Undergraduate Research

Lauren Schaffer '22

OUR Featured Researcher: Lauren Schaffer '22

Portrait of Lauren Schaffer
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Lauren Schaffer (she/her) is a Chemistry major conducting mentored research under Professor Manish Mehta. Her project is titled “Investigation of Cocrystal Formation using Solid-State NMR". 

Please describe your projects: 

My project investigates the route of formation of spontaneous solid-solid reactions, specifically the formation of multi-molecule crystals (cocrystals). We are investigating cocrystals in the context of pharmaceuticals, where the crystals are made of a ‘coformer’ (filler) and an active pharmaceutical ingredient (drug). Cocrystals are commonly used in pharmaceutics to change the solubility of the drug and the amount of the drug that enters the bloodstream. We are investigating this reaction’s formation through Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), which can track changes in bond connectivity and crystal structure in real-time. This project involves using powdered samples, as well as large, home-grown single crystals to view solid-solid reactions as they are occurring. 

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

This project is focused on solid-solid reactions to make a multi-molecule crystal known as a cocrystal. We are investigating the ways in which two solids can be combined to change the properties of pharmaceutical drugs; the changes in physical properties of the crystals are studied using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).

Why is your research important?

Pharmaceutical cocrystals are commonly used to change the properties of drugs so they can be effective once they’ve entered the body. By investigating their formation, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to make successful pharmaceutics, which impacts the development of new medical treatments.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

I typically work on my project in the wet lab or in the instrument room, where the NMR instrument is used. On wet lab days, I spend my time making samples for crystal growing or examining and excising current samples for use. In the instrument room, I normally do mechanical upkeep and work on the instruments. Additionally, I run NMR experiments on various crystals and powders.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

When starting this project, we were unable to take frequent enough scans of our crystals on the NMR. We have been able to develop a system of doping the pharmaceutical components, which makes it possible to detect changes during the formation of the cocrystal. This method of doping will theoretically allow us to view the formation of cocrystals while it is happening.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?  

In my freshman year, my advisor recommended me for a job at Phoenix NMR, an engineering firm that makes NMR technology for labs. My work there inspired my personal interest in NMR and analytical chemistry in general, which is why I began working in the Mehta lab using NMR as a research tool.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process? 

I have found it especially rewarding to solve problems with complete independence. Due to my experience with mechanics, I have been able to fix several instrument malfunctions. Likewise, this applies to overcoming obstacles in the wet lab, where I have been able to develop techniques that avoid recurring issues.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project and how has it impacted you as a researcher? 

Professor Mehta has helped me to develop into a competent, self-sufficient researcher with creativity in and out of the lab. He employs a hands-off approach which, while difficult at times, has facilitated my growth while giving support and insight during my project’s ups and downs.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?     

The research I have done at Oberlin has led me to work in the NMR community throughout the country. My work at Phoenix NMR taught me invaluable hardware skills, while this past summer I spent time in the National High Magnetic Field Lab in Gainesville, Florida doing biochemical NMR research on lipid phase transitions. All of these experiences with NMR have allowed me to develop expertise in the field, specifically in the solid-state.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?    

I would tell them to become comfortable with failure and mistakes in the lab, especially since failure and research so often go hand in hand. By learning to grow despite frustrations, solutions can often present themselves to problems that occur in and out of the lab.