Julia Hendrix Miwa
B.A., Haverford College; Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Associate Professor of Chemistry
Interested in understanding how proteins aggregate during the development of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
As a student I fell in love with organic chemistry – learning the stories of reactions by tracking the movements of electrons. In my organic chemistry classes I enjoy introducing new generations of students to this exciting field. Over the course of a year of organic chemistry, we move from learning how to draw simple organic molecules to being able to read and synthesize primary literature in the field. I also teach both semesters of introductory chemistry. Recently my focus has been developing an introductory course to meet the needs of students who arrive at Wellesley without strong high school preparation in chemistry and mathematics.
My research interests include protein folding and the interactions between proteins and small molecules. The current focus in my lab is the protein alpha-synuclein, which aggregates into insoluble clusters called Lewy bodies during the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Through the synthesis of fragments called peptides, we aim to identify the region(s) of the protein responsible for aggregation and understand the specific interactions that cause the protein to adopt this aberrant form. We have identified a thirty-residue peptide that we hope can serve a model of the larger protein for studying this process. Student researchers are involved in all aspects of this project, from the solid-phase synthesis of our peptide fragments to the development of assays to observe the process and pace of aggregation.
When time permits, I teach a first-year writing course entitled Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics, which focuses on the use (and misuse) of quantitative information in support of an argument. This course is part of my larger quest to rid the world of the many numerators without denominators that fill our newspapers each day.
I am an enthusiastic participant in many sports, though master of none. I especially enjoy my regular runs with a group of Wellesley science professors. I am married and have two wonderful daughters. Most of my non-work time is spent in audiences and poolside watching my daughters perform and compete. I enjoy sewing and have developed an interest in costuming for theater and dance.