U.Va. Fourth-Year Student Receives Prestigious Awards for Research

August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009 — Fourth-year University of Virginia chemistry student Colin McCrimmon has received two prestigious awards for a presentation of his research.

McCrimmon, 21, made a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Toronto, where he received both the associations' Pauling Prize and the American Institute of Physics Undergraduate Poster Prize.

His research investigates crystal structures.

"X-ray crystallography is the most common and accurate method to determine the structure of small molecules," he said, explaining that his work has applications in many fields, such as drug design, biotechnology and fuel cell technology. "For example, in drug design, it is important to know the shape of both the target protein and the drug molecule to ensure accurate binding."

The Charlottesville resident, son of Delna and Kevin McCrimmon, said the awards help him pursue his work.

"It was encouraging to receive these prizes since it means that there is room for active research in this subspeciality and that any developments are still relevant to the field of crystallography," he said.

Cameron Mura, biochemistry professor in the College of Arts & Sciences and McCrimmon's undergraduate research adviser, said the student is "anomalously good." Mura had not heard of the Pauling Prize being awarded to an undergraduate before.

"They usually go to Ph.D. students. Colin is well ahead of the curve on this," Mura said.

McCrimmon has also been recognized at U.Va. for his research, receiving a Kenneth C. Bass scholarship for summer research from the chemistry department and a 2008 David A. Harrison Undergraduate Research Award.

"The Harrison Award was extremely helpful in both funding my trip to the conference as well as allowing me to do uninterrupted research without the worry of having to get another job," he said.

"I'm so pleased that Colin has received this recognition," said Lucy Russell, director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which administers the Harrison Research Grants. "His achievement is a wonderful demonstration of the important contributions undergraduates can make when they participate in research. We are fortunate that the Harrison Awards support this kind of serious intellectual exploration."

McCrimmon has received intermediate honors and been on the dean's list. He is an Echol's Scholar, a Second-Year Science Scholar and belongs to Sigma Alpha Lambda honor fraternity.

McCrimmon said he was drawn to his field because it combines aspects of biology, chemistry and physics. He plans to attend medical school, a goal which Mura thinks is easily within reach for him.

"He is at a level of scientific maturity that is very unusual in an undergraduate," Mura said. "He is academically independent, on par with a graduate or post-doctoral student."