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Beckman Scholars Program

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation is a nonprofit foundation established for the purpose of supporting basic scientific research, primarily in the fields of chemistry, biochemistry and medicine. In 1997, the Beckman Foundation initiated the Beckman Scholars Program to support the research potential of outstanding undergraduate students in these fields. Each year, the Beckman Foundation invites universities within the United States to apply, and selects approximately 10-12 universities to provide continuous 18 month support to exceptional undergraduate students.

Villanova University is pleased to be one of the eleven institutional recipients of the 2017 Beckman Scholars Program Award. Over the next three years, five Villanova undergraduates majoring in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Geography and the Environment, or Environmental Science will be selected to be Beckman Scholars.


Emma Lang (2018) is majoring in Biology and Spanish, and will be studying “The role of the transcription factor Pdc2 in Ascomycota thiamine biosynthesis regulation” with her faculty mentor, Dennis Wykoff, Professor of Biology and Dennis M. Cook Endowed Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics.

Thiamine (also known as vitamin B1) is essential for energy metabolism and, if cells do not have thiamine they die. Ms. Lang will examine how the Pdc2 transcription factor has evolved to upregulate the genes required for thiamine synthesis.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the fungus necessary for winemaking, baking and brewing, can make thiamine, but a similar, closely-related yeast, Candida glabrata, lacks the ability to produce thiamine. Both species regulate thiamine metabolism using the transcription factor Pdc2. However, in S. cerevisiae, Pdc2 also regulates sugar breakdown, and Pdc2 is essential for survival. C. glabrata is an emerging fungal pathogen that causes yeast infections, thrush, and most dangerously, in immunocompromised individuals, sepsis. Understanding the function of genes that regulate thiamine synthesis provides an appealing entry into designing antifungal medications against C. glabrata. Preventing C. glabrata growth by starving it of thiamine may help the 30% of individuals with systemic Candidiasis do not survive the fungal infection. Ms. Lang’s detailed study of the evolution of function of Pdc2 in these two yeast species, in addition to four other species will provide important new insights into antifungal drug research development. Ms. Lang will be determining which species’ Pdc2 are capable of performing the function of inducing the transcription of thiamine synthesis genes and which are capable of inducing the critical sugar breakdown genes. She will then use a mutant screen to attempt to convert the C. glabrata Pdc2 into a transcription factor that now regulates sugar breakdown genes as well. Ms. Lang’s work will identify how the specificity of Pdc2 has evolved over time and should clarify the role of Pdc2 in metabolism in C. glabrata.



Kali Carrasco (2019) is majoring in Biology and focusing her research on the molecular genetics and cellular biology of aging with her Faculty Mentor, Professor Matthew Youngman.   

Are aging humans fated to the same slow decline as older machines, suffering the ill effects of wear-and-tear? Not necessarily, at least according to studies of aging in roundworms called Caenorhabditis elegans, whose genetic makeup is remarkably similar to humans. Studies of older worms suggest that perhaps more than breaking down from long-term use, the functional decline of tissues that occurs later in life is  driven by lower expression levels of the genes responsible for maintaining cellular health and defending against environmental stresses—these genes are turned down or are completely off later in life. Along with its role in metabolism, insulin modulates gene expression by regulating the activity of a protein called DAF-16 in C. elegans, a close relative of the human FOXO3a protein, that functions as a transcription factor. Like light board operators at a Broadway show, transcription factors work inside the nucleus of cells where DNA is housed to flip the switches on genes, adjusting their level of expression (their “brightness”). The specific genes that DAF-16 controls are important for immunity and stress resistance, among other functions, and higher expression levels of these genes extend the worm’s lifespan. Understanding more about how DAF-16 functions during adulthood may one day lead to treatments to keep the protective genes turned on for longer, which could improve health in advanced age.  

In younger worms DAF-16 appears to wait for the cue of exposure to an environmental stress before it takes action. Work in Dr. Matthew Youngman’s lab in the Department of Biology, however, suggests that another cue seems to come during aging even in the absence of stress, as early in adulthood DAF-16 turns on at least some of the genes that it controls. Defining the nature of this age-dependent, constitutive activation of DAF-16 is the ultimate goal of a project undertaken by Kali Carrasco (Biology, ’19). Specifically, Kali will test the idea that in adult worms a protein called DAF-18 must counteract insulin’s inhibitory signal to allow DAF-16 to do its job. If her hypothesis is correct, adult animals without DAF-18 will lose the immune protection conferred by DAF-16 and will be more susceptible to bacterial infections. Accordingly, she expects to find that DAF-18 is necessary for DAF-16 to gain access to the light board—that is, to regulate its target genes. Since the human version of DAF-18, known as PTEN, plays a role in the development of prostate cancer, Kali anticipates that her studies will not only provide mechanistic detail regarding the control of gene expression during aging but they will also have implications concerning the molecular events that underlie tumor progression. 


Chris Braganca (2021) is majoring in Biochemistry and Neuroscience and is studying the correlation between ATP hydrolysis and protein degradation by the 26S Proteasome in eukaryotes with his Faculty Mentor, Dr. Daniel Kraut, Assistant Professor in Biochemistry.

Cells accomplish nearly all their intracellular and extracellular functions through the synthesis of specific proteins. Once a given protein has served its purpose, the cell degrades the protein so its components can be used again. In eukaryotic cells, this degradation is accomplished using the machinery of the 26S proteasome complex. Proteins to be degraded are first polyubiquitinated by a series of enzymes (E1, E2, and E3) that attach the C-terminus of a ubiquitin molecule to a lysine within the substrate, then polyubiquitinate by attaching ubiquitins to lysines within previous ubiquitins. Additionally, there are different ways to ubiquitinate a substrate, which can be controlled by using different E3 enzymes. This ubiquitinated substrate is then recognizable by the ATP-dependent proteasome and is able to be degraded. In Chris’ project, he will study the mechanochemical coupling between ATP hydrolysis and protein degradation by slowing down the rate of hydrolysis using ATP-gamma-S, a non-hydrolyzable ATP analog. If the rate of ATP hydrolysis is slowed down, how does that affect the unfolding of the substrate by the proteasome? How is this affected by different forms of ubiquitination, which have been shown to lead to different abilities of the proteasome to unfold substrates? Chris will initially use Green Fluorescent Protein as a model system.

Based on previous research on both the proteasome and the bacterial homolog ClpXP, Chris anticipates that reducing the ATP hydrolysis rate will decrease not just the rate of unfolding, but also the ability of the proteasome to successfully unfold the substrate.


Julianna Cresti (2021) is majoring in Biochemistry and Chemistry and her study is the "Investigation of the Conformational State of the 26S Proteasome and Protein Unfolding Ability Using FRET" with her Faculty Mentor, Dr. Daniel Kraut, Faculty Mentor, Dr. Daniel Kraut, Assistant Professor in Biochemistry. 

The 26S proteasome is an essential component of the eukaryotic cell, tasked with engaging, unfolding, and degrading a protein in the case that it is no longer of use to the cell or problematic, mitigating damage or greater consequences before the cell experiences adverse effects. First, a degradation signal called ubiquitin is attached to a target protein. Ubiquitin then binds to receptors (Rpn1, Rpn10 and Rpn13) that are part of the proteasome. The proteasome then engages the target protein with motor proteins that unfold it and pull it inside a degradation chamber. Engagement involves changes in the conformation of the proteasome as it moves from a substrate accepting state to a substrate processing state. The Kraut lab has found that ubiquitin binding to these receptors affects the proteasome’s ability to successfully unfold target proteins. Ms. Cresti’s research will be primarily focused on elucidating the relationship between the conformational state of the 26S proteasome and its ability to unfold and degrade ubiquitinated proteins through the use of the instrumental technique Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET).


Gillen Curren (2022) is majoring in Environmental Science and her study is "Heavy Metals in Estuarine Food Webs " with her Faculty Mentor, Dr. Nathaniel Weston, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography and the Environment.

Ms. Curren will be working to compare the heavy metal concentrations found in various plants, insects, fish, benthic infauna, and filter feeders from coastal tidal marsh systems in the Delaware Estuary (New Jersey and Delaware), the Plum Island Estuary (Massachusetts), and the York Estuary (Virginia). Heavy metals in estuarine soils are a result of natural rock weathering augmented by anthropogenic sources that are delivered from the watershed to the coastal zone. Anthropogenic sources of heavy metals to coastal systems have become a concern with the increase in development in many coastal watersheds. Research in Dr. Weston’s lab has previously found that these three coastal ecosystems represent a gradient of heavy metal contamination. Ms. Curren’s project will focus on the movement of these heavy metals into the food web in these estuarine ecosystems, using the prior research on heavy metals in marsh soils as a starting point. Samples from select plants, insects, fish, benthic infauna, and filter feeders will be collected from the three sites. Samples from each organism will be digested using a hot acid microwave digestion system and analyzed on an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS), which will yield the concentrations of a suite of heavy metals in each sample. She will compare the heavy metal concentrations between organisms of the same species across the three estuaries to determine the relationships between heavy metal delivery to the coastal zone and heavy metals in the estuarine food web. In addition, she will compare the concentrations of heavy metals between different organisms within the same estuary to elucidate how the trophic level and location in the estuarine food web influences the heavy metal load of estuarine organisms. Estuarine food webs support the production of fish and shellfish that humans consume, and so understanding levels of potentially toxic heavy metals in estuarine organisms has implications for human health, along with ecosystem health. Should Ms. Curren discover that any of these organisms contain a level of heavy metals that rise to a level of concern for human health, she will contact regional stakeholders and managers for appropriate public notice.

This award provide a total of $130,000 to support five undergraduate research students and their faculty mentors from May 2017 – August 2020. Beckman Scholars can choose to work with any of the 10 faculty mentors from the Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Geography and the Environment.

Scholars will perform research part-time (ten hours per week) during the academic year and full-time (35 hours per week) over two summers before and after the academic year. Scholars must be able to commit to the entire time period to be eligible to receive an award. Once selected to be a Beckman Scholar, a student will retain the funding as long as he/she continues to excel academically, is in good academic standing, and his/her research work shows satisfactory progress.

Total award per student is $21,000, and additional support from CLAS:


BSP support

CLAS support

Summer 2019 (FT)


Summer Room and Board

Academic Year (10 hrs/wk)



Summer 2020 (FT)


Summer Room and Board

Supply and travel (distributed as needed)


If needed

Optional, Summer 2021 (FT)


$3500 Stipend and $500 supplies

Beckman Symposium, Irvine, CA - First summer scholars MAY be invited. Second summer scholars are expected to attend and present their research.
Mentors MAY be invited.

Invitations, travel and hotel accommodations are provided directly by the Beckman Foundation


Each selected faculty mentor will receive an additional $5,000 stipend for travel, supplies, and fees related to the Scholar’s research.

Aside from remuneration, this program allows Beckman Scholars to participate in the Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellows Program offered through the Center for Research and Fellowships (CRF) without submitting an additional application to CRF.  Examples of the program include:

  • Training and workshops: In topics such as responsible conduct of research, an introduction to library resources, writing resumes and personal statements, applying to graduate schools and assistance with nationally competitive scholarships, and communicating science
  • Participation in summer research colloquium to have practice with oral presentations in preparation for presenting findings at external conferences
  • Presentation of the senior thesis at Villanova’s annual Spring Research EXPO poster session, attend the Beckman Symposium, and present their research findings at a minimum of one national or international conference (with College of Liberal Arts and College support if needed). 
  • Faculty mentors and CRF will support Scholars to submit their research for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Scholars will also be expected to mentor younger students in the lab, and participate in Beckman Scholar Program evaluations throughout their experience and after graduation. 

To be eligible for consideration students must:

  • Be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions
  • Be a full time student majoring in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Environmental Science or Environmental Studies
  • Hold a minimum GPA of 3.8
  • Continue to be an enrolled undergraduate through at least Spring quarter 2020
  • Be available to participate as researchers as follows: Full-time Summer 2019; 10 hrs/wk during Academic year 2019-20; Full-time Summer 2020. Note: students graduating Spring 2020 are eligible to apply as long as they are committed to full-time participation in Summer 2020, immediately following graduation.
  • Be able to attend the Beckman Scholars Annual Research Symposium in early August in California (costs covered by the Beckman Foundation).

The Beckman Scholars Program is strictly limited to the following Mentors. Each Mentor has specified their research area listed below. A rank order of 2 potential Mentors should be provided in the cover letter.


Research Area



Ecosystem Biology

Samantha Chapman


Global Change Ecology


Adam Langley


Evolution of Signal Transduction Pathways in S. cerevisiae and C. glabrata

Dennis Wykoff


RNA Biology in Fertility and Inheritance

Elaine Youngman


Aging, stress, gene regulation

Matthew Youngman





Regulation of the Nrf2 transcription factor and its target genes by oxidative stress and therapeutics

Aimee Eggler


Protein Degradation by the Proteasome

Daniel Kraut





Analytical / Environmental Chemistry

Amanda Grannas


Medicinal Chemistry, Natural Products Chemistry

Kevin Minbiole




Geography and the Environment

Ecosystems Ecology and Biogeochemistry

Nathaniel Weston

Each Beckman Scholar may be invited to attend the Annual Research Symposium at the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, California for each of the two summers of their award term; a formal notification and invitation will be sent separately. The 2019 Beckman Symposium will be held in August, date TBA.

All second-summer scholars will be asked to exhibit their research through poster presentation:

  • Each year, several scholar speaking slots will be available during the symposium.
  • Scholar speakers will be nominated by a Mentor, and final selection made by the Foundation. Requests for scholar nominations with submission guidelines to be provided in advance of the symposium.
  • One Mentor from the Faculty Mentor pool may be invited to attend the Beckman Symposium each summer of the Award. The selection of Villanova University’s Mentor attendee will be requested in advance of the symposium to account for appropriate travel and hotel accommodations. It is the Foundation’s preference that a different Mentor attend each summer, throughout the term of the award.


The APPLICATION deadline is FRIDAY, MARCH 15th. The following items must be completed by the deadline:

  1. Online Application - includes faculty mentor selection and some brief essay questions
Email the following items to by March 15th:.
  1. Curriculum Vitae/resumé - demonstrating a history of laboratory or relevant course work and past research experience, if possible
  2. Transcript(s) - official or unofficial
  3. Two Letters of Recommendation - Letters should be from two Villanova professors, at least one who has supervised you in research or in a teaching lab if possible. Ask professors to send the letters directly to by March 15th.

Finalists will be notified to meet with prospective research mentors to discuss available projects, research goals, expectations, and student motivations.
After the finalist has selected a faculty mentor, the student will be interviewed by the selection committee. Particular attention will be paid to the student’s understanding of and dedication to the proposed research project. Scholars must be able to commit to part-time research (ten hours per week) during one academic year and full-time over two summers (ten 35-hour weeks each summer) immediately before and after their academic year of part-time research experience, as well as be able to travel to Beckman Research Symposium in California.

“I have done more for science in general by making instruments available for thousands to use than what I could do in my laboratory by myself.” - Arnold O. Beckman, PhD

Dr. Beckman always considered the greater good, whether it was through his scientific innovations, business dealings or personal relationships. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation holds steadfast to the directives of Dr. Beckman and his wife Mabel, his values, and the mission of the Foundation. Dr. Beckman believed strongly in reinvesting in science and research, supporting the up and coming scientists and looking for the future “Arnold Beckmans” of the world. In turn, the Foundation tasks each recipient of an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation award to employ a similar “pay it forward” philosophy by promoting the legacy of Dr. Beckman, his values and his scientific contributions through their interactions in the scientific community and the world. Award recipients fulfill this task by serving as Dr. Arnold O. Beckman’s living legacy and, as a means of continuing Dr. Beckman’s mission for the sciences, recipients with demonstrated expertise in their area of research are called upon to serve on review committees and panels, lending their scientific expertise to the further development and evolution of the Programs supported by the Foundation.

Rules for Success

Arnold O. Beckman, PhD

1. Absolute integrity at all times.

2. There is no satisfactory substitute for excellence.

3. Everything in moderation…including moderation itself.

4. Only by taking risks do you make progress.

5. Never do anything to harm others.

6. Never do anything for which you will be ashamed later.

7. Don’t take yourself too seriously.