Studying biology and chemistry in hopes of working to combat climate change
“It was both the school’s physical environment and beautiful campus and the community environment [that attracted me to Mount Holyoke].”
When Alex Berg arrived on campus, she had her sights set on a neuroscience degree. But within her first semester, she realized it wasn’t quite the right fit for them. “It was a lot of trying to figure out details in a field that was very new and very unknown. There were a lot of facts that might not turn out to be facts,” she said.
Biology and chemistry turned out to be a better fit. “I found myself drifting toward really liking more molecular and small-level things like microbiology, so a biological sciences major seemed like it would give me a good foundation for that,” she said. Working in the Camp Lab, run by associate professor Amy Hitchcock Camp, Berg has spent the last few years working on an independent study project. Her research focuses on gene expression for the soil microbe Bacillus subtilis. “I am looking at a particular gene expression that codes for a protease that degrades proteins,” she explained. Being able to degrade proteins helps Bacillus subtilis perform a process called sporulation, which can help the microbe survive in harsh environments. “It is kind of a niche thing, but on the grander scale of things, this kind of research can help find the causes of sporulation, which can help in processes like hospital sterilization and avoiding food contamination,” she said.
Ultimately, Berg hopes to use her love of microbiology to help combat climate change. By studying microbes that can help with environmental remediation, wastewater treatment and carbon sequestration, she believes that the tiniest of microbes can significantly impact our larger world. After graduation Berg plans to work in a lab before applying to Ph.D. programs.
“I have met some really great people through dancing at Mount Holyoke, and I have found a really comfortable space I feel I can always come back to.”
Berg’s love for the environment attracted them to Mount Holyoke. “It was both the school’s physical environment and beautiful campus and the community environment,” she said. Particularly attractive was how welcoming other students were and how, while Mount Holyoke students were academically driven, “it wasn’t their entire life. The intense stress culture isn’t here,” she said.
Within a culture of curious students active in a range of activities, Berg felt right at home trying out things like joining The Mount Holyoke News as a copy editor. A classically trained ballet dancer in high school, Berg also found community — and joy — in joining the Rainbow Jelly Dance Club, a K-Pop-inspired dance group. She has also participated regularly in several of the dance department’s student showcases. “I have met some really great people through dancing at Mount Holyoke, and I have found a really comfortable space I feel I can always come back to,” she said.