and small molecule interactions with proteins; this is crucial as proteins are often drug targets. In this course I learned to use molecular visualization software. 

Current research work: To be an effective drug, a small molecule must first be able to cross the cell membrane to be able to reach its target. A molecule needs to have just the right properties to be able to do so - it can’t be too nonpolar (greasy), or too polar. I use multiple techniques: computational design, organic synthesis, bioassays, and instrumental analysis to discover which molecules can cross the cell membrane, and therefore might be effective drugs. 

Advice for current students: Use Beloit to explore your interests! Beloit offers many opportunities to try different fields and resources to go beyond traditional classroom learning. Make sure to take classes outside of your comfort zone and use Beloit as a launchpad to explore! If you have something you want to try, someone at Beloit can help you make it work.

May 07, 2021
  • Jonathan Palmer ’19 in the chemistry lab holding pipet and vial
    Jonathan Palmer

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