Zheng, Le named Beckman Scholars

Award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation honors “exceptionally talented” undergraduates.

Left to right: Leanne Le and Nina Zheng

Nina Zheng, a junior majoring in chemistry, and Leanne Le, a junior majoring in biochemistry, have been chosen to participate in WashU’s Beckman Scholars Program. Created by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the program is intended to provide “in-depth, sustained undergraduate research experiences for exceptionally talented, full-time undergraduate students.”  

Zheng and Le will each receive $21,000 to cover costs such as scientific supplies, travel to symposia, and a student stipend. Mentors for each student will also receive $5,000. 

Zheng studies the function of the space between the plasma membrane and the outer membrane in E. coli and other gram-negative bacteria. She was nominated by her mentor Petra Levin, the George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professor of Biology.

“Nina is one of the best undergraduates I have supervised over the course of my time at WashU,” Levin said. “It has been a privilege to see her begin the transition from student to independent scientist.”

Le uses protein crystallization to examine how small molecules bind to proteins from different viruses, including Ebola. This information is used to generate better inhibitors for potential antivirals. She was nominated by her mentor Gaya Amarasinghe, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Pathology and Immunology in the School of Medicine.

“Leanne's dedication to laboratory research is incredible,” Amarasinghe said. “It’s normal for her to show up in the lab, set up a protein crystallization experiment, go back to the Danforth campus for a midterm exam, and then come back to the lab to finish her experiment. This type of work ethic and purposeful engagement in laboratory research is remarkable and unique.”

Last year, WashU was one of 14 colleges and universities selected to participate in the Beckman Scholars Program. A team of 14 faculty mentors across Art & Sciences and the Medical School collaborated on the grant application. Two winners were announced in 2023 and two more will be chosen in 2025.