Kelly Chacón

Kelly Chacon

What degree are you pursuing?

I am pursuing a Ph.D. in  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Track in Environmental and Biomolecular Systems track.  I am primarily working in a field known as bioinorganic chemistry, which is the study of how metals work in biological systems.


Who is (are) your advisors?

My advisor is Ninian J. Blackburn, with additional mentoring by Pierre Moënne-Loccoz, a member of my thesis committee.


What is the focus of your research?

I study the underlying chemistry of how metals, and copper in particular, are trafficked and passed about by the proteins that exist in a living organism’s body. To understand the chemistry at an atomic level, I use high-powered X-rays at a synchrotron light source facility in a technique known as X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). I also use other powerful spectroscopic techniques including electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), and stopped-flow UV-visible spectroscopy. Using these techniques allows me to literally “see” how the metal moves from one protein to another, or to simply understand what role a metal plays in a biological process!

How will your research benefit society?

By understanding how metal moves through the body, we can eventually better understand diseases of metal transport, like Wilson’s or Menke’s disease. My research is at the most basic level of discovery and is translated to understanding disease by scientists a bit more downstream.

How have you taken advantage of professional development opportunities

through OHSU and the Institute of Environmental Health?

I am currently the President of the OHSU Graduate Student Organization, and am actively involved in high school outreach via the On Track OHSU pipeline program. And last year I was honored to be the Student Chair of OHSU Research Week. This is an institution-wide celebration of research that takes place each May. OHSU also generously sent me to the 2014 SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) National conference, where I enjoyed sharing my work at OHSU with other non-traditional students, andmentoring lots of bright undergraduates!

What do you plan to do with your degree?

I love teaching and research, so I am quite focused on and determined to have a career as research professor at a university. My dream would be to come back to beautiful Portland to do this, after I complete my postdoctoral studies.