Max Austin is a senior at the University of Utah, studying chemistry with an emphasis in math.
He has been working as a student researcher leading a project to prepare and evaluate antimicrobial peptides in the Roberts Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry and has most recently been involved in research on peptide chemistry.
“Peptides are molecules made up of amino acids,” Austin said. “We are interested in short- to medium-size peptides that happen to be antimicrobial. We’re working on making cyclic peptides that could potentially be stabilized antimicrobial peptide therapeutics.”
Austin came to the U initially planning to study chemical engineering but was eventually led to the study of organic chemistry and synthesis — it was an area that came easily enough to him that he knew he could go into it in a more detailed context such as research. Austin was recently recognized as a Beckman Scholar through the University of Utah Beckman Scholars Program. His research is currently supported by The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.
“I saw the chemistry department as a good environment for research and creativity over chemical engineering,” Austin said. “I knew there were more clear ways I could contribute.” This eventually led him to the laboratory he now works in, and he became interested in drug development as a career after seeing the connection between the new methods to make peptide compounds and the need for that within drug development.
“In our research area, there’s a known lack of progress in antibiotic development. This specifically impacts more underdeveloped places with a need for antibiotic drugs,” Austin said.
Austin plans to study bioanalytical chemistry in graduate school, which will eventually lead him to his goal of working in medicinal chemistry within the pharmaceutical industry. Austin is working to make sure that his research continues at the U after he graduates.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2023 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.