Each year, Wellesley’s Summer Science Research Program provides an opportunity for a select group of students to engage in fully funded, high-level research under the direction of College faculty. These exceptional undergraduate research opportunities would not be possible without our donor community who support many funds that contribute to the program. At the end of July, participants present their research at the annual poster session and engage in discussions with faculty, staff, and students about their findings and experiences throughout the program.

This summer, Don Elmore, Michael and Denise Kellen ’68 Chair in the Sciences and professor of chemistry, conducted research with three students as part of the program. Below, he and two of the students, Giulia Trevellin ’24, a biochemistry and Italian studies double major from Los Angeles, and Anastasija Vasilijevic ’24, a biochemistry major and psychology minor from Cacak, Serbia, talk about their experiences working together in his lab.

Professor Elmore, your research focuses on the design and characterization of antimicrobial peptides. Can you explain what that means?

Don Elmore: Bacterial resistance to conventional antibiotics is an increasing issue, leading to increased illness and death from drug-resistant bacteria. Thus, there is a critical need to develop new antibiotics to treat resistant infections. Antimicrobial peptides are one potential new class of antibiotics. Many organisms—from microbes to plants to humans—produce these peptides naturally as part of their immune system. Our lab is focused on developing more active versions of these peptides.

What motivated you to participate in the Summer Science Research Program?

Anastasija Vasilijevic: I was interested in experiencing working in a laboratory setting. I wanted to improve my previous laboratory skills, and the program is a great opportunity to explore possible career paths after graduation! It is much different from lab work in our classes, and I just wanted to see how it feels to be a scientist.

What skills do you hope your students will master throughout the program?

Elmore: I am most interested in students moving toward having independent ownership of a research project. Over the course of the summer, this involves them articulating novel research questions, developing experiments to answer those questions, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and determining the best next steps to follow up on their work. After their time at Wellesley, the vast majority of students who work in my lab won’t be involved with research on antimicrobial peptides or membrane proteins. However, the ability to integrate information and use the scientific process to address novel problems can be applied in myriad settings, even those that might appear far removed from laboratory research.

What was a highlight from your work with Professor Elmore this summer?

Giulia Trevellin: I appreciated the freedom I was given while working on my project. I learned to make sense of new assays, techniques, and concepts on my own or in collaboration with my labmates, allowing me to learn from mistakes and in turn gain a more thorough understanding of the subject matter.

Vasilijevic: For me, it was the opportunity to work on something I am passionate about. Professor Elmore always listened to all of our ideas for projects and helped my labmates and me grow in a way I could not have imagined.

Professor Elmore, you hold the Michael and Denise Kellen ’68 Chair in the Sciences. How has this named professorship, and philanthropy in general, supported your work at Wellesley?

Elmore: The funds generously provided through the Kellen Chair have played a very important role in moving forward research in my lab. Those funds helped me purchase laboratory supplies and equipment used to collect preliminary data that was critical to prepare competitive grant applications. This has led to two recently funded research grants through the National Institutes of Health. I also used Kellen funds to support students in my lab to attend and present their work at the 2022 and 2023 annual meetings of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. At those meetings, Wellesley undergraduates presented their work alongside graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, career research scientists, and faculty members.

What effect has this research opportunity had on your Wellesley experience?

Vasilijevic: The summer research program had a huge impact on me! Not only did I get to experience new things I would not have been able to during my normal semester, but it also strengthened my relationships with my Wellesley sibs. Throughout the program, I really felt I could lean on my peers and professors, and that my Wellesley community will always support me.

Trevellin: This opportunity has confirmed my interest in completing a thesis in biochemistry and has made me eager to pursue research related to biochemistry and human health after graduating from Wellesley.

How did all of you spend your free time outside of the research program this summer?

Elmore: Many of my weekends were spent getting outdoors for hiking and trying to catch live music. After the summer program ended, my family enjoyed a trip with a group of college friends and their children to West Virginia and an extended visit with my in-laws in Colorado.

Trevellin: I went to Boston with friends where we spent time in Boston Commons, participated in Boston Pride, and saw the cliff diving world series. I also made it down to Cape Cod and spent lots of time at the beach.

Vasilijevic: My friends and I went swimming in Lake Waban, frequented the nearby Morses Pond, Rollerbladed along the Charles River Esplanade, and had watch parties for the FIFA Women’s World Cup!

Read about other participants’ experiences during this year’s Summer Science Research Program.