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Northwestern University

Amanda Bayer Awarded NIH Predoctoral Fellowship

By: Northwestern Research News, October 12, 2017

What if a burst of zinc at the point of conception could lead to changes in the success rate for in vitro fertilization?

It’s a question that Amanda Bayer has turned her attention to as she works toward her PhD in chemistry at the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute (CLP). 

A fourth-year graduate student in Tom O’Halloran’s chemistry lab, Bayer has won a coveted National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS) that supports tuition, a living allowance, and travel to scientific meetings.

Bayer’s study of the role of zinc in the fertilization process bridges inorganic chemistry and reproductive biology. She reports that a zinc burst occurs at the point of fertilization of an egg and sperm. If her research hypothesis is correct, then researchers would be able to use this “signature” to identify the best candidates among the fertilized eggs (zygotes) for in-vitro fertilization. For the thousands of couples hoping to conceive a child via in vitro fertilization (IVF), this research has the potential to radicalize the expensive, emotionally taxing, process of IVF.  

The NIH fellowship required Bayer to write an explanation of her work without using scientific jargon; to assume her audience was not familiar with the intricacies of her research; and to craft an impact statement on how her research, at the intersection of chemistry and biology, would make a difference in the world. She credits her involvement in CLP with helping her hone her communication skills in order to successfully navigate the application process for the NRSA grant; her final application was 75 pages and took two months to complete.

Communicating effectively takes practice, and Amanda has had plenty of opportunities to practice as a participant in CLP’s Predoctoral Training Program, which espouses, “A hands-on team based approach to laboratory training and a strong communal training environment.” Presenting her work at monthly meetings, Bayer received constructive feedback from her lab colleagues well as from her professors. She also traveled to conferences, presented posters, networked with scientists, and collaborated with colleagues outside her field of study. Bayer says she owes a lot to CLP for providing her with various opportunities to network and collaborate. Without the hours of practice she put in presenting her work within CLP, completing the NRSA grant would have been much more arduous.

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