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Arianna Kahler with friends standing on stairs in Italy

Life of one biochemistry student: From music and dancing to research in Italy

By Srila Nayak

Biochemistry and Biophysics student Arianna Kahler-Quesada with colleagues in Perugia, Italy

Arianna Kahler-Quesada, a Biochemistry and Biophysics and Honors College junior, is making the most of her time at OSU. She conducts research on kidney disease and bone health in the skeletal biology lab run by Dr. Russell Turner and Dr. Urszula Iwaniec.

In OSU’s skeletal biology lab, Arianna studies mouse and rat bones to better understand the impact of kidney failure on bones. Together with her faculty mentors, she collaborated with nephrologists from the University of California, San Diego to minimize the impact of kidney failure on the skeleton.

One of the many projects that Arianna and her mentors explore is whether correcting an imbalance in the leptin levels in the human body can restrict the effects of kidney disease on the bones of children. Last year her research was featured in The Daily Barometer.

Arianna is an LSAMP (Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation) Scholar and an enthusiastic peer mentor for minority students in science degree programs through LSAMP and OSU Stem Leaders, a program designed to increase the diversity and success of graduates in STEM fields at OSU. She is also supported by OSU's Presidential Scholarship and the Anne Runes-Wilson Scholarship in the College of Science.

An accomplished violinist and flutist, Arianna is a member of the OSU Symphony Orchestra. When she is not rehearsing or performing, Arianna pursues her other great love—ballroom dancing. Arianna, who trained in ballet for years, has performed in local clubs and nursing homes as a member of OSU’s ballroom dancing team.

“I have a full life here at OSU,” she said.

A Gresham, Ore., native, Arianna was born in a Costa Rican family. Her mother arrived from Costa Rica as an exchange student at Linfield College in McMinnville. She went on to marry and make a home in Oregon.

“I feel so lucky because of all the opportunities I have had. I have always been a little shy and all my experiences at OSU have helped me step outside my comfort zone and embrace different opportunities. My parents are very helpful, proud and happy for me,” said Arianna.

Arianna Kahler-Quesada hiking on hillside

Arianna Kahler-Quesada spent a summer as a research intern at the Universitá di Perugia in Italy.

Arianna is very attached to her Hispanic roots and heritage. She happily points out that her grandma taught her how to make delicious homemade corn tortillas in an article in The Oregonian. Arianna visits her extended family in Costa Rica frequently and is a dedicated peer mentor to Hispanic science students at OSU.

In 2015, Arianna spent her summer in Perugia, Italy, as a research intern in the Universitá di Perugia’s green synthetic organic chemistry laboratory. She was one of 16 students selected from the United States to pursue research abroad for 10 weeks by the prestigious and highly competitive American Chemical Society’s (ACS) International Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. The program enables talented young chemicals and materials scientists to spend a summer conducting research in Germany, Italy, Singapore, or the United Kingdom.

For Arianna, the Perugia internship proved to be a highly rewarding and novel research experience. Previously, she was engaged in a very different kind of biological research that involved data and computer work with bone scans at OSU.

“In Italy, it was a 180-degree turn from what I have done here. I went from bones and data analysis to synthesis of organic chemistry,” said Arianna.

“In the OSU lab, I work with the Micro-CT machine (X-ray imaging in 3D) to scan parts of the bone the lab wants to analyze. In Italy, I was in a lab coat mixing chemicals all day. It was very cool because now I have skills in both types of research.”

Arianna’s research was supervised by Dr. Luigi Vaccaro, and her lab mates comprised graduate students from Italy as well as other parts of the world.

Despite 40-hour work weeks, Arianna squeezed in time to roam the beautiful countryside around Perugia with new Italian friends, make trips to Rome and Venice and camp next to picturesque lakes. The highlight of her trip, she says, was the research. She was part of a team involved in the quest to develop a new, sustainable approach to synthesizing the Catellani reaction—a series of reactions catalyzed by the molecule norbornene and the chemical element palladium.

“The Catellani reaction is already established,” explained Arianna. “We were trying to see if we could use different solvents and catalysts to establish a more environment-friendly chemical process.”

Arianna and her co-authors completed a paper detailing their results that they will submit for publication. In March this year, Arianna presented a poster and a symposium talk at the national ACS meeting in San Diego.

Recently, Arianna added yet another feather in her cap: she was one of three OSU students to receive an honorable mention for the prestigious 2016 Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Fellow Biochemistry and Biophysics student Brian Josephson was also recognized.