Katerina Hilleke ’13 Named Astronaut Scholar

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Katerina Hilleke '13

Katerina Hilleke ’13

Harvey Mudd College chemistry major Katerina Hilleke ’13 has been selected as a 2012-13 Astronaut Scholar by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), which provides scholarships for college students pursuing science and technology careers.

She is one of 22 students nationwide this year to receive the $10,000 award, given to rising juniors or seniors who have demonstrated initiative, creativity and excellence in their chosen field.

Hilleke spent the past 18 months exploring ways to synthesize beilschmiedic acid C, a natural antibacterial product found in the bark of the Beilschmiedia anacardioides tree species in Cameroon. Discovered in 2009, the compound proved a more potent antibiotic than ampicillin.

“Beilschmiedic acid C has a complex structure and has not yet been made by chemists. Katie hopes to be the first to make this compound and to enable us to make related structures that might have enhanced antibacterial properties,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry David Vosburg. “She has devoted herself to this project intellectually, proposing and attempting a variety of new approaches to make her target molecule. She also has demonstrated independence, motivation and an ability to mentor other student researchers.”

Hilleke’s contributions to the HMC community include serving as an Academic Excellence chemistry facilitator and as a tutor for students in the Group Theory, Quantum Chemistry and Spectroscopy course. She’s also a member of the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company and the Aztec dance group Danzantes Del Sol.

Her future plans include graduate school, performing catalysis research and, possibly, becoming a teacher.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1984 by the six surviving members of America’s original Mercury astronauts. The foundation’s mission is to aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships for college students who exhibit motivation, imagination and exceptional performance in these fields. ASF has awarded almost $3 million to deserving students nationwide. HMC is one of 27 institutions—and the only non-doctorate granting school— selected by the foundation to participate in the program.