Senior Maggie Nixon keeps an eye on worms.
More specifically, she works in a biology research lab alongside Associate Professor Ann Corsi studying a protein-coding gene called Twist, using a nematode — a roundworm known as Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). Defective Twist genes in humans can be associated with developmental disorders such as craniofacial defects.
“Working with Dr. Corsi in the research lab is fascinating,” said Nixon. “It’s incredible to be working on research that could prove to be clinically relevant for people.
"When I first started I was focused on characterizing how mutations, or changes, in this gene affected C. elegans so that we can better understand the behavior and roles of the protein,” noted Nixon. “But now I’m working on a genetic study to identify mutations in different genes that alleviate an abnormal appearance in the worms to discover new proteins that may be interacting with Twist.”
“A lot of the things that matter the most are the things that are very difficult to see. These processes in our bodies are what make us live and survive..”
Nixon knew she wanted to be a scientist ever since her older brother, now a surgical resident in Nashville, Tenn., convinced her to try an advanced biology course in high school.
“It was the hardest class I ever took, but it really inspired me to pursue a biology degree,” she said. The class made a big difference in her life — and helps explain why she’s still thinking today about how a seemingly little thing can make a major impact.
“A lot of the things that matter the most are the things that are very difficult to see. These processes in our bodies are what make us live and survive.”
After coming to Catholic University, Nixon quickly distinguished herself as a student of unique talent in the sciences. In her first year, she won the F.O. Rice Award for Excellence in Freshman Chemistry, the highest honor for a freshman chemistry student.
Despite a full workload, Nixon finds time to give back. She volunteers for the Little Sisters of the Poor as a service site leader, helping organize groups of students to visit the elderly at the Jeanne Jugan Residence near campus.
“I like that Campus Ministry is focused on making all members of our community feel welcome,” she said. “Serving is a way for us to reach out and show members of our community that they are not forgotten and that we want them involved in our lives.”
Nixon also spends time helping her fellow students understand biology and chemistry as a tutor in the Center for Academic Success and working as a teacher’s assistant, for Corsi last spring and currently for Professor of Biology John Golin.
After graduating, she hopes to go to medical school. She’s not yet sure which university she’ll attend, but she’s looking for a school with characteristics that she values at Catholic University: a collaborative, intellectual community, where professors know their students’ names and work to build lasting relationships.