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Ratte recipient excels in laboratory and language studies

June 15, 2009

With a broad range of academic interests, a deep engagement in the sciences, and a passion for international study, Conor Jacobs B.A. ’09 brings together many of the best elements of a Lewis & Clark College education.

Set apart by his exceptional intellect and his drive to achieve at the highest level, the biochemistry and molecular biology major received Lewis & Clark’s top academic honor, the Rena Ratte Award, last month. Jacobs had already earned academic accolades for his work in the classroom and laboratory, including winning a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

“I’ve worked closely with Conor as his instructor and as his research mentor, and he clearly rivals the best students who I have been fortunate to work with,” said Janis E. Lochner, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. Professor of Science.

Research Jacobs completed during the Rogers Summer Research Program led to new findings about the transport of neuromodulatory proteins, and his discoveries were incorporated into an article in the international journal Developmental Neurobiology.

“Learning about established scientific knowledge in the classroom is one thing, but actually contributing to the generation of new knowledge is very exhilarating,” he said. “One of the reasons I chose to study science at a liberal arts college is that I felt like a smaller institution with a high faculty-student ratio would be ideal for doing faculty-student research early on as an undergrad.”

For his thesis research, Jacobs evaluated whether a neuromodulatory protein may play a presynaptic role in long-term memory with the guidance of Lochner and Bethe Scalettar, professor of physics.

“Conor’s self-direction and incisive analytical skills have made him a first-rate contributor to the laboratory,” Lochner said. “It is with genuine pleasure that I look forward to following his future scientific contributions.”

A native of Missoula, Montana, Jacobs also studied Mandarin Chinese at Lewis & Clark. Recognized by his language instructors as one of the top students to have participated in the college’s Chinese program, Jacobs spent the spring semester of 2008 in a language-intensive program in Beijing.

“It was somewhat refreshing to take a hiatus from science and lab work and focus on something completely different for a semester,” Jacobs said. “While immersing myself in the language, I found myself exploiting and developing a whole new set of skills and mental faculties. I think that the experience of living in a foreign country for four months most certainly gave me a more global perspective.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the program was interacting with my Chinese roommate. Although he spoke little English and my Chinese was not in top form, we nonetheless found ourselves regularly discussing issues of great global import at length. Although we didn’t see eye to eye on every issue, we came to better understand and respect each other’s viewpoints.”

This fall, Jacobs will begin a new phase of his academic journey, entering Stanford University to pursue a doctorate in Biology. In the future, he sees himself making contributions to the field of neuroscience, or perhaps contributing to the development of nascent biotechnologies. Jacobs also hopes to deploy his knowledge of Mandarin to form new international scientific collaborations with China.

“As nearly as I can recall, I’ve always had a strong inclination towards the natural sciences. It was out of a desire to better grasp how the vast complexities of living organisms arise that I opted to focus on biochemistry during my time at Lewis and Clark,” he said. “Discovering the thrill of discovery has been a strong motivating factor in my decision to pursue a career in scientific research.”

For more information:

Emily Miller
Public Relations Coordinator
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