WHAT THEY LEARNED: Matt Johnson ’14

Chemistry major Matt Johnson investigated the mechanisms by which some species of bacteria naturally produce pharmaceutically useful compounds, such as antibiotics, for his senior thesis.

If you’re not a chemistry major, like Matt Johnson was, the title of his senior thesis, “Probing the interactions of acyl carrier proteins using vibrational spectroscopy,” might be difficult to understand. But his research actually has tangible real-world implications. “I investigated the mechanisms by which some species of bacteria naturally produce pharmaceutically useful compounds—antibiotics for example,” says Johnson. “If we can gain a more detailed understanding of these bacterial systems, we can harness and manipulate them to produce novel drugs.”

Johnson, who also minored in biochemistry, is working this year as a clinical research assistant at Lankenau Medical Center not far from Haverford’s campus and hopes to attend medical school in the future. “Although my future career path does not directly involve biochemical research, I believe that the skills I have developed throughout this project will be extremely useful as I pursue a career in medicine,” he says.


How did your thesis advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and interpret your results?

My thesis advisor was [Assistant Professor of Chemistry] Lou Charkoudian. She provided the initial idea for my project based on some of her previous postdoc research at Stanford. At the beginning of the project, she worked closely with me to help me get acclimated to the new lab and to teach me the many biochemical techniques that I would need throughout the year. As the year has progressed, she [gave] me the freedom to work independently and trusted me to get the work done on my own. We [met] every week to talk about recent results that I have obtained, and to discuss short- and long-term goals for the project.

What did you learn working on this project?

I learned an incredible amount about a field of science that I had little to no knowledge of prior to this year. Additionally, I have improved my data-collection skills and my abilities to multi-task and work independently. I would say the biggest takeaway from this project is that independent research at Haverford is both an extremely difficult and rewarding experience. Professors expect a lot from students here, but also provide an incredible amount of support that almost always ensures success.


“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of members of the Class of 2014.