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Cassandra Lew standing in front of shrubbery

Chemistry student receives prestigious scholarships

By Srila Nayak

Cassandra Lew, a junior chemistry major and research assistant in Sandra Loesgen’s lab

Cassandra Lew, a junior chemistry major and research assistant in Sandra Loesgen’s lab, uses a variety of instrumentation and spectroscopic techniques to isolate and study pathogens in soil samples in order to determine their cytotoxicity, or how toxic they are to cells, and their antibiotic properties. Loesgen's lab researches the discovery and evaluation of natural products that can be developed into drugs.

Lew was recently awarded the prestigious DAAD RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) fellowship to conduct research this summer in Germany. She will work with professor Axel Brakhage at the Institute of Microbiology in the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. Brakhage is a leader in fungal natural products, genetics and chemical biology.

A native of Rock Springs, Wyoming, Lew received her first research award as a freshman. A talk on research opportunities for undergraduates inspired her to successfully apply for the URSA Engage scholarship (Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and the Arts).

URSA Engage, which is designed to foster mentoring relationships between undergraduates and faculty, led Lew to Loesgen. With a love for organic chemistry cultivated in high school, Lew learned of research opportunities in Loesgen’s lab. She contacted Loesgen and was immediately attracted to the prospect of studying soil bacteria and molecules to discover anticancer treatments.

“It was something I had never heard of. I thought it was very cool that we would try to study naturally occurring biological agents for drug sources rather than synthesize and create our own products,” says Lew, who started work in Loesgen’s lab after receiving the URSA Engage research funds.

In yet another exciting accomplishment, Lew has recently won the 2nd Keith McKennon Memorial Scholarship. McKennon's family established the scholarship for meritorious chemistry majors in honor of the towering legacy McKennon left behind as a scientific leader who oversaw the growth of chemical sciences and chemical process industries during the twentieth century.

Graduating with a bachelor's degree in agricultural chemistry in 1955, McKennon enjoyed a long, distinguished and varied career as a top research chemist, sales manager, public relations director and chief executive with Dow Chemical Company, Dow Corning Corporation and PacifiCorp.

Keith and Patricia McKennon dressed nice for ceremony

Keith and Patricia McKennon

Until his death in 2013, Keith McKennon ('55) was a Lifetime OSU Trustee and a dedicated advocate and generous supporter of the College of Science. McKennon served in many volunteer leadership roles at his alma mater, and he and his wife, Patricia, made a lasting contribution to the university by co-chairing the $47 million expansion and renovation of the Valley Library.

In a statement, the Department of Chemistry said it is "grateful for the support of alumni and friends who established this Scholarship. Cassandra will do a wonderful job of honoring this long-time friend of the Department through her contributions to the state, nation, and world."

Cassandra's substantive research experiences have given her the skills, desire and scientific acumen to pursue an impactful and ambitious career path. She intends to do a Ph.D. in organic chemistry in order to learn more about medicinal chemistry and develop therapeutic applications.

Currently, Lew's research in Loesgen's lab is supported by a URISC scholarship (Undergraduate Research Innovation, Scholarship & Creativity). She has also won quite a few of the university and the College of Science’s most prestigious scholarships, including the Provost Scholarship and the Merrill Family Foundation Scholarship.

Lew is assisting Loesgen on a research project that involves testing strains of bacteria and fungus against colon cancer cells.

"We basically do an assay to see if the microbes kill the cells or not. I am specifically working with a strain right now that has killed cancer cells and trying to find the actual molecule that is killing the cancer cells," explains Lew.