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Ratte recipient seeks advances in medicine and patient care

June 04, 2010

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    Marie Lafortune B.A. ’10

Whether she is conducting computational chemistry research or volunteering with pediatric kidney disease patients, Marie Lafortune B.A. ’10 never loses track of the importance of her work.

“Marie’s motivation clearly stems from idealism, compassion, and the desire to be of service to others,” said Professor of Chemistry Jim Duncan, Lafortune’s academic and research advisor.

A chemistry major from Tigard, Oregon, Lafortune hopes to pursue a clinical career in pediatric medicine, integrating her academic experiences in the classroom and laboratory with her extensive service to community organizations including the Children’s Cancer Association and the Northwest Kidney Kids Camp.

“My undergraduate research experiences have taught me that I really enjoy the intellectual challenges of scientific research,” she said. “Moreover, several individuals who have been very close to me have suffered from cancer, and these experiences have made me acutely aware of the limitations of clinical medicine and the importance of continued research for the improvement of patient care.”

Last month, Lafortune earned Lewis & Clark’s top academic honor, the Rena Ratte award. A Goldwater Scholar, Lafortune transferred to Lewis & Clark from a large research institution at the beginning of her sophomore year. She credits her success in the sciences to the college’s small class sizes, approachable faculty, and access to upper-level research experiences.

“The close interactions I was privileged to enjoy with faculty in lectures, labs, office hours, and summer research really defined my experience at Lewis & Clark and guided the trajectory of my undergraduate career,” she said. “I have felt throughout my years at the college that my professors, both in science and non-science courses, have been sincerely invested in my success and have gone to great lengths to encourage me and provide me with thoughtful and constructive criticism and individualized instruction to facilitate the realization of my academic ambitions.”

Working closely with Duncan and two classmates, Lafortune co-authored a major study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in February. The team’s article, titled “CASSCF Molecular Orbital Calculations Reveal a Purely Pseudopericyclic Mechanism for a [3,3] Sigmatropic Rearrangement,” relied on highly sophisticated calculations performed by the students themselves.

“Marie’s exceptional ability to quickly absorb explanations and integrate concepts never ceases to astonish me,” Duncan said. “She is one of the brightest and most motivated students with whom I have had the pleasure to work.”

Lafortune also conducted prostate cancer research at Oregon Health & Science University and has spent the past year and a half shadowing a physician at the Northwest Pediatric Kidney Specialists clinic at Legacy Emanuel Children’s Hospital.

This fall, Lafortune will begin medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago, with aspirations of becoming a pediatric nephrologist.

“While Marie is clearly gifted academically,” Duncan said, “she is also an extraordinarily dedicated student, absolutely committed to making the most of her extraordinary gifts.”