Junior TURC program preps students for college research

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Tulsa high school student recently was named a semifinalist in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search after participating in the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge.

Sarah Keglovits, a senior at Holland Hall, was among eight high school students who conducted research last summer in the TURC Junior Scholar Program. In its inaugural year, the six-week initiative invited students to collaborate with professors on various disciplines throughout TU’s three undergraduate colleges.

Sarah KeglovitsTU Chemistry Professor Justin Chalker mentored Keglovits as she worked in his research lab to devise a simple method for the synthesis of glycoproteins in water. The constituent amino acids of glycoproteins are chemically attached to carbohydrates and are involved in many biological functions such as gene control, immune response and cognitive development.

“The key step of this project was almost single-handedly validated by Sarah,” Chalker said. “She found an operationally simple yet high-yielding way to achieve the synthesis, overturning the original notion that the type of reaction we wanted to do was incompatible with water.”

Chalker said Keglovits identified a precise combination of solvents and other additives that enhanced the rate of the key reaction. Her discovery and other breakthroughs in his organic lab supply operationally simple methods useful for research in biology and medicine.

“Most students wouldn’t see this kind of research until reaching a university graduate program,” Chalker said. “I held Sarah to the same standards, and her level of scientific maturity is something I would expect in a dedicated graduate student, not a high school senior.”

The six weeks of intense research can be a transformative experience for students as they weigh college and career options. The program allows TU to connect with potential recruits while strengthening its involvement in community research efforts.

“I gained countless advantages from my experience as a TURC Junior Scholar, and I feel that I am a much better scientist for having participated in the program,” Keglovits said. “I acquired valuable experience in lab techniques, scientific summaries and academic procedures. I will use this experience to fuel my future research endeavors.”

Chalker said the collaborative research on glycoproteins is still ongoing on campus and ultimately will be submitted for publication in a scientific journal.

“In its first year, I think the Junior TURC program was a success, and I’d be happy to host another rising star,” Chalker said.

As a semifinalist in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search, Keglovits received a $1,000 award. Last fall, her TU research earned her recognition as Oklahoma’s only semifinalist in the 2012 Siemens Competition for exceptional students in math, science and technology.

Gail Banzet