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Jacobs: Ratte Award Winner

September 20, 2009

  • Conor Jacobs B.A. '09

With a broad range of academic interests, a deep engagement in the sciences, and a passion for international study, Conor Jacobs B.A. ‘09 nabbed the 2009 Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest academic honor. Jacobs has earned other academic accolades for his work in the classroom and laboratory, including a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2008.

“I’ve worked closely with Conor as his instructor and as his research mentor, and he clearly rivals the best students whom I’ve had the fortune to work with,” says Janis Lochner, Pamplin Professor of Science.

As a participant in the Rogers Summer Research Program at Lewis & Clark, Jacobs contributed new findings about the transport of neuromodulatory proteins. His discoveries were later 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 says. “One of the reasons I chose to study science at a liberal arts college is that I felt a smaller institution with a high faculty-student ratio would be ideal for doing research early on as an undergrad.” 

A biochemistry/molecular biology major, Jacobs evaluated whether a neuromodulatory protein may play a presynaptic role in long-term memory for his thesis research. Lochner and Bethe Scalettar, professor of physics, oversaw his work.

“Conor’s self-direction and incisive analytical skills have made him a first-rate contributor to the laboratory,” Lochner says. “I look forward to following his future scientific contributions.” A native of Missoula, Montana, Jacobs also excelled in his study of Mandarin Chinese at Lewis & Clark. 

He 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 says. “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.”

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 working in 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.

“Experiencing the thrill of discovery has been a strong motivating factor in my decision to pursue a career in scientific research,” he says.

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