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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

For URI biology student, medicine is in his blood

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Barrington resident to graduate May 18 as top biology student

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2008 – It’s not unusual for college students to repeatedly change their major or arrive on campus without knowing what discipline they want most to study. But Barrington resident Michael A. Zompa never had that problem.

“My grandfather is a doctor, my mother’s a nurse, my stepmother’s a nurse,” he said. “I’ve been exposed to the medical field my whole life and I have had so much family support that I’ve never doubted for a moment that I was going to become a doctor. That’s always been the plan.”

Zompa is well on his way. He will graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 18 with degrees in both biological sciences and chemistry and a long list of research experiences that will help him launch his medical career. Zompa will also receive the President’s Excellence Award as the top graduating biology student.

As a URI sophomore he was recruited to work in a microbiology lab studying a freshwater invertebrate animal that can be a model for understanding interactions among human nerve cells.

“We used antibodies to label receptor proteins. This revealed their distribution in the cell, and allowed us to infer their function ” Zompa explained. “We had some novel findings, and I even got to go to Germany to present them at an international conference.”

A year later he was awarded a Coastal Fellowship at URI and began to study the genetics of a marine invertebrate called a sea squirt.

“We studied the regulatory elements of their developmental genes,” he said. “In one gene, we identified specific regions of DNA involved in the gene’s regulation. We’re now looking at the same gene in other species to compare the regulation.”

“The research experiences I’ve had here at URI have been phenomenal,” he added.

As graduation approaches, Zompa said he plans to take a year off before continuing on to medical school, hopefully at Boston University. And when he finishes his medical degree, he plans to continue on for a Ph.D. as well, so he can continue his research.

“My grandfather has both a medical practice and does research, and he really loves it, and I hope that one day I can do the same thing,” Zompa said. “I definitely want to practice medicine, but I also love research. I feel like I’ve done so much research here at URI that I want to keep my hands in it. I want to stay in touch with the molecular biology and genomics.”

During his year off between degrees, Zompa won’t really be relaxing much. He hopes to work in chemistry to broaden his background.

“I’m taking a class right now where you can calculate the probability of an electron’s position in three-dimensional space,” he said. “If you can understand how atoms work, you can understand how life works.”

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography