Michael Welsh.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Welsh has received a prestigious Cottrell Scholar Award, a $120,000 grant for research and education from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The grant will fund his proposed project, Characterization of Enzymes that Build and Degrade Spore Cortex Peptidoglycan.

Welsh’s research focuses on the bacterial cell wall, a polymer that coats the outside of a bacteria and protects it from damage. Undermining the cell wall kills the bacteria, so understanding its properties and structure is key in developing antibiotics. Specifically, Welsh is investigating the function and purpose of the chemical reactions that affect the enzymes that alter the cell wall during sporulation and germination.

“The reason we care about this modification is because it has to be there in order for germination to occur,” Welsh explained. “If you, in principle, blocked the formation of that modification, the cells could not germinate anymore.”

Funding from the Cottrell Award will allow Welsh to purchase supplies and equipment for his lab and the Chemistry Department, as well as provide him with the means to support Hamilton students in summer science research.

To fulfill the education component of the award, Welsh intends to develop new curricula for his biochemistry course emphasizing active learning. “I want students who are graduating from this class to have a better idea of how some of the fundamental concepts that we’re learning about connect to exciting research ideas on the frontier of research,” he said. “The idea is to shift some of the learning into an applied context.”

Cottrell Scholar Awards come with a network of fellow recipients who convene at an annual summer conference. Welsh expressed excitement about the academic citizenship the program emphasizes and the possibility to learn new methods of teaching.

“My colleagues in chemistry and the administration at Hamilton have been very supportive of my research and getting it off the ground after I started here,” he said. “I’m extremely thankful for that and for the ability to work with super-excited and talented students in the lab. I wouldn’t have been able to write a compelling grant proposal if it hadn’t been for the help I had from students along the way laying the groundwork for some of this.”

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