What They Learned: Kofi Acheampong ’19

The chemistry major’s thesis offers valuable insights into the field of biochemistry, but also the act of research itself.

The senior thesis project opens up a world of research that is rife with the potential for learning in new and atypical ways. Just ask Kofi Acheampong ’19, who knows that, though the independence of research allows both for more informative results and more room for error, these two options aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

The chemistry major was led to the topic of his thesis, titled “Development of a Colorimetric Assay for Studying Acyl Carrier Protein-Interactions,” by an accident he witnessed in an earlier research experience.

“You always hear hear how the greatest scientific discoveries are often fortuitous,” Acheampong said. “The inspiration for my thesis work was a fortuitous discovery in a research course I took a semester before my senior year… One student accidentally missed an important step in our protocol, which led to results that gave us the necessary insight for my thesis.”

Acheampong, whose thesis was supervised by Assistant Professor Lou Charkoudian, took the bait offered by the error, turning a minor mistake into a valuable fuel for his senior research. His thesis enables a development of the analysis of biochemical interactions which are of relevance to the pharmaceutical field.

In addition to the increased education in the field of biochemistry that Acheampong’s thesis provided, the recent graduate also feels that he has learned much about the process of research itself. To him, being able to call his own shots and operate based off the results was just as educational as the initial error that inspired his project.

“The research process can only be taught through experience and doing my thesis allowed me to have this experience,” he reflected. “I had had a few research experiences prior to thesis, but my thesis was the first experience where I had the opportunity to dictate the direction that the research took, and I cannot stress enough how invaluable of an experience it was for me.”

What are the implications for your thesis research?

Antibiotic resistance and a resulting increase in demand for new antibiotics are current problems that threaten health outcomes for the foreseeable future. Researchers are therefore looking into the manipulation of cellular machinery in microorganisms responsible for making previously naturally discovered drugs, such as penicillin, as a means of gaining access to new “unnatural” molecules with pharmaceutical relevance. To realize this, however, we first need to thoroughly understand the workings of these cellular machinery to inform their rational manipulation through bioengineering. My thesis work could help researchers in this regard because we have developed a practical tool that could be applied in a high-throughput manner, in more ways than one, to bring us closer to discovering new antibiotics and other pharmaceutically relevant compounds.

What are your plans for the future?

After graduation, I will be working at the Perelman School of Medicine as a research specialist in the lab of Sydney Shaffer. My work will be centered around the lab’s central theme, which is to understand how differences between single-cells generate phenotypes, such as drug resistance, oncogenesis, differentiation, and invasion. I plan to be in this position for the next two years, after which I hope to matriculate in medical school.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.