Momentum Award: Christopher Sheridan

It would be difficult to find a person more drive by questions than Chris Sheridan, A&S ’12. The recent recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater scholarship, awarded annually to students for outstanding excellence in science, has been following questions for as long as he can remember.

Growing up outside Baltimore, Md., Chris said he developed a passion for science early. “I was always good at sciences and I had a very analytical and empirical way of thinking about thinking about things,” he said. “I was very interested in architecture and engineering because I was really interested in that ‘take it apart, see how it works, then put it back together’ mentality.”

As his interest in science grew, Chris became interested in surgery, shadowing surgeons for several weeks during the summer. It was then that his interest in a future career first emerged.

“I absolutely loved it, and I had the feeling very concretely, ‘Wow, this is something I could see myself doing,'” he said. “That was the first time I had that feeling with any sort of job or profession.”

When it came time for Chris to choose a college attend, his options came down to Harvard, Princeton, and Boston College. He chose BC for numerous reasons. He received a Presidential Scholarship. His dad attended the school and helped found the PULSE program. But most of all, Chris stressed the benefits he saw in a Jesuit education. “BC offered not just resources to excel academically, but also a kind of mentality and mission driven approach,” he said. “I knew I’d like who I would be after four years here.”

Over the course of his time at BC, Chris has been extensively involved in scientific research. When his budding interests in language and the philosophy of his mind began to collide with his scientific interests in chemistry and biology, he knew the brain was the area he wanted to study in college.

His philosophy and biochemistry course load at first seems strangely juxtaposed. How can a harsh discipline like chemistry compare with the study of fundamental problems like existence and ethic? To Chris, philosophy is the highest of thought: the way the brain works, the questions of ethics and the philosophy of the mind. At the bottom is chemistry and biology: the “nitty gritty” details and mechanics of how the brain works. Moving forward, Chris said, “I’d like to find the space in the middle where I really want to work and have the skills I need from both ends.”

As preparation to pursue his future plans in psychiatry and neurobiology, Chris has started research in Jianmin Gao’s, assistant professor of chemistry, lab. His sophomore year he worked extensively on a project to develop membrane peptides, which can lyse pathogen membranes. “Our project has the potential to develop classes of antibiotics or anticancer agents that would be extremely effective in combating infection and disease,” he said. Chris has also worked on a second project in Gao’s lab, designing fluorescent probes for tumors and apoptotic cells, which he described as “right up his alley.”

Even with this extensive and time consuming dedication to research, Chris has managed to obtain a near perfect GPA.

This summer, Chris earned a position in Dr. Jacob Hooker’s laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, researching new methods for neuroscience tests. He plans to develop new tracers to be used with PET scans and MRI contrast agents.

In August, Chris will be representing BC at a conference in the philosophy of the mind in Denmark sponsored by Danish philosopher Dan Zahavi. At the end of the busy summer, Chris will also be taking a special course at the marine biological laboratory at Woods Hole.

“The course teaches how to interpret and design filters and analyze data that’s derived from any sort of multiacquisition technique in neuroscience including MRI and PET,” he said. “It’s right up my alley, exactly what I want to do in the future.”

In pursuing his Goldwater Scholarship, Chris listed several reasons for his success. He said he spent much of his time over the summer both in and out of school reading research. “When I was finished reading a professor’s research, I would always try to reach out to them with questions,” Chris said.

By doing so, he was able to talk to prominent scientists at MIT and Harvard Medical School who helped further his knowledge and interest in the sciences. His experience in the research labs here at BC taught him to “think like a scientist and work like a dog.”

Gao commended Chris for such proactive learning. “It is quite admirable for a college student to have such ambition and determination,” he said.

Chris’ interests, however, are far more diverse than just science. “Being in the A&S Honors Program has been very important to me,” Chris said. “In a lot of ways, it’s kept my brain alive.”

Mark O’Connor, Honors Program director, Chris’ professor in his sophomore year, similarly lauded his accomplishments.

“The one thing that stands out more than anything about Chris is that he does so many things well,” he said. “Nothing human; nothing humane is alien to Chris. He’s not just off the charts in chemistry, he’s also one of the best young poets I’ve ever seen and he’s incredibly good at things like textual exegesis, no matter the topic.” O’Connor went on to say that having Chris as a student was like “having another professor in the class, a person who was always looking to bring out the best in his peers around the table.”

Though he plains to pursue an MD-Ph.D. eventually, Chris said he’s always been more interested in the means rather than the end. “Every kid sort of has a progression from the totally unrealistic thing that’s just awesome, like astronaut, then the more realistic thing that’s like, rocket scientist, and then you sort of progress all the way up. I’ve always been much more interested in questions than in being X, Y, or Z.”

Regardless of his success, Chris remains looking to the future. He described the Goldwater Scholarship as “humbling,” when many might see it as the exact opposite. As he has for many years, Chris continues to pursue the diverse and numerous questions that interest him. “I always try to think outside of the norm,” he said. “I hope to find the questions that I’ll want to wake up every morning for the rest of my life and try to answer.”♦


July 7, 2011

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