Follow me: Exploring synthetic chemistry

Alumni mentors share their workplace and knowledge with rising seniors

Debbie Kane
October 30, 2023
Mentor: Manuel Montori ’12, biotech engineer
Student: Nora Sharma, Charles Potje

Nora Sharma ’24 and Charles Potjer ’24 worked alongside Manuel Montori ’12 in the lab at his Austin, Texas, startup, Spero Technologies. Montori and his co-founder are conducting research to benefit biological manufacturing technology, using a system based on recombinant enzymes to produce compounds like pigments, vitamins and aromatics. 

Sharma and Potjer familiarized themselves with Spero’s research and the academic literature supporting it, then moved on to tasks in the lab. Sharma streamlined the lab’s process of growing Physarum enzyme in a bioreactor. Potjer replicated a process called chitin-binding, or immobilizing enzymes, making it easier for them to be purified and increasing their life span.

From the left: Nora Sharma ’24, Charles Potjer ’24

Potjer was impressed by the autonomy he was granted. “I worked one-on-one every day with the company founders and worked independently, helping with lab work, designing experiments and reading through copious amounts of papers,” he says. “I felt like my voice mattered. I got to think creatively, take risks and operate with a level of independence I don’t think I could have in many other spaces. It certainly wasn’t a traditional lab research experience — which is why I loved it!”

Montori lauded the students, saying: “We were impressed by Nora and Charles’ ability to dive into some pretty complex and specialized science, both reading literature and executing experiments in the lab. It was a privilege to work with them. We hope to keep fostering a great relationship with Exeter.”

This story was originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

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