Jia Wei, at left, pointing at scientific instruments, with Micheal Kebede observing

Interning with alumnus, aiming for career as research scientist

October 26, 2017

As an undergraduate majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, Michael Kebede ’18 has spent his time at Clark University immersed in his element. He’s had the opportunity to conduct research in several laboratories on campus, and this summer, as a LEEP Fellow, he interned with Dr. Jia Wei, Ph.D. ’15, a research scientist at PCI Synthesis, a Devens, Mass., chemical manufacturing company involved in biotech and pharmaceuticals.

With Wei as a mentor, Kebede learned what it means to be a chemist, especially in polymerization techniques. Polymers are chemical compounds formed from molecular fragments; they can be manmade (plastics) or natural (such as rubber or cellulose).

“Dr. Wei has helped me understand the responsibilities and duties of a senior scientist and research assistant in an industrial setting,” says Kebede, who is presenting a poster at Friday’s Fall Fest, an event that showcases undergraduate students’ research. “It was inspiring and motivational for me to see a Clark alum executing high-quality polymer research. It propels me forward on the road of achieving my goal.”

About Michael Kebede ’18

Major: Biochemistry and molecular biology
Hometown: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Kebede worked with another chemist to develop a polymer that can be used as a drug delivery agent. The research aims to provide an effective alternative drug for treatment of retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer that is most common among children. He gained valuable technical skills, learning how to operate analytical instruments used in chemistry and biochemistry labs, including high-performance liquid chromatography and gel permeation chromatography.

Kebede, a native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, drew upon his Clark lab courses in organic chemistry and biochemistry, which introduced him to new laboratory techniques and instruments. He also tapped into the skills he learned while working in the laboratories of Mark Turnbull, professor of chemistry, and Justin Thackeray, associate professor and chair of biology, who is affiliated with Clark’s Gustaf H. Carlson School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Michael Kebede standing in lab at PCI Synthesis
Michael Kebede

“The best part of studying biochemistry and molecular biology is learning the complex science behind humans’ and other complex organisms’ anatomy in relation to biochemical reactions,” Kebede says. “Studying biochemistry and molecular biology has allowed me to see the complex, well-hidden, and invisible truth that lies within our universe.”

This fall, Kebede is working in the laboratory of Noel Lazo, associate professor in the Carlson School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, on a research project that has implications for Type 2 diabetes.

Kebede’s experience at Clark – his research lab work, as well as his classes with Turnbull and Donald Spratt, Carl J. and Anna Carlson Endowed Chair and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry – has prompted him to pursue a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry or biochemistry affiliated programs.

“I fell in love with chemistry and biochemistry,” he says. “These two subjects provoked my curiosity like no other.” 

Kebede eventually wants to return to Ethiopia to make an impact by improving science education in secondary schools and “contributing to the betterment of scientific research and collaborations within the African continent.”

Above, Michael Kebede, right, works with Dr. Jia Wei, Ph.D. ’15, a research scientist at PCI Synthesis.