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GSK scientist

From GSK Science in the Summer to GSK Scientist

The first time that Anne peered through a microscope, she was on summer break from elementary school, enrolled in one of GSK’s Science in the Summer classes.

She gazed close-up at the pollen of a flower. A human hair. An onion skin. And a moldy piece of bread. It was an experience she still recalls in detail, and it opened her eyes to more than cellular structures and spores.

Thanks to the woman scientist from GSK leading the class, Anne’s eyes also opened to the career path she ultimately followed.

Science in the Summer was a first experience where I had personal interaction with a female scientist,” said Anne, who’s now a scientist at GSK. “I could see myself in her shoes, and she set an example where I saw that this was a career path that a woman can aspire to take.”

Anne recalled her pivotal Science in the Summer experience as GSK and the Franklin Institute launched the program for its 34th consecutive year. The program aims to help foster a love of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in schoolchildren through free and fun science summer camps. Science in the Summer also strives to increase the number of people in STEM careers from communities that are traditionally underrepresented.

Science in the Summer has served more than 300,000 children since its start in 1986. Originating in Philadelphia before also launching in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area, the program went nationwide in 2017.

Child in garden
Nature fostered Anne's love for science and art

Anne attended Science in the Summer with her sisters and brother for a few summers at their local library. Always curious about nature, she spent lots of time as a kid outdoors: exploring, hiking with her family, climbing trees, catching butterflies and lightning bugs, collecting cicada shells, cloud gazing, fishing, and catching minnows and crayfish in a local creek.

Nature also fostered her passion for art. She remembers accompanying her grandmother, an artist, to the woods and watching her paint the scene. Science, became the perfect outlet that combined her curiosity and creativity.

Anne now works in GSK’s labs as a protein engineer in the Synthetic Biochemistry group. This means she takes proteins found in nature and introduces mutations into them to alter their properties. This helps our chemists manufacture drug molecules in cheaper, safer, and more environmentally friendly ways.

Anne in the lab
Anne at work in the lab

She calls it “hijacking biology to do chemistry.” Basically, enzymes found in nature undergo biotransformations. Scientists introduce specific mutations into the proteins to change their functions or properties, creating proteins with unique abilities.

For example, the proteins may then tolerate different chemicals in a reaction or tolerate higher temperatures. Scientists alter these protein functions in order to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients critical to supplying medicines to patients.

As Anne continues her vital work at GSK, she looks back fondly on an upbringing that nurtured her unique ways of thinking and creative spirit. And she also thinks about those summers in elementary school when a Science in the Summer instructor helped demonstrate more than science experiments.

Science fosters that curiosity and creativity that really comes naturally to kids and leads to innovations as adults. As a kid I saw through the Science in the Summer program that a scientific career is open to anyone who wants to take that passion to create and explore and have a positive real-world impact as a scientist,” she said.