Gifts in Action: Outstanding Student Research Thesis Award

Dr. Stephen Johnson and Hillary Rikli
Above: Dr. Stephen Johnson, biochemistry professor, and Hillary Rikli (Chemistry, 2012).

Gifts to Chemistry Fund Senior Award

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In 2012, senior chemistry major Hillary G. Rikli received the inaugural Outstanding Student Research Thesis Award for her work with Dr. Stephen R. Johnson, a neuropharmacologist. Gifts to chemistry helped fund this award.

Hillary first contacted Dr. Johnson in the summer after her junior year. She knew from a previous class that his research involved venom and their potential for therapeutic drug development.

“He talked about his research often,” Hillary says. “He was very, very passionate about it, so I knew I wanted to work with him. Now I’m so glad I did.”

Bullet Ants—Most Painful Sting in the World

Dr. Johnson decided to involve Hillary on his bullet ant research. The notorious bullet ant’s painful sting causes pain comparable to being shot.  According to the Schmidt Pain Index, the bullet ant’s sting ranks as the most painful in the insect world. Hillary also worked with the venom from wasps, scorpions, and spiders.

Her research project earned Hillary the Outstanding Student Research Thesis Award in 2012. After graduation, it led to a fulltime position as a research scientist with Dr. Johnson at Carbon Dynamics Institute, LLC, a mass spectrometry research facility.

Hillary’s work in research has sparked her to continue her education in graduate school as she hopes to further develop her skills and knowledge for pharmaceutical development.

Leadership lived

More than a job, however, Hillary’s research with Dr. Johnson elevated her ability to lead.  “Every student has responsibilities,” she says, “but they fulfill those to reach their personal goals. Doing undergraduate research, I had to be responsible for Dr. Johnson. This was his research, and I had to be independent and responsible for his sake.  I’m a better leader because of that.”

For more information

Read more about the healing power of venom: “The bite that heals: Scientists are unlocking the medical potential of venom,” Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic

Read more about Bullet Ants: