Current Research

Hilary Godwin studies the basic chemical and biological mechanisms by which toxic metal ions affect neurological signaling and development. For her 2006 HHMI Professor project, she created the Undergraduate Success in Science program at Northwestern University. It featured a summer workshop focusing on building skills that allowed students to excel in science.

Project Summary

Dr. Godwin created a program at Northwestern University to recruit and retain students in the sciences, including underrepresented minorities; this program provided them with positive experiences in science. A central feature of the program was the summer workshop, which targeted entering freshmen who planned to enroll in general chemistry. The workshop focused on building skills that allowed students to excel in general chemistry and subsequent science courses. Students participated in collaborative research projects that focused on assessing lead levels in soil. Dr. Godwin and a postdoctoral fellow mentored students on this research. In addition, workshop participants were encouraged to enroll in a freshman seminar on science and society to promote good scientific writing and analytical skills. Students who wished to continue in the program after the workshop were involved in conducting in-depth research projects, participating in community outreach activities, and mentoring incoming students in subsequent years.

By providing students with the tools and environment they needed to succeed, the program prepared them for graduate school and gave them the positive experience required for them to want to seek careers in academia. Program assessment involved tracking the performance and retention of students in general chemistry and the sciences and comparing their success with that of control groups. The program also developed educational materials, which were disseminated to other educators so that it could serve as a model for similar programs at other institutions.

Research Summary

The primary focus of the research in Dr. Godwin's laboratory is to study the basic chemical and biological mechanisms by which toxic metal ions, such as lead, affect neurological signaling and development. In addition, because lead targets proteins that naturally bind calcium and zinc, her lab is investigating the roles these native metal ions play in signal transduction. To shed light on the molecular basis for lead’s toxicity, her lab has developed methodologies for studying how lead binds to proteins and alters their activities.

Because Dr. Godwin’s research interests lie at the interface of inorganic chemistry and biology, the approach she takes to her studies on the role of metal ions in signal transduction is quantitative and molecular. She uses tools from chemistry and biophysics to study the thermodynamics and kinetics of metal-protein interactions and to elucidate how metal ions affect the structure and dynamics of the proteins to which they bind. In addition, she uses the insights gained from her biological studies to rationally design fluorescent sensors and chelating agents for lead, with the goals of developing improved methods for detecting and treating lead poisoning. New studies in her laboratory focus on elucidating how lead affects gene transcription and hormonal signaling in bacteria and mammalian cells.

Last updated October 2002

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