Goldwater Scholar immerses herself in biochemistry research at Mercer

a female student wearing a mercer shoot looks at the camera. a lab is in the background
Sarah Boyer. Photo by Leah Yetter

As a high school student, Sarah Boyer knew she wanted to do research as soon as she got to college. And she knew Mercer University would be the best place for her to do that. 

During her freshman year, Boyer began working in the lab of Dr. Garland Crawford, associate professor and chair of chemistry. Now a junior, she’s been recognized for her scientific pursuit as one of two Mercer recipients of the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. Sophomore Mia Jastrzembski, a biomedical engineering major, is the University’s other Goldwater Scholar. 

“It’s been really great learning techniques in lab and being able to connect them to lecture as I’ve continued progressing through coursework,” said Boyer, a biochemistry and molecular biology major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.  

In the lab, Boyer studies a protein in the body called O-GlcNAcase, or OGA.

“OGA regulates hundreds of proteins by removing a sugar group. Changes in levels of proteins with the sugar modification are associated with different diseases,” she said. “It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but understanding the impact of (changes to) OGA activity would help us better understand the role of OGA within the cell and the regulation of OGA in regards to different cellular processes and diseases.” 

Boyer is naturally curious, asks questions and learns quickly, Dr. Crawford said.  

“She is able to take things that we do in one scenario and apply them to another, which is always clearly a good sign of somebody who’s paying attention and learning as they go along,” he said. “It’s always nice to see students that you’ve observed who are working really hard, who are putting in the time, who are listening and thinking about paths to grad school be able to do things that get them external validation.”

a female student and a man look at a machine holding test tubes
Mercer University junior Sarah Boyer and Dr. Garland Crawford, associate professor of chemistry, work in the lab. Photo by Leah Yetter

Boyer plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry and study diseases that affect underprivileged populations. 

Her interest stems from a science fair project she did in high school examining groundwater contamination in Juliette. The project was awarded first place at the regional science fair and won a bid to the international competition, which ended up being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last year, Boyer participated in the National Science Foundation-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates at the University of Rochester in New York.  

This summer, she will spend 10 weeks conducting research at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas as an Amgen Scholar. The Amgen Scholars program is a highly selective undergraduate summer research program that allows undergraduates to participate in cutting-edge research. 

At Mercer, Boyer is in the University Honors Program. She is a member of the nation’s oldest academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, honor society Phi Kappa Phi and chemistry honor society Gamma Sigma Epsilon. She is also the program assistant for intramural sports. 


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