Lesson Ideas

Meet-a-Scientist: Kaitlyn Varela

This is one of the interviews in our meet-a-scientist series.

Kaitlyn Varela is a biochemistry scientist who loves research! She is currently a student at the University of Texas San Antonio where she researches a compound called artemisinin. Artemisinin is a plant-derived chemical that can kill off malaria-causing parasites and is involved in the production of anti-malarial drugs. Her research on artemisinin synthesis was even adapted as an article for Science Journal for Kids, “How Does a Plant Make an Antimalarial Medicine? (and also “How can we make antimalarial medicine faster?“). We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Kaitlyn and ask her a few questions!

I am so excited to get to catch up with you and chat about you and your scientific research on artemisinin and plant medicine! Tell me a little bit about yourself. 

My name is Kaitlyn Varela, and I’m a second year graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I have a passion for chemistry, especially about natural products. I enjoy reading, playing the piano, and listening to music also!

What inspired you to study biochemistry in college?

When I was in high school I took Advanced Placement courses in chemistry and biology and I really enjoyed both so I figured I would major in something that combines the both of them! I initially wanted to be a doctor but after I discovered research, I decided to get a Ph.D. instead.

Kaitlyn working in the lab on her research.

What is your favorite thing about conducting your research on artemisinin?

My favorite thing about conducting research on artemisinin is discovering something new that no one knows about. Not many labs get to solve biological problems with chemistry, so I love getting to do that.

The compound artemisinin is derived from herbs known as sweet wormwood, or Artemisia annua.

Your research on plant medicine and artemisinin has been so innovative in regards to development for anti-malaria medication. What was it like having your research being featured as the cover story of the Journal of Natural Products?

Having my research featured as a cover story for the Journal of Natural Products was really encouraging to my career as a scientist because it made me realize that what I was doing really mattered to others in the science community and I could use my research to make a difference in the world.

Kaitlyn presenting a poster about her research.

What have you been up to since conducting this research? What are your future career goals?

Since conducting this research, I have continued to do research in the lab and hope to eventually get my Ph.D. in Chemistry! My future career goal would be to work as a professor in calibration with pharmaceutical companies to make medicine to cure diseases we currently don’t have cures for.

See all of our ‘meet-a-scientist’ interviews and read Kaitlyn’s research paper below:

How Does a Plant Make an Antimalarial Medicine?
How can we make antimalarial medicine faster?

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