SAFE Student Spotlight: Kate Huffman

Kate Huffman
Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund Recipient: Spring 2023

Project: "Synthesis of the Cosmeceutical Syn-Ake 'Tripeptide-3'"

Huffman received a Spring 2023 Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) grant to synthesize Syn-Ake “Tripeptide-3,” a polypeptide cosmeceutical that inhibits muscle contractions, using novel nano-reactors.

Huffman explained, "Syn-Ake 'Tripeptide-3' when applied, inhibits the muscles in the face from clenching. My father suffers from a traumatic brain injury resulting in trismus. Being able to work on this project has given me hope and confidence that peptides have multiple uses and, one day, I will be able to help my father and others using the knowledge and skills I have gained."

With the funding, Huffman purchased three chemicals: Fmoc-Dab(Boc)-OH, Benzylamine, and beta-Alanine, which allowed her to build the first peptide dimer in the peptide sequence encoding for Syn-Ake. "Prior to having the funding, I was mimicking the desired peptide dimer, now I am able to build the actual peptide sequence of Syn-Ake 'Tripeptide-3,'" she shared.

Huffman's research was advised by Dr. Nicholas Shaw, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences. Shaw's research team focuses their efforts on the development of new nano-reactor synthetic methodologies and their application to synthetic organic chemistry, drug design and synthesis, peptide synthesis, and biodiesel fuels.

About her work on the project, Huffman remarked, "It enhanced my skills in the lab by providing me with the opportunity to develop a procedure for the commercial-scale synthesis of cosmeceutical peptides, follow them, and actively solve any problems that came up. My skills in the laboratory are more enhanced than they would be without these opportunities, as well as my confidence in the field."

Huffman will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in cellular and molecular biology and a minor in chemistry. "After graduation, I plan to continue to work in research—whether that may be cosmeceutical or something new—before returning to school," shared Huffman.


About the SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at:

About the A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences
The A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences offers a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry, a Bachelor of Science in chemistry with eight different concentrations and an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in fermentation sciences. The department’s programs prepare students to attend graduate and professional schools, as well as for employment in the pharmaceutical and fermentation industries and other business sectors. Learn more at

About the Department of Biology
The Department of Biology is a community of teacher-scholars, with faculty representing the full breadth of biological specializations — from molecular genetics to landscape/ecosystem ecology. The department seeks to produce graduates with sound scientific knowledge, the skills to create new knowledge, and the excitement and appreciation of scientific discovery. Learn more at

Written by Autumn Dagenhardt
Edited by Lauren Gibbs

March 19, 2024

Kate Huffman
Published: Mar 19, 2024 9:55am