Nick Herrman, ’12, found his rhythm right away at Albion by effectively balancing his time in the classroom, in the lab, and on stage. Now, it’s the molecular focus of his research that is propelling the biology and chemistry major forward—and preparing for a summer in Europe.
While he has an eye on medical school after he graduates from Albion, Herrman got his start in on-campus research in chemistry professor Vanessa McCaffrey’s lab. His goal: to develop single molecules with magnetic properties, which would have application in data storage for electronic devices.
Instead of eventually shying away from McCaffrey’s work to focus on a medically related project, Herrman took full advantage of the opportunity. His research led to a summer fellowship with University of Illinois chemistry professor Wilfred van der Donk in 2010, and, now, an internship at the University of Tübingen in southern Germany as a participant in the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program, which runs May 22-Aug. 10.
“I’ve been lucky with the research opportunities,” said Herrman, who grew up on a 350-acre farm in Baroda on Michigan’s west coast. “I’ve been working with [McCaffrey] since my first year at Albion and she is the one who got me started on all the research. The work is straight organic chemistry, but the technological application interests me.”
Herrman’s research in van der Donk’s lab led to a presentation at the American Chemical Society’s meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in March. Herrman spent most of the time making molecules that would be flanked on either side by a protein.
“When you shine ultraviolet light on the molecule it would split, so you are left with the two proteins separated,” Herrman explained. “These proteins have special antibacterial characteristics, and there is hope of them becoming new antibiotics.”
RISE is an academic exchange service program sponsored by the German government to fund English-speaking undergraduate students to work as interns for German doctoral degree candidates. Though he is not sure about the details of the work, Herrman said the project he’ll be working on is related to how plants react to a bacterial attack.
Herrman, whose mother is a native German, hopes to connect with relatives when he’s not in the lab.
“We’ve talked to a couple of them and I’ll probably see some of them on weekends,” said Herrman, who has taken the intermediate-level German course at Albion. “I’m sure I’ll buy a couple of train tickets.”
In addition to applying to medical schools in the Midwest upon returning to campus for his senior year—he lists Mayo and the University of Michigan as his top choices—Herrman plans to continue his work in McCaffrey’s lab as well as playing the trombone in the symphonic band and the British Eighth.
“[Music] is kind of shoved in [my schedule],” Herrman said. “My activities are concentrated in two areas, but there’s not a lot of free time.”