Past Members

Izabela Bielnicka

Izabela is in Poland and enjoying raising her son.

MS: University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland (2004)
Master of Science in Genetics at the Institute of Cytobiochemistry.
In the Columbus Lab, Iza was a fabulous technician that worked on many projects in the lab.

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Tsega Solomon

Graduate Student in the Chemistry Department at the University of Maryland, College Park

Tsiga Solomon
Laboratory Specialist Chemistry, University of Virginia (2012-2014, Columbus Lab)
BS: Chemistry, University of Virginia (2012)

Tsiga’s research aims to further elucidate nixtroxide spin label dynamics at solvent exposed sites on α-helical membrane proteins. This project follows on the heels of a paper published by the lab (Biochemistry 49:10045–10060 (2010)) in which a model for nitroxide motion in an aliphatic environment was proposed. Tsiga will be extending this project to encompass a greater diversity of sites on α-helical membrane proteins using multiple nitroxide side chains, EPR linewidth simulations and X-ray crystallography on a model system α-helical membrane protein, LeuT.

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Kalyani Jambunathan

Postdoctoral fellow at SRI in Harrisonburg, VA.

Kalyani JambunathanPhD: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (2007)
Advisor: Dr. H.Mario Geysen
Antibody epitope binding modes at single amino acid resolution.

MS: Indian Institute of Technology, Tamilnadu, India (2001)
Advisor: Dr. T.S. Chandra
Vermicomposting of Sugar Industry residues- A Biochemical Analysis.

BS: Madras Christian College, Tamilnadu, India (1999)

David Shultis

Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan

David ShultisPhD: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (2008)
Advisor: Dr. Michael C. Wiener
X-ray Crystallographic and NMR spectroscopic studies of energy dependent membrane protein complexes.

BS: Aeronautical Science Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (1993)

Alison Dewald

Assistant Professor at Salisbury University

PhD: Chemistry, University of Virginia (2012)
BS: Chemistry, Pennsylvania State University (2001)
M. Ed: Temple University, Educational Psychology (2006)
Alison conducted undergraduate research in the Guiltinan lab at the Penn State Biotechnology Institute, then taught chemistry and biology in Hershey, PA.

Alison’s research uses liposome (lipid vesicle) systems to investigate membrane proteins involved in bacterial pathogen – host interactions. Ultimately, her research aims to utilize the cellular hijacking mechanisms invented by pathogens (e.g. inducing phagocytosis, controlling cellular trafficking, and causing cell death) in the design of protein-decorated liposomes with novel characteristics desirable for drug delivery.

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Brett Kroncke

Postdoctoral Fellow in Chuck Sanders Laboratory at the Vanderbilt University

Brett Kroncke
PhD: Chemistry, University of Virginia (2012)
BS: Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007)
Brett worked with Dr. John Wright on ultrafast pulse recognition hardware and software design and implementation.

Brett aims to use quantitative information obtained from EPR spectra to improve structure and dynamics determination for α-helical membrane proteins. His work investigating the structure and dynamics of spin labels on a model membrane protein, LeuT, has provided a quantitative understanding of the EPR lineshape of detergent/lipid exposed nitroxides. Currently he is working with a model protein, TM0026, to assess the degree to which this understanding can improve paramagnetic relaxation enhancement (PRE) derived nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) α-helical membrane protein structure determination.

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Dan Fox

Senior Analytical Chemist at Albemarle Corporation

PhD: Chemistry,University of Virginia (2013, Columbus Lab)
BS: Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh (2007)
Dan worked with Dr. David Pratt on rotationally resolved electronic spectroscopy and Dr. Megan Spence on solid state NMR of lipid bilayer systems.

Dan’s research aims to determine the binding mechanism of opacity associated (Opa) proteins located in the membrane of Neisseria bacteria. These proteins bind to human host receptors, CEACAM and heparin sulfate proteoglycan, and induce phagocytosis of the bacteria. He will be using various nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) experiments and isotope labeling techniques to calculate a three dimension structure of OpaI reconstituted in detergent micelles. From there he will map out the interaction between CEACAM1 and Opa.

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Ryan Lo

Postdoctoral Scientist at Wolfe Laboratories, Inc.

BA: Chemistry, Franklin and Marshall College (2009)
Ryan worked with Dr. Rick Moog on determining the Kamlet-Taft solvent parameters for various micellar environments.

Ryan studied Opa proteins in different environments and investigated the dynamics of helical membrane proteins in micelles using EPR and NMR.

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Ryan Oliver

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Biological Small-Angle Scattering of the Neutron Sciences Directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratories

MS: Chemistry, University of N. Carolina at Charlotte (2010)
BS: Chemistry, University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill (2005)
Ryan worked with Dr. Joanna Krueger at UNC-Charlotte studying structures of protein complexes in solution using small-angle x-ray and neutron scattering.

Ryan is studying the physical determinants of membrane protein structure and dynamics. Detergent micelles are typically employed to solubilize and stabilize membrane proteins in a protein-detergent complex (PDC). Properties such as the matching of the hydrophobic dimensions between detergent micelle and membrane protein are key factors in stabilizing the protein’s fold, but a molecular understanding of protein-detergent interactions that stabilize a membrane protein fold is unknown. Ryan aims to investigate the geometry, structure, and dynamics of PDCs using biophysical methods such as NMR, EPR, and SAXS.

Contact Ryan Oliver

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Ashton Brock

Clinical Chemistry Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Virginia School of Medicine

PhD: Chemistry, University of Virginia (2016)
BS: Chemistry, Winthrop University (2011)

Ashton’s research aimed to determine suitable detergents that solubilize and support the function of membrane proteins.

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Chris Lee

Graduate Student at UCSD

BS: Chemistry with a Specialization in Biochemistry BA: Interdisciplinary Computer Science, University of Virginia (2011)
Chris conducted undergraduate research with Dr. Michael Shirts working on the automation of alchemical molecular design.

Chris’ research focused on the structure and function relationship of glycerol dehydrogenases.

Bill Peairs

Bill is a Radiation Safety Technician at University of Virginia, Environmental Health and Safety

Graduate Student

Bill PeairsBS: Chemistry, University of California Irvine (2005)
MA: Chemistry, University of Virginia (2011)
Bill worked with in the Chamberlin lab on the total synthesis of Tautomycin, a PP1 selective inhibitor.

Bill studied the interactions between membrane proteins and membrane mimetics; additionally, to develop a benchtop assay that yields insights into the thermodynamics/kinetics of membrane protein folding and its interactions with detergents/lipids.

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Catrina Campbell

BS: Biological Chemistry, The University of Texas at Arlington (2012)
MS: University of Virginia, Chemistry (2014)
Catrina conducted undergraduate research with Dr. Purnendu “Sandy” Dasgupta investigating the relationship between iodine deficiency and perchlorate metabolism in infants using Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), tandem Mass Spectrometry (MS-MS), and UV-Vis Spectrophotometry. She also worked with Dr. Brad Pierce to characterize cysteine dioxygenase, an enzyme implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

In the Columbus lab, her research focused on Inc proteins.

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Tomihiro Ono

Physics Teacher at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy

BS: Chemistry major with specialization in chemical physics, University of Virginia

Tomihiro investigated the dynamics of micelles and how to modulate the dynamics through binary mixtures of detergents.

Justin Kim

Resident at Wake Forest

Justin KimBSChemistry, University of Virginia (2011)
MD University of Virginia (2015)
As an undergraduate in the laboratory, Justin worked on the expression and purification of the outer membrane protein A (OmpA) from N. meningitidis. Side chain dynamics of OmpA were interrogated using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy.
In his first summer of Medical School, Justin participated in the Medical Student Summer Research Program, and investigated the conformation of nitroxide side chains on membrane proteins, specifically LeuT, using X-ray crystallography.

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Thien Nguyen

Graduate student at the University of California, San Diego.

Thien NguyenChemistry and Biology major

Thien investigated the effects of mixed micelles and on-column refolding methods for beta-barrel membrane proteins.

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Jessica Yoo

Medical Student at Stanford

BSBiology and BAHistory, University of Virginia (2016)

Jessica investigated ligand-binding residue of the TaNK protein (a nucleoside kinase from Thermoplasma acidophilum) and its nucleoside-binding specificity.

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Christopher Reyes

Patent examiner for the USPTO

Christopher ReyesBS Chemistry and MA in Spanish University of Virginia
MS University of California Berkeley, Chemistry

As an undergradaute researcher, Chris cloned a OpaI for expression in E. coli cells, optimized refolding of OpaI, and began NMR studies mapping the OpaI – CEACAM receptor interactions.

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Shelby Lipes

Graduate Student at

BS Chemistry with specialization in biochemistry, University of Virginia (2016)

Shelby investigated the properties of detergents that modulate beta-barrel membrane protein function.

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Rita Page (Digrazia)

UVa Medial School Student

RitaDigraziaSpanish major

Rita worked on reconstituting Opa proteins into lipid vesicles.

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Ashley Keller

Medical Student at UVa

AshleyChemistry major with biochemistry focus

Ashley worked on spin-labeling Inclusion Membrane Protein A (IncA) of Chlamydia trachomatis at specific native cysteine sites for EPR topological studies. She aims to determine the relative orientation of the IncA dimer within the membrane.

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Jacqueline Hodges

Medical Student at Tufts

Chemistry major with biochemistry focus
Distinguished Major Program

As an undergraduate, Jackie investigated the direct binding of OpaHS (Opa50) to heparansulfate proteoglycan receptors (HSPGs) using fluorescence techniques and heparin, a structural analog of HSPGs. She aims to confirm a selective interaction between this membrane protein and the host receptor and quantify the binding affinity. Further understanding of the intrinsic protein and receptor properties that determine this selectivity will enhance studies of the protein-triggered engulfment of the pathogens.

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Daniel Yu


BS: Chemistry with biochemistry focus, University of Virginia (2011)

Dan is working on characterizing proteins with known structure, but unknown function. Specifically, his work focuses on TM1385 which has been annotated as a glucose-6-phosphate isomerase; however, the function has yet to be investigated experimentally. Glucose-6-phosphate isomerases are a class of enzymes involved in the glycolysis and the gluconeogenisis pathways. They interconvert fructose-6-phosphate and glucose-6-phosphate. Kinetic studies and NMR studies (in collaboration with Golda Harris) are being conducted on both the wild type and the mutated forms of TM1385 to investigate the function and mechanism of TM1385.

Audrey Ogendi

Undergraduate Researcher

Chemistry major with a specialization in biochemistry

Audrey worked on characterizing thermophilic coupling enzymes that will be used to characterize thermophilic enzyme kinetic parameters at physiological temperatures.

Sarah Elkin

Graduate school at UT Southwestern

Sarah Elkin
Chemistry major with biochemistry focus
Distinguished Major Program

Sarah was an undergraduate researcher that worked on characterizing the function of the protein 10640157 from the thermophilic bacterium Thermoplasma acidophilum. Based on the protein’s structure, it was putatively identified as a ribokinase. However, her research has shown that there is no evidence to support ribokinase activity. Instead, the protein 10640157 appears to use adenosine as substrate rather than ribose. She is currently investigating additional substrates and optimizing solution conditions to quantify the kinetic parameters of 10640157 activity.

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Sidney Bush

Undergraduate Researcher

Sidney is working on the expression and purification of the TSR5 domain of BAI1 (Brain- specific angiogenesis inhibitor 1).

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Kiera Matthews

Undergraduate Researcher from Johnson C. Smith University

Biology Major
Kiera worked on the expression and purification of the N-terminal domain of CEACAM3, which is a receptor engaged by Neisseria Opa proteins.

Neety Chawla

Undergraduate Researcher

Neety Chawla

Keturah Wallace

Undergraduate Researcher from Johnson C. Smith University

Chemistry Major
Keturah worked on the structure and dynamics of membrane mimics.

Adrian Gaty

Visiting Scientist

Adrian GatyBA: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2007)

Adrian worked on optimizing mixed detergent conditions to facilitate structural studies of membrane proteins.

Ali Khan

UVA MSTP Student – Research Rotation

Ali is worked on the determining the structure of Opa60.


UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science Undergradaute

Colin was a high school student summer sesearcher from Monticello High Schoolis that worked on the known structure, unknown function project.

Sebastien Ortiz

Graduate Student in the Biohemistry Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Chemistry major with specialization in biochemistry

Sebastien investigated Opa – human receptor interactions using in vitro binding assays.

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Undergraduate at Notre Dame

Emma joined the lab as a high school student through the HooS-STER program and worked on the known structure, unknown function project.

Golda Harris

Graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania

Golda Harris
Chemistry major with biochemistry focus
Distinguished Major Program

As an undergraduate researcher, Golda studied the catalytic mechanism of TM1385, a phosphoglucose isomerase (PGI) enzyme from Thermotoga maritima. She aims to distinguish between two possible mechanisms of the enzyme-catalyzed isomerization; enediol intermediate or direct hydride shift through 1H NMR and 2D 1H-13C NMR spectroscopy. Mutational studies will also help to determine the roles of conserved active site residues in the catalytic mechanism. A better understanding of the mechanism used by the PGI from T. maritima will contribute to knowledge of the relationship between a particular PGI catalytic mechanism, the structure of the active site, and the overall fold of the enzyme.

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High School Student Summer Researcher from Argyle High School

Haylee is working on the known structure, unknown function project.

Cynthia Gray

Teacher in the San Diego Public School System

For the BioLED initiative, Cindy Gray is spearheaded the assessment efforts for the new research-based undergraduate biochemistry laboratory, CHEM 4411/21, offered here at UVa. This includes survey development and data collection/analysis.

Elleansar Okwei

MS student at UNC Charlotte

UVA Chemistry major with a specialization in biochemistry

Elleansar worked on investigating substrate specificity of aminotransferases.

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Nana Bosomtwe

Recent UVa Graduate

Chemistry major

Nana works on characterizing thermophilic coupling enzymes that will be used to characterize thermophilic enzyme kinetic parameters at physiological temperatures.

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Serap Vatansever

Visiting Scientist

MS (equivalent): Pamukkale University (2012)
BS (equivalent): Pamukkale University (2009)

Serap investigates substrate specificity of aminotransferases.