Senior Alyssa Questell Designs New Fungicide

Indian Hill Senior Alyssa Questell Designs New Fungicide to Protect Crops
Posted on 08/23/2018
Alyssa Questell

To her senior class colleagues, she is known as the class president, a soccer player, Science Olympiad co-captain, academic team member, and a team leader for the annual fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – but this summer, Indian Hill High School’s Alyssa Questell was part of an elite group of students who spent vacation hard at work researching biochemistry at Purdue University. For 39 intense days, Questell worked to design a small molecule inhibitor to protect crops from fungus.

“The essence of my summer can be boiled down to one word: Cdc14. That's the name of the enzyme around which our research revolved,” explained Questell. “We used our lab data in conjunction with previous research on enzymes belonging to the same family to generate a computer model of our enzyme and design a candidate inhibitor. If synthesized, this inhibitor may be used in a broad-spectrum fungicide. That, of course, goes beyond our research and would require further testing.” 

Questell participated in the Summer Science Program (SSP) as one of 35 gifted science students who came from around the world for academic challenge, collaboration, and personal growth. Since 1959, this unique and highly selective program has offered teenagers their first taste of hands-on, collaborative experimental research.

“Overall, the program provided the depth and challenge I craved,” said Questell. “There were nights when we wouldn't walk back from the lab until midnight, and I heard lectures that left me in utter confusion, albeit not without awe. It was through this challenge that I learned what it feels like to be completely immersed in something you are passionate about. When you are sleep-deprived but still looking forward to the next lecture, you know that you truly love what you're learning. It's a feeling I'll look for when deciding my future work.” 

Questell and her colleagues worked closely with university professors, met prominent guest speakers, and took behind-the-scenes tours of local scientific and cultural sites.

“The best part of the program was meeting and working with 34 peers from all over the country and world who are extremely passionate and diverse in their experiences,” said Questell. “A big part of SSP is the community of lifelong friends that you gain. Additionally, learning from a host of researchers, including our two professors, and hearing the zeal with which they speak about their work was inspiring and has made me really excited about a career in research.”

Photo caption: Maniratnam Iyer of India, Alyssa Questell of Indian Hill, Ohio, and Ruqaiyah Damrah of Washington State conduct research in Biochemistry at Purdue University as part of the Summer Science Program.