Elizabeth Oakes

Senior Instructor in Chemistry Laboratory

Scientific interests include adaptation to stress and protein-DNA interactions; enjoys teaching chemistry and biochemistry labs.

My research interests are in the area of bacterial adaptation to environmental stress. In particular, I would like to understand how small molecules are used by cells to modulate interactions between regulatory proteins and DNA in order to start the adaptive process by changing which genes (encoded in the DNA) are expressed or turned off. I am also interested in cellular processes that remodel proteins already present in cells in response to the external stress. These processes can either remove proteins by degrading them and recycling their amino acid building blocks or they can change the three-dimensional structure of the protein such that it takes on a new function.

I develop and teach laboratory courses in biochemistry and introductory chemistry. I thoroughly enjoy the introductory labs where students are often getting their first college science experience. These labs are continually being re-evaluated to spark interest in science and to respond to the wide range of learning styles and backgrounds that students bring to Wellesley. My main focus has been the two-semester biochemistry lab at the core of the biological chemistry major. I have drawn on all of my past research experiences to ensure that this course provides a strong foundation in experimental biochemistry including a student-designed and executed research project.

Research in chemical education is also of great interest to me. Since teaching is my main career focus, I am always striving to become a better teacher. Staying current on research in innovative ways of presenting material and on the different ways in which students learn helps me continually update my teaching to incorporate new pedagogical ideas. I also follow education research to find tools that help me objectively assess whether changes in my teaching improve student learning.

My personal interests mostly revolve around my family. I enjoy being outdoors as much as possible and spend much of my summer in the garden, going on camping trips, and walking around all of the beautiful nature preserves nearby. My main hobby at home is cooking food using recipes and inspiration from all over the world with locally grown and raised ingredients. Reading, listening to live music, and going to the theater are also at the top of the list.


  • B.A., Bryn Mawr College
  • Ph.D., University of Wisconsin (Madison)

Current and upcoming courses

  • Instrumental methods of chemical analysis. Topics include statistical analysis, electronics and circuitry, electrochemistry, spectroscopy, and separations science with special attention to instrument design and function. The course work emphasizes the practical applications of chemical instrumentation and methods to address questions in areas ranging from art history to biochemistry to materials science. The laboratory work focuses on the design, construction, and use of chemical instrumentation along with the interfacing of instruments with computers.