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Herchel Smith Fund


In October we have the pleasure of welcoming a new cohort of the Herchel Smith Phd Students to the University of Cambridge!

The Herchel Smith Studentships are considered ones of the most prestigious at the University. Bequeathed to both Harvard University and University of Cambridge by the distinguished chemist Dr Herchel Smith, the scholarships give an opportunity for early-career scientists to work on their PhD in life sciences.

We warmly welcome Julie, Sneha, Kacper and Jose Enrique and we hope they have a great time at Cambridge!

Julie Becher

Department of Chemistry

Julie grew up in the Boston area of the US. She majored in biological chemistry at Dartmouth College and graduated with honors as a salutatorian in 2018 after completing a Senior Honors Thesis studying the degradation products of insensitive munitions. After helping to teach the introductory chemistry courses for a year at Dartmouth as the Teaching Science Fellow for chemistry, Julie began her MPhil with the Bernardes group at Cambridge in 2019 studying prodrug strategies to target the cytotoxic natural product, beta lapachone, to cancer cells. Targeted prodrug designs that mask the toxicity of chemotherapeutic agents until they are inside cancer cells have the potential to greatly improve patient outcomes by allowing therapeutic dosing and patient quality of life during treatment by eliminating side effects. She is continuing this work in the Bernardes group as a PhD student with the generous funding provided by the Herchel Smith studentship. Outside of lab, Julie enjoys taking care of her plants, sculpting, and she is a huge Boston sports fan.

Sneha Parmar

Department of Genetics

I completed my undergraduate degree in Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University of Minnesota in 2019. During my time there, I worked in Dr. Melissa Gardner's lab where I studied post-translational modifications in microtubules. I completed an Honors Thesis in my final year for which I studied the binding of the EB1 protein to microtubule tips. Until I begin my PhD studies at Cambridge, I have stayed on with Dr. Gardner to investigate forces along the mitotic spindle prior to chromosomal detachment during mitosis in budding yeast. I look forward to further studying cell division in budding yeast, specifically asymmetry in spindle pole bodies as a PhD student under the joint supervision of Dr. Marisa Segal and Dr. Marco Geymonat in the Department of Genetics

Kacper Bonter

Department of Plant Sciences

My undergraduate research was focused on arsenic and antimony transporters found in early diverging plant groups, such as liverworts. I helped in identifying ACR3 as a functional arsenite transporter in bryophytes, which led to further research regarding the metalloid sensing mechanism in mosses and liverworts. Last year I joined Professor Jim Haseloff’s group for an MPhil degree to again study liverworts in the context of meristem establishment and maintenance. Hopefully during my PhD candidature I will be able to use the open development and ease of genetic manipulation of Marchantia polymorpha to identify key genes and mechanisms involved in meristematic processes, which could be used to synthetically modify development of the plant. I have been interested in how plants develop and organise themselves for years, so I am extremely excited to be able to tackle these issues in my project!


Jose Enrique Gonzalez-Prada

Department of Pharmacology

I grew up in Peru and moved to Cambridge to pursue an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences. During my studies, I became fascinated by the complex mechanisms whereby wide-ranging drugs interact with their molecular targets. This led me to specialise in Pharmacology, both during my undergraduate studies and later by completing an MSc Pharmacology course at the University of Oxford. This year, I am returning to the Department of Pharmacology for a PhD, with the aim of studying the sensory voltage-gated ion channel NaV1.9 and developing protein modulators of channel function. My hope is that this project, at the interface of molecular biology and drug discovery, will contribute to our wider understanding of the role of ion channels in diseases of dysregulated neuronal signalling, such as pain syndromes.


Read more about the Herchel Smith Studentships here.