BMB Features: Bryce Katch
The Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department is proud to be called home to some of the most outstanding undergraduate students in higher education. These students display a high level of dedication, not only in furthering their education but in their desire to be on the frontlines of scientific discovery.
Meet Bryce Katch, a Junior from Lititz, Pennsylvania, majoring in both Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as Chemical Engineering. Bryce grew up with a healthy curiosity for how the world works and an interest in science, but it wasn’t until his Junior year at Manheim Township High School that he enrolled in Mr. Schulz’s AP Chemistry and realized his desire to pursue a career in science. “I loved how hands on the course was,” says Bryce. “It was the first class in which I was able to directly link course material with a scientific experiment.” Through the course Bryce developed an appreciation for how scientists approach questions through experimentation and by using creative, and sometimes unconventional, methods.
Chemistry provided Bryce an interesting framework through which to understand the world. He found that the more he learned; the more questions arose for him to investigate. Bryce’s interest in chemistry led him to pursue the subject at higher levels including his involvement in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, and Quizbowl. By the time he completed high school, he knew that he wanted to somehow incorporate chemistry into his future career.
The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, sponsored by the American Chemical Society, is a high school chemistry competition designed to stimulate young people to achieve excellence in chemistry. Bryce’s participation his senior year vaulted him to the National Stage of the competition.
Quizbowl, sponsored by National Academic Quiz Tournaments, LLC, is a game in which two teams, comprised of four individuals, compete head-to-head to answer questions from all areas of knowledge, including history, literature, science, fine arts, current events, popular culture, sports, and more. Throughout his high school career, Bryce competed in 4 national championship tournaments in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington D.C.
Bryce was involved in a wide array of activities in high school, so he knew that he needed to attend a university that provided a diverse array of opportunities to students of all majors. His interest in music and his desire to continue to play in college, combined with his desire to conduct undergraduate research led him to choose Penn State to pursue his undergraduate degree. Penn State’s music groups are open to all majors, and thus has allowed Bryce to participate as a member of the Blue Band, Hockey Band, Saxophone Studio, and Campus Orchestra.
Currently, Bryce is an undergraduate researcher in the laboratory of Associate Professor of Chemistry, and of Biochemistry and of Molecular Biology, Amie Boal. The Boal Group studies the structure of enzymes using X-ray crystallography. Specifically, Bryce studies enzymes that use iron and oxygen to assist in their chemical reactions. These enzymes are part of a larger family that perform critical roles like gene regulation in the human body. These enzymes can also be used in an industrial context to produce antibiotics and other drugs. Bryce enjoys studying enzymes that use metals because of the challenging chemistry involved.
Outside of the laboratory and his academic coursework, Bryce, as previously mentioned, is very involved in music at Penn State. Upon entering the University as a first-year student, Bryce auditioned for, and earned his position in, the Penn State Blue Band. He says that being a member of the Blue Band has been the most impactful part of his undergraduate career. “I have met my best friends in college through the Blue Band, many of whom I now live with,” says Bryce. “The energy surrounding football at Penn State is something so unique, and I love being a part of an organization that plays a role in generating that energy.”
In addition to auditioning for the Penn State Blue Band as a first-year student, Bryce also joined Penn State’s Saxophone Studio. The Saxophone Studio consists of all saxophonists taking private lessons at Penn State. The group, mostly composed of music majors, meets each week for a two-hour studio class where members perform classical, or jazz, pieces and receive feedback from the group. Additionally, the group also performs several concerts both on Penn State’s campus and within the local community.
Bryce also plays the cello in Penn State’s Campus Orchestra, an orchestra comprised primarily of non-music majors who rehearse once a week and perform a large concert at the end of each semester. Having played the saxophone since he was in third grade it has always been his primary focus, but in high school Bryce added the cello to his repertoire. His twin sister had played the cello up through middle school, but then decided not to continue. Since there was a cello just laying around the house, Bryce picked it up for the first time as a freshman in high school and decided to teach himself to play. As a sophomore he began taking lessons, and later joined his high school’s orchestra as a junior. “I really began to appreciate the instrument as I listened to all the music written for cello,” says Bryce.
In the fall of 2019, Bryce joined Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors (EA), student representatives of Penn State’s College of Engineering. EA’s mission is to connect middle and high school students, prospective students and their families, alumni, industry partners, and the community with Penn State Engineering. “I wanted to become more involved with engineering and science outreach, and this organization was a perfect way to do that,” says Bryce. One of the outreach events EA typically engages in is visiting schools to conduct presentation and hands-on STEM activities, however due to COVID-19 restrictions the group has had to adapt and is now providing outreach via YouTube and Zoom calls with schools.
During the summer of 2021, Bryce plans to participate in the MSK & Weill Cornell Medicine Engineering Summer Program (ESP). The ten-week program is specifically designed for undergraduate engineering students and facilitates research that can be directly translated to the hospital bedside. Many of the participating labs in the program perform research in the realms of nanotechnology, drug delivery, and medical imaging.
After graduating from Penn State, Bryce plans to pursue his graduate education in engineering. He hopes to someday work at a biomedical research institute, bridging both industry and academia, and be involved in research that interfaces with the medical setting and can impact people directly.