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BMMB Graduate Program

Samantha Hartmann Honored with
Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award

Image of Samantha Hartmann

Samantha Hartmann, a student within the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s (BMB) Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB) graduate program, was recently honored with the Penn State Alumni Association’s Dissertation Award.  The Graduate School Alumni Society Recognition Reception and Dinner was held on March 26, 2022, where Hartmann and other award recipients were presented with their awards.  During the ceremony Hartmann spoke to those in attendance about her thoughts on receiving the award as well as her dissertation.  At the Graduate Student Awards Luncheon, held on April 12, 2022, Hartmann and other award recipients were presented with their distinguished scholar medal recognizing their achievements.


About the Award

The Penn state alumni association dissertation award provides funding and recognition to outstanding full time research PhD students who have passed their comprehensive exams and received approval of their dissertation topic. The award is considered to be among the most prestigious available to Penn state graduate students and recognizes outstanding professional accomplishment and achievement in scholarly research.  Funds for the Dissertation award were made possible by a generous gift from the Penn State alumni association.


Hartmann and the Hafenstein Lab

Hartmann conducts her research in the Hafenstein Laboratory under the mentorship of Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and The College of Medicine, Susan Hafenstein.  A structural study offers a powerful tool of direct visualization that can guide and complement other research approaches.  The Laboratory uses this approach to learn more about viral infectivity, tropism, evolution, and pathogenicity.  Of particular interest are conformational changes of the virus capsid structure that occur as a response to key events that direct a successful infection, such as receptor binding prior to host entry.

Hartmann’s Research

Hartmann’s research within the Laboratory is focused on structural virology, an important field that analyzes virus structure in relation to function.  The high resolution, three-dimensional, virus structures Hartmann’s has created has provided insight on many molecular mechanisms by giving a detailed structure of amino acid composition.  Her dissertation focuses specifically on analyzing the dynamic flexibility of a, laboratory generated and a native, papillomavirus, as well as the investigation of host immune response to canine parvovirus from vaccination.  

Hartmann’s structures provide valuable insights into the molecular mechanisms and dynamics of viruses such as virus entry into host cells, capsid assembly and disassembly, and virus interaction with cellular components.  “Looking deep into the structure of a virus allows for more directed drug targeting for treatment and vaccine targeting for prevention,” says Hartmann.  “Structural virology contributes to developing more effective vaccines and antiviral treatments, more generally structural virology is a tool to improve public health.”

Hartmann’s research has laid innovative groundwork in providing new ways icosahedral viruses can be studied.  “One future direction that I am excited about is the use of these tools to study host immune response to vaccination,” said Hartmann.  The last of her dissertation projects focuses on investigating the dog immune response to canine parvovirus vaccination.  “I am excited to see this method applied to other viruses and specifically using it to study the human immune response to vaccination,” she says.

Post Penn State Plans

Hartmann defended her dissertation on April 22, 2022.   She has accepted a job with Thermo Fisher in Greenville, North Carolina.  After some much deserved time, she will be starting as a Manufacturing Scientist III, in mid-June, helping other researchers and doctors scale up different products for clinical trials.