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Chemistry students selected for National Science Foundation research internships strive to improve cancer treatments and energy production

Leonard Watson, Jr., ’19 feels he is another step closer to becoming a doctor and cancer research scientist after spending an intense NSF REU internship in the Bioinformatics Department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical College. A junior chemistry major with a mathematics minor, Watson was part of a team of Pitt researchers working to understand more about cell death during radiation and how treatments can be improved in the battle against pancreatic and esophageal cancers.

“The long term goal of the project was to create a sort of calculator for radiation therapy,’’ he says. “It would help doctors be able to tell how many days a week, how many weeks, for how long and how much radiation one would get in each radiation period. Since radiation kills good cells as well as diseased ones, the goal is to optimize the amount of radiation while minimizing the number of good cell deaths.”The son of Tanea and Leonard Watson, Sr., of Paoli, Pa., Watson says he felt honored to have the opportunity to work under the direction of Robert Parker, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for graduate education in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Chemical and
Petroleum Engineering, who has frequently been honored for excellence in teaching, research and service. “With the classes I’ve taken at Misericordia, the research I’ve done and the advisement of my faculty, I felt I had an upper hand on the other people in the program regarding the chemistry we conducted,’’ Watson says. “Given that I was 1 of the 500 applicants chosen for REU, itshows that the education I’m getting at Misericordia is important. This experience helped me understand how research works and it also helped me confirm that research is what I want to do with my life.’’

In addition to his NSF REU selection, Watson is an award-winning offensive lineman on the Misericordia Cougars football team. He plans to take his MCAT exams in the spring and will apply to medical schools beginning in the fall semester prior to graduating in May 2019.