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USF junior selected for the Clear Springs Land Undergraduate Research Award

TAMPA, Fla. –- University of South Florida College of Arts and Sciences chemistry junior Thiago Arzua has received the Clear Springs Land Undergraduate Research Award for his work on organic materials. Peter Zhang, Ph.D., nominated Arzua for the award, which came with a $250 prize.

“I love organic chemistry,” Arzua said. “Everyone hates it but I think it’s really fun. It’s hardcore science but it’s an art.”

The research that won Arzua his award is done in the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute in a lab with 17 other students. Arzua tests FDA approved drugs on mice to see if it would have effects on the Harry Benjamin Syndrome, a condition that involves the differentiation between male and female identities in the brain. Arzua said the drugs, so far, help on a molecular level, but still carry side effects.

Arzua said the main focus of the lab is to take carbon-hydrogen bonds, a common molecule, and transform it into less common bonds, like carbon-nitrogen bonds and carbon-oxygen bonds.

“I like to think that it’s kind of like alchemy,” Arzua said. “You’re taking something really worthless and going through a chemical process, and making something really good in the end.”

The “good thing” that Arzua and his lab partners are working to make are pharmaceutical drugs. He likes to look at this research as the “first row” of science.

“We first discover the molecule. Then pharmaceutical companies can test it on cells to see if it has any application,” Arzua said. “After the biologists test on animals, we can then go to the FDA and test on humans.”

Arzua came to USF from Brazil on a scholarship. He hopes to get into medical school to pursue his dream of becoming a neurosurgeon. Although he likes doing research, Arzua is aiming to work with people.

“I need to interact with my patients and see if what I’m doing in the lab is really working,” Arzua said. “I want to work well so I could help people.”


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Chemistry Research Student Success  
Author: Melissa Moreno