Mariel Feliciano studies the chemistry and biology of memory
Mariel Feliciano is right where she wants to be: in a UMass Amherst research lab at the intersection of biology and chemistry. “This is where science is going,” says the 28-year-old PhD candidate.
Pursuing her doctorate came within reach for Feliciano thanks to grant money. She qualified for a two-year National Science Foundation grant (from the Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate) as well as a highly competitive two-year National Institutes of Health grant through the UMass Amherst Chemistry-Biology Interface Program. Together, the two sources will cover four of her projected five-year PhD studies, and she’s confident that funding for the fifth year will fall into place.
A lot of things have fallen into place for Feliciano since she came to Western Massachusetts from her native Puerto Rico in 2004, a few credits short of her bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico. She worked in a private lab for two years, got married, and then completed her last credits at UMass Amherst. She took her physical chemistry final just a week before giving birth to her daughter, Jasmine.
When Jasmine turned one, Feliciano was ready to continue her education. Returning to UMass Amherst, she found the program that will lead to her PhD and, she hopes, a professorship. She also found a niche in the lab of assistant professor of chemistry James Chambers.
Chambers’s lab focuses on applying novel chemical-biology tools and emerging biophysical techniques to solve fundamental questions in neuroscience. Currently, Feliciano works on imaging brain receptors. “If we could see and track natural brain receptors under a microscope, it could help us understand, from a molecular perspective, how memories are formed and how we learn,” she explains.
“I am intrigued by the principals of chemistry and the fact that I can use chemistry to study biological problems,” Feliciano says. “In this lab, chemistry and biology are together and I feel as if I fit right in.”