Chemistry professor receives Teacher Researcher Award – Lafayette
Michael Bertucci, assistant professor of chemistry, has been announced as the 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, and the winners will be officially announced on November 7.
The award, which highlights professors committed to the success of undergraduate education, is an unrestricted research grant worth $75,000. This is the second nationally recognized award Bertucci has received after receiving a Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) last year.
Bertucci said: “I was returning from giving a seminar, and I received a message on my phone (about the award)… I wanted to scream, but I was surrounded by strangers.” “Later, the chemistry department was very supportive. I was really impressed.”
The grant will support Bertucci’s ongoing research, but will also create opportunities for all Lafayette student researchers to participate in high-level research at the College.
“The award is sure to provide additional opportunities for students to work with Bertucci,” said Chip Nataro, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “But the bigger picture, it’s not just his students (who will benefit)… He’ll get his funding, and then other people in the department will have access to department funds that they might not have otherwise had. This will benefit students working in all different types of labs.” “
Bertucci and his students primarily study quorum sensing, a bacterial process that screens for peptides that can block bacterial communication against harmful bacteria called Streptococcus gordonii. These bacteria attach to dental plaque and can cause endocarditis, a life-threatening infection. As a result, Bertucci’s research could have life-saving consequences.
“A lot of us have (this bacteria) in our mouths, and it’s OK when it’s just in our mouths, but if it gets into our bloodstream, it’s really dangerous,” Bertucci said. “We’re thinking about learning more about the molecule that controls communication in those bacteria so we can try to reject it in cases where it might become harmful.”
While the scholarship will help students research on College Hill, it will also help students travel because of Bertucci’s research partnership with the 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 research where I look at the way peptides bind to bacteria on the computer, so this is my own project,” said Carter Brand, 25. “Even though this is not (Bertucci’s) area of expertise, he allows me to veer into that area and guides me there.”
In addition to Brand, Allie Campanella ’24, Ryan Karlotz ’24, Ziatian Jung ’24, Abby Skidmore ’24, Mallory Downs ’25, Brayden Bell ’25 and Alex Yurtola ’26 are researching with Bertucci.
“What I love about my lab is that I feel like (the students) have become very comfortable with each other,” Bertucci said. “It feels like a little family.”
“Bertucci has been here for a very limited time, but he has had a huge impact on the department and brings great energy,” said Nataro.