Dr. Cafiero and Rhodes Junior Conduct Cutting-Edge Research in the UK

head and shoulder image of a college student and professor
Kayla Puzdrakiewicz and Dr. Mauricio Cafiero

Rhodes chemistry professor Dr. Mauricio Cafiero has been studying drug design involving new families of molecules that could help improve treatments for Parkinson’s disease. When he decided to expand his research and work with an international community of scientists this semester, he applied for a Rhodes grant that funded a Rhodes student’s participation in the research.

Junior chemistry major Kayla Puzdrakiewicz recently spent three weeks working in the Atomistic Simulation Center at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. “Kayla accompanied me as I began my sabbatical semester as a visiting research professor there,” says Cafiero. “I model how drug like molecules interact with enzymes in the body, and I wanted to be able to expand my modeling to simulate a larger portion of the enzymes in a more realistic model. At the Atomistic Simulation Centre, I found a group of physicists and other scientists who are working at the cutting edge of exactly this research.”

Puzdrakiewicz, who has presented at national conferences, joined Cafiero’s lab her first year at Rhodes. “Participating in research has been a defining part of my college experience,” she says. “I hope to go to medical school and continue to do research as well.”

Puzdrakiewicz’s travel was supported by a Rhodes Buckman Center grant. “It is designed to help faculty members develop and enhance experiences that provide Rhodes students with educational experiences abroad. My grant in particular is to possibly create a future summer research exchange program between Rhodes and Queens University,” says Cafiero. “The exchange would involve students going back-and-forth to each school.”

While at Queen’s University, Puzdrakiewicz interacted with graduate students from around the world. Apart from spending time in the lab, she visited different areas of the UK, including Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Northern Irish coast, and Dublin.

“I thank Rhodes for funding the trip, and I especially thank Dr. Cafiero for the opportunity and his family for being so welcoming,” says Puzdrakiewicz. As far as what she has learned about herself: “I surprised myself that I could communicate effectively with professors and researchers who have had many more years of experience than myself. I also learned that I can be a leader in many different forms through listening, helping, or teaching others in my group.”