Goldwater Scholar targets disease with research
CMU Junior Izzy Gaidhane found her passion in the lab
Ishani “Izzy” Gaidhane, a junior Honors student from Canton, MI, double majoring in biochemistry and mathematics has been awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.
After a semester of mostly online courses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gaidhane was ready for a meaningful, hands-on experience in which she could potentially contribute to her field.
She began conducting research with Ben Swarts, a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The research, which focuses on the development of novel therapeutics to enhance the efficacy of existing anti-tuberculosis antibiotics, is funded by Swarts’ National Science Foundation CAREER Award. It was the experience Gaidhane had been hoping to find: Her passion for synthetic chemistry took shape as she started working on her project.
“I had never been in an organic chemistry lab prior to this, nor had I taken a single class in organic chemistry,” Gaidhane said. “I enjoyed it so much that I started coming into my laboratory for several hours each day to make progress on my synthesis.”
Gaidhane learned many technical skills from her research, but the experience also tested her determination and perseverance.
“I have learned to be patient and that sometimes research doesn’t work as expected,” Gaidhane said. “It took two years to synthesize and test a handful of molecules that significantly sensitized mycobacteria to specific antibiotics. My research is building small pieces of a bigger story.”
Gaidhane worked throughout the Goldwater Scholarship application process with her research advisor, Ben Swarts, and Maureen Harke, the director of the CMU National Scholarship Program. The Goldwater Foundation supports college sophomores and juniors who demonstrate strong potential to become the next generation of leaders in STEM research. Gaidhane was selected from a competitive pool of 1,267 applicants from 427 institutions to receive this award.
Ultimately, Gaidhane plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. to prepare for a career in pharmaceutical development.
“My goal is to synthesize molecules to combat, discover treatments, and learn mechanisms to diseases, as well as clinical testing of such molecules,” she said.
She is grateful for the mentorship and support she has received, both at home and at CMU, that will prepare her to achieve this goal.
“I was fortunate to have a strong role model in my mother, who pushed me to work very hard in school,” Gaidhane said. “I would also like to thank Kyle Biegas, a graduate student in the lab who helped train me in experimental techniques.”
Gaidhane said her mentor, Ben Swarts was willing to help students like her connect with opportunities for professional growth. “In my case, this led to an independent research project and first author credit on a manuscript we are preparing for submission to an academic journal,” she said.