UC LEADS Scholar

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Undergraduate student researcher Ila Castro (Spokoyny group) has been accepted into the prestigious UC LEADS program. 

The University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced DegreeS (UC LEADS) program is one of the most prestigious fellowships awarded by the University of California system. Each year this honor is awarded to up to nine UCLA upper-division undergraduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program provides the students with educational experiences that prepare them to assume positions of leadership in academia, industry, government, and public service. UC LEADS scholars work closely with faculty mentors and graduate students on research projects for a two-year period and participate in activities, events and workshops designed to help prepare them for graduate education. Professor Craig Merlic is the faculty advisor for the program.

As a UC LEADS Scholar from spring 2018 through spring 2020, Castro will receive a research stipend both during the academic year and in the summer. In addition, she will receive funding for travel to scientific conferences and professional meetings and participate in weekly UC LEADS Journal Club and a leadership seminar.

About Ila Castro

Castro is a rising junior chemistry major. She is a Santa Monica College transfer student and because of her involvement with programs such as The Adelante Program, Honors Scholar’s Program, CCCP UCLA, and the STEM Program, Castro has been able to continue with her undergraduate studies at UCLA. In the summer of 2018, she was part of UCLA/SMC SSRI program where she began working in Professor Alex Spokoyny’s lab with mentorship by postdoctoral scholar Dr. Julia Stauber.

“Ila is highly motivated, eager to learn and extremely hard working” said Stauber. “She is making impactful research contributions to the Spokoyny group, and is sure to continue her success in future work at the graduate level”.

“I would like to thank my PI Dr. Spokoyny, the Spokony group, and my mentor for being so welcoming, and helpful in the pursue of my career development as a researcher. Becoming part of the scientific world motivates me to challenge myself academically and professionally” Castro said. “I want to excel in this field and help solve fundamental problems through my research.” After graduation, her plan is to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry and ultimately find a way to give back to her community, in her home country Ecuador.

Castro continues as an undergraduate researcher in the Spokoyny lab. Her research involves the use of organometallic gold(III) complexes as arylation reagents to transfer a variety of  organic and inorganic groups to thiol-containing biomolecule substrates. The Spokoyny group is also expanding the scope of gold(III)-mediated bioconjugation reactions to include functionalization of arylated dodecaborate clusters with biologically relevant molecules through the use of permetallated gold(III) dodecaborate cluster precursors. These methods provide tools for designing biomolecules with well-defined structures that serve as robust and highly tuned molecules capable of engaging in multivalent binding interactions with biological targets.

Photo by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry