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Gerald and Sally DeNardo Senior Prize in Science Research 2010

Established in 2007 to complement the Gerald and Sally DeNardo Lectureship, this prize is given by the Dean to recognize outstanding science research accomplishment by a graduating senior who reflects the distinctive characteristics of a Jesuit education and is pursuing a career in the health sciences.

 Tim Butler

The 2010 DeNardo Senior Prize is awarded to Timothy M. Butler.  Tim is a Biology major, with minors in political science, biotechnology, and chemistry.  Tim was nominated by Justen Whittall, Assistant Professor of Biology, who states, “Tim is an exceptional young scientist who promises to make substantial contributions in the biomedical sciences."

For the past two years, Professor Whittall has been Tim’s professor, research advisor and a research colleague on the North Slope of Alaska.  Tim began work in the lab during the summer after his sophomore year eager to put his skills in molecular and cellular biology to work. He spent the summer building on some preliminary DNA data suggesting there may be a new species of mustard in California. Applying his expertise in the wet lab, Tim was able to extract DNA from museum specimens as old as 1930 – setting a record for my lab and possibly for the UC Berkeley herbarium. By the end of the summer, Tim’s organization, dedication and persistence produced a very convincing dataset confirming a new species of mustard in California. He presented his research findings at the 2009 Undergraduate Research Symposium at the University of San Diego as our only delegate from Biology. He assembled his results into a manuscript in preparation for the American Journal of Botany.

In class, Tim’s insightful contributions regularly elevate the level of inquiry to topics typically only addressed in graduate level biology courses. Tim regularly scores in the top of his class, yet his passion lies in the process of science and the generation of knowledge.

Tim joined the Arctic Biology course during spring and summer 2009 to lend his expertise in DNA analysis. After 10 weeks of readings, project development and logistical planning, the class departed for the North Slope of Alaska in pursuit of the molecular basis for evolutionary adaptations in Arctic mustards. Tim’s project assessing the thermal rewards provided by purple flowers to the heat-starved pollinators of the Arctic was the most rigorous study completed by a student group in that course. Tim raised both the level of scientific inquiry as well as morale throughout the course (including the creation of a theme song which the entire class was singing by the end of the course - available upon request). His results were assembled into two posters presented at the Botanical Society of America meetings in Snowbird, Utah (July 2009). He is a coauthor on two manuscripts in prep that arose from this research.

Although he had been working on plants this entire time, Tim asked about developing genomic tools in the Whittall lab as part of his Honor’s thesis project..  At this point, it was obvious that Tim was thoughtfully assembling a toolbox for a graduate career in the biomedical sciences. This next step would greatly expand his opportunities. Tim’s senior thesis project is to develop a bioinformatics pipeline to analyze Next-Gen sequencing data in a non-model species. These are the technologies that promise human genomes for less than $1000 in less than one week thereby making personalized medicine a reality. This technology is generating revolutionary insights across the biological sciences. Tim has taught himself several computer languages necessary to interpret over 40 million data points – often waiting days for an analysis to finish on his laptop computer. Bringing this cutting-edge technology to Santa Clara has significantly expanded the research possibilities in the Whittall lab and provides the infrastructure for other labs in the Department of Biology to utilize these technologies. Tim will be summarizing his findings at the Undergradaute Research Symposium this coming April and in a poster at the national Evolution meetings in Portland, Oregon.

Not surprisingly, Tim has been recruited by several graduate programs in molecular and cellular biology, but has decided to pursue his Ph.D. at the Oregon Health Sciences Institute in the biomedical sciences. He hopes to apply the genomic tools he has developed at Santa Clara to understanding the complexities of organisms from their genes to their phenotypes.

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