By Tiffany Whitfield

Rising senior Jennifer Burdette is the first Old Dominion University undergraduate selected as a Barry Goldwater Scholar.

This scholarship, made possible by the Department of Defense National Defense Education Program and its Excellence in Education Foundation, was established in 1986. The program honoring the late Sen. Barry Goldwater is designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.

It was awarded to 413 students this year across the United States.

As a chemistry and biochemistry double major at ODU, Burdette was urged to apply for the scholarship because of her collaborative research that focuses on pharmaceuticals and infections.

The first project she began as part of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program – and what earned her the Goldwater Scholarship – centered on Clostridioides difficile (C.diff.).

“My research project is focused on developing chemical methods to construct a new class of molecules, which are useful in preventing the growth and spread of deadly pathogens,” Burdette said. “The molecules that we are developing target pathogens that are hard to remove from surfaces and equipment and are also the leading cause of infections acquired within hospital settings.”  

“Jennifer has proven to be one of the most hardworking undergraduate students that I have worked with, both in the classroom and in the research lab, over the last 10 years, and she certainly embodies all the talents of a Barry Goldwater Scholar and quality researcher.”

- Assistant Professor Kyle Lambert

Burdette worked in collaboration with ODU Assistant Professor Erin Purcell’s biochemistry research group, which is testing new antibiotics against C. diff, a difficult-to-eradicate – and potentially deadly – pathogen commonly acquired in hospital settings. The molecules and methods Burdette worked with also have potential applications in the development of new pharmaceuticals and medicines.

As a transfer student from Tidewater Community College, she seized opportunities available to her and moved into a higher level of research at ODU.

“She has done an amazing job both in her courses and in her contributions to research, and we are very proud of her accomplishments,” said Craig Bayse, professor and chair in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Once at ODU, Burdette joined Assistant Professor Kyle Lambert's research group.

“Jennifer has proven to be one of the most hardworking undergraduate students that I have worked with, both in the classroom and in the research lab, over the last 10 years, and she certainly embodies all the talents of a Barry Goldwater Scholar and quality researcher,” Lambert said. “It is a great accomplishment for Jennifer to be awarded this national fellowship, and she is an excellent role model for other undergraduate students and highlights the research and mentoring opportunities available to undergraduate students the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the College of Sciences and Old Dominion University as a whole.” 

During the spring 2023 semester, Burdette began investigating more environmentally sustainable methods to reduce chemical waste in industrial processes and to study environmental processes as part of a NASA Virginia Space Grant Consortium Undergraduate Research Award. As a result, she was named a Provost’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher.

“Designed to identify the next generation of science leaders, this award is a testament to what can happen when an intelligent and hard-working student like Jennifer takes advantage of the opportunities provided by our wonderful and caring faculty,” said David Metzger, dean of the Patricia and Douglas Perry Honors College.

After graduation in spring 2024, Burdette intends to enter a medical scientist training program (MSTP) to obtain an M.D. and a research doctorate in organic chemistry. She wants to become a biomedical scientist.

“An MSTP will position me to advance the understanding, detection, treatment and prevention of human ailments, which will be my primary goal as a research scientist,” Burdette said. “I prefer the M.D./Ph.D. degree pathway, instead of the traditional M.D. or Ph.D. degree path, because I want the opportunity to receive training and experience in both medicine and research, particularly in medicinal chemistry.”

Her dream is to expand her organic chemistry knowledge and study the stereochemistry and reaction of biomolecules to better understand the root causes of many disorders, such as lupus or schizophrenia, and to design effective treatments.

“Additionally, I would enjoy continuing to perform organic synthesis in a laboratory setting to develop new pharmaceuticals and medicines that effectively target these disorders and that can be successfully optimized,” Burdette said.

The $7,500 Burdette earned through the Barry Goldwater Scholarship will help fund her senior year at ODU.

 “The Department of Defense’s continued partnership with the Goldwater Foundation ensures we are supporting the development of scientific talent essential to maintaining our nation’s competitive advantage,” said Jagadeesh Pamulapati, acting deputy director of research, technology and laboratories for the DoD.