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April 14, 2005



Sara Di Rienzi

Bryn Mawr junior Sara Di Rienzi has been named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar for the 2005–06 academic year. Di Rienzi, who is majoring in biology at Haverford and hopes to minor in both math and chemistry at Bryn Mawr, is among 310 science, mathematics and engineering students from around the nation who were so honored. The Barry M. Goldwater Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields.

Di Rienzi was selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,091 students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Each Goldwater Scholarship pays a maximum of $7,500 per year toward undergraduate tuition, room and board. Goldwater scholars are expected to pursue advanced degrees in scientific disciplines and careers in research or engineering.

Nothing could be more appealing to her, Di Rienzi says, than the prospect of a career spent satisfying her curiosity about the mechanisms by which life propagates itself and evolves. "It's wonderful to read about people who are modeling evolution and turning the model around to search for LUCA — the last universal common ancestor of all organisms on earth," she says. "I hope someday to do research into the origins of the genetic code."

Three summers' worth of research internships, two at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and one at the National Institute on Aging, have contributed to Di Rienzi's solid grounding in research skills and a good understanding of career options. This summer, she will begin a research project that will continue through next year and form the basis of her biology thesis.

Under the supervision of Haverford Professor of Biology Philip Meneely, Di Rienzi will study a process that takes place during meiosis in Caenorhabditis elegans, a tiny nematode worm. Meisosis is the process by which a sexually reproducing organism creates a germ cell (sperm and egg cells in humans) that contains a single copy of each chromosome in its genome. These cells can combine with other germ cells to form new organisms with the full complement of two copies of each chromosome.

In an early stage of meiosis, the chromosomes in the cell consolidate, and each chromosome inherited from the mother organism pairs with the chromosome inherited from the father organism. During this pairing, the two chromosomes exchange some genetic material, so that the single chromosome that ends up in the germ cell may contain genetic combinations not found in either parent — a critical contribution to genetic diversity.

"We're going to look at what is involved in the pairing of X chromosomes during meiosis," Di Rienzi explains. "Proteins in the cell control this process. So there's a protein that binds to the X chromosome. To bring the two chromosomes together, that protein either binds to another X chromosome as well, or — more probably — binds to another protein that binds to another protein that binds to another X chromosome. These protein networks can be very complex."

Here, she says, her math minor will come in handy. "I want to apply theories learned from mathematical models of known networks like social networks and the Internet to this protein network. But before I design my research, I need to talk to some math professors and get a crash course in graph theory," she says.


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