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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Chemistry professor receives teacher-scholar award

Professor Mike Bertucci’s research may help combat dangerous diseases caused by streptococcus gordonii. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette Communications)

Michael Bertucci, assistant professor of chemistry, was announced as a 2023 Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar for his research alongside his students. Bertucci is one of eight professors from U.S. colleges to be selected for this prestigious award, with the recipients officially announced on Nov. 7.

The award, which highlights professors who commit to the success of undergraduate education, is an unrestricted research grant of $75,000. This is the second nationally recognized award that Bertucci has received after he earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Development Award last year.

“I was coming back from giving a seminar, and I got the message on my phone [about the award] … I wanted to scream but was surrounded by strangers,” Bertucci said. “Later, the chemistry department was so supportive. I was really pumped.”

The grant will support Bertucci’s continued research, but will also create opportunities for all Lafayette student researchers to take part in higher-level research at the college.

“The award is certainly going to provide additional opportunities for students to work with Bertucci,” chemistry department head Chip Nataro said. “But the bigger picture, it’s not just his students [that will benefit] … he’ll have his funding, then other people in the department will have access to departmental funds that they might not have otherwise. It’s gonna benefit students working in all kinds of different labs.”

Bertucci and his students primarily study quorum sensing, a bacterial process that examines peptides that can inhibit bacterial communication against a harmful bacteria called Streptococcus gordonii. This bacteria is associated with dental plaques and can cause endocarditis, a life-threatening infection. As a result, Bertucci’s research can have potentially life-saving consequences.

“A lot of us have [this bacteria] in our mouths, and it’s okay when it’s just in our mouths, but if it gets into our bloodstream, it’s really dangerous,” Bertucci said. “We’re thinking about looking at finding out more about the molecule that controls communication in that bacteria so that we can try to turn it down in cases where it could become potentially harmful.”

While the grant will help students research on College Hill, it will also help students travel due to Bertucci’s research partnership with University of Nevada.

Bertucci’s supportive personality is what helps his researchers have a positive experience in the lab.

“I’m doing a computational approach to the research where I’m looking at the way that the peptides bind in the bacteria on a computer, and that’s my own project,” Carter Brand ’25 said. “And so even though it’s not [Bertucci’s] area of expertise, he does allow me to veer into that territory and mentors me there.”

In addition to Brand, Allie Campanella ‘24, Ryann Carlotz ‘24, Xiaotian Gong ‘24, Abby Skidmore ‘24, Mallory Downs ‘25, Braeden Beal ‘25 and Alex Yurtola ‘26 do research with Bertucci.

“What I love about my lab is that I feel like [the students] have gotten very comfortable with each other,” Bertucci said. “It feels like a little family.”

“Dr. Bertucci has been here a very limited time, but he’s had a great impact on the department and brings great energy,” Nataro said.

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Andreas Pelekis, Assistant News Editor
Tennis addict.

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