Pomona College senior Nicholas Murphy, a molecular biology major from Berkeley, CA, was awarded a highly competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship. This year, 39 U.S. scholarships were awarded from a field of approximately 750 applicants. He is Pomona's third Gates Cambridge Scholar, following Camille Cole '12 and Paul Robustelli '06.
Established in 2001, the scholarship was initiated with a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program "aims to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others." The one-year award covers the full-cost of pursuing full-time graduate study at the University of Cambridge.
Murphy plans to pursue a M.Phil. in biological science (pathology) at Cambridge, conducting research on the Trypanosome that causes African Sleeping Sickness with Professor Mark Field.
"African Sleeping Sickness," explains Murphy, "is a neglected tropical disease endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, making it an important target for non-profit institutions intending to stabilize and support communities in these areas. We plan to examine the protein interaction interfaces between the Rab11 GTPase and three essential effector proteins to develop bases for novel therapies to treat the disease."
Murphy says molecular biology is fascinating for him "because it studies the junction between biology and chemistry, where life arises out of particles bumping into each other…. We are studying things that are common to life as we know it: the dynamics of macromolecules (DNA, RNA, proteins, etc), how they interact, and how they eventually cooperate in cells." His research experience includes projects ranging from specializing chemotherapy for specific cancers, to analyzing how climate change will affect corals, and, most recently, to characterizing the evolution of genetic selfish elements.
And yet, he says, his interest in molecular biology has at times felt like a mismatch with his drive for pursuing social justice projects. He's indulged that passion at Pomona as the director of the College's Food Recovery Network, delivering unserved food from the dining halls to people in need at a homeless shelter. Last year, he became western expansion coordinator for the national Food Recovery Network, of which he is a founding member. He is also a community engagement coordinator for the College's Draper Center for Community Partnerships.
A few years ago, says Murphy, "I decided to try to dedicate my life towards researching neglected diseases, such as trypanosomiasis, that affect many people with devastating consequences for communities, but do not garner as much international attention because they do not affect wealthy nations…. There are many ways to produce healthier communities…[but] my fascination and experience in molecular biology means that I will be most effective as an agent of change through medical research."
Following his time at Cambridge, Murphy plans to attend medical school and then pursue a career researching neglected diseases.
For more information on the Scholarship program, see www.gatescambridge.org.