Hannah Bolt is a PhD student at the University of Durham, who works on peptoids (a class of biomimetic compounds) in Steven Cobb and Paul Denny’s labs. She visited Ronald Zuckerman, the inventor of peptoids, at the Molecular Foundry in the US. The Molecular Foundry is a user facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that makes nanoscience tools available to the worldwide scientific community.
"The Molecular Foundry has a User Programme, which allows academic groups from around the world to submit proposals to use the facilities and interact with the Zuckermann lab," explains Hannah. "We were awarded a User Programme grant by the Molecular Foundry and the Royal Society of Chemistry Researcher Mobility Grant helped us to cover accommodation and travel costs."
“It was an ideal case: [Hannah and her supervisors] are experts in microbial biology, and had some very well-developed hypotheses about which types of peptoid oligomers would exhibit antimicrobial activity,” says Ronald.
Whilst there, Hannah took advantage of the state-of-the-art peptoid synthesisers to make 60 compounds in six weeks – something that would have taken months in Durham – before taking them back to study their biology.
"[Hannah] gave group meetings on her work, discussed her science regularly with numerous colleagues, and presented a poster on her work at the 9th Peptoid Summit," said Ronald on Hannah’s contributions at the Foundry. "Prof. Cobb gave a talk on their work also at the Summit. They helped bring their unique and exciting area of biological science to the Foundry community, which is otherwise focused on energy research."
Since her visit, Hannah and her supervisors have worked with Ronald on their first paper based on this work. She is now investigating results from the biological evaluation of the peptoids she made.
"The work we accomplished is beginning to reveal design principles for developing effective anti-parasitic drugs," explains Ronald, "This is pointing the way toward developing more advanced optimised compounds. I look forward to continue the collaboration to explore the synthesis of new, more effective compounds, and/or the scale-up to produce large enough quantities of compounds to enable in vivo studies."
However, it wasn’t all work and no play. Hannah made the most of her visit in other ways too.
"I found out that most peptoid researchers are excellent at ultimate frisbee, something I think that Ron has had a hand in encouraging," she recalls. Perhaps most importantly, though, her trip helped her make decisions about her future.
"The opportunity to visit an internationally leading laboratory also allowed me to network with other academic groups and has confirmed my ambitions to pursue a postdoctoral research position in the USA after the end of my PhD project."