Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award Given for First Time

You are here: Home News & Events News Archives 2016 News September 2016 News Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award Given for First Time

Main Content

20 September 2016

The Peter Craig Breen Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Chemistry Research was established in 2015 by Kevin J. Breen and Renee Romberger Breen in memory of their son, Peter. The purpose of this award is to recognize undergraduate students enrolled in the Eberly College of Science at The Pennsylvania State University who are majoring in or planning to major in Chemistry and who have demonstrated excellence in academics and research focused in chemistry.

The inaugural recipient of the award was Ailiena Maggiolo, a rising senior working in the laboratory of Amie Boal, an Assistant Professor in Chemistry/BMB.  Ailiena has worked in the Boal group for the past two years on several different projects involving x-ray structure determination of biological catalysts that use transition metal ions as part of their catalytic cycle.  Her efforts to date have helped us understand more about enzymatic halogenation reactions, a chemically challenging transformation of interest for its potential to make certain synthetic chemistry applications more environmentally-friendly.  She has also worked on a DNA biosynthesis enzyme that is an important antibiotic drug target, helping to discover novel chemistry associated with versions of the catalyst found exclusively in certain types of bacteria that cause infections in humans and animals.  Ailiena’s work has already appeared in prominent scientific journals with more to come prior to completion of her B.S. degree in Spring 2017.  In her nomination letter, Professor Boal stated, “Ailiena’s persistence in setting up a research opportunity in my lab is notable – when I took too long to respond to an initial inquiry via email, she waited outside my office.  I’m very grateful that she went to such lengths.  Ailiena has proved to be a remarkably ambitious and productive trainee and she has helped initiate several new research directions in my lab.”  Ailiena intends to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry after graduation.

The award was given for the first time at the chemistry graduation reception on May 7th, in honor and memory of Peter Craig Breen, who was a chemistry major at Penn State from 2010 through 2014.  Peter was a gifted student who excelled in high school and was selected as a National Merit finalist. Peter chose during his senior year to attend Penn State. He saw many opportunities to continue to learn and grow at the university and was following a family legacy of Penn Staters, which includes both of his parents, Renee and Kevin, as well as an uncle, aunts, and his brother, Scott.

Peter enrolled at Penn State in 2010 as a Braddock Scholar and a Schreyer’s Scholar in The Eberly College of Science with a major in chemistry. He immediately pursued a computational chemistry research position involving the study of RNA in Phil Bevilacqua’s lab. Working in the Bevilacqua lab quickly became an important and enjoyable part of his studies, while the lab and the group became an extended campus home and family for Peter.

Not only was he heavily involved in research during his studies, but Peter was also dedicated to assisting his fellow students and peers. He found fulfillment in helping others, and sought out opportunities to do so throughout his undergraduate career. Peter worked under the direction of Joe Keiser as both a tutor in the chemistry resource room and a teaching assistant in chemistry courses. Other interests of Peter’s included travel and pursuing exposure to chemistry beyond the academic setting, fulfilled during his time as an intern in industry at the University in Freiburg, Germany for a summer.

Peter had planned to continue pursuing his passion for research in bioinformatics, and was accepted into three Ph.D. programs before his passing in 2014. Penn State conferred a B.S. degree in Chemistry with honors posthumously to his family in May 2014.

Peter’s friends and family felt that it would be fitting to establish a research award in his name so that his passion for scientific discovery would continue on after him. The award is intended to honor undergraduate students who are dedicated to excellence in research and who are driven by a spirit similar to Peter’s.