Mattia Pizzagalli (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Hometown: Winchester, Mass.
Major: Biochemistry, minor in German Studies
Notable Activities/Achievements: 2017 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for undergraduate research in the sciences; 2018 Fulbright Scholar (Austria); Scholar of the College; Alpha Sigma Nu national honor society; Phi Beta Kappa; campus EMT and leadership team of Boston College EMS; volunteer, Advanced Heart Failure Unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Post-Graduation Plans: Will spend the next two years as a researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences Research Center for Molecular Medicine; plans to attend medical school in the future, with an eye toward cancer research.

Mattia Pizzagalli set his sights on becoming a physician when he was a high school student, with the goal of helping patients as both a clinician and a researcher. That interest convinced him to earn his emergency medical technician certification and to participate the past four years in BC EMS.  He also became an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Associate Professor of Chemistry Eranthie Weerapana, where he studied cysteine-containing proteins as part of the lab's research into cancer and age-related diseases. For his research, Pizzagalli earned a Goldwater Scholarship, which is considered the nation's premier undergraduate award in the sciences. His senior thesis was titled "Towards a Better Understanding of Breast Cancer Pathophysiology: Insights from Mass Spectrometry Platforms Targeting the Mitochondrial Porteome." Fluent in Italian and German, Pizzagalli has also received a 2018 Fulbright Scholar fellowship to study in Austria.

Who's had the greatest influence on you during your time at BC?
Both Professor Weerapana and post-doctoral researcher Dan Bak have been instrumental in getting me to this point. They've been extremely supportive and really wanted me to perform the research that would allow me to succeed. They have been the perfect balance of guiding me through the work but also allowing me the freedom to explore and grow in my own sense. Both of them were really critical to my experience at BC. I could not imagine it without them.

[Assistant Professor of the Practice of Chemistry] Neil Wolfman has been a mentor to me since freshman year. That relationship has been incredible. Whenever I have questions for him, whether it's what I should be thinking about in terms of the future, or just guidance, I know he's there for me. We meet up and discuss things. He's always willing to listen to me and give the best advice.

What was the impact of receiving a Goldwater Scholarship?
The Goldwater was the first big step to push my research forward. It funded me for another semester in the lab and affirmed the work I had been doing, showed it was valuable work. I knew the research we were doing was important, but that outside affirmation is really a fantastic thing to have. It allowed me to build upon my other work even more and led to other things. I could not have done that without the support and mentorship of everyone in the lab.

Which course stands out for you?
Literature of Neurological Disorders, taught by Professor of Biology Daniel Kirschner. It looked at diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. We focused on the ethics and the biology and how you can treat these diseases and what causes them. We got the whole broad picture all while keeping in touch with the human experience. It was an incredible class.

Is there a BC experience that you particularly cherish?
This year especially, it's been those moments when you're not really doing anything, hanging out, but you're with people you love, building these connections and relationships that are going to last the rest of your life. It is not necessarily one specific moment. It's staying up until the crack of dawn, talking about the dumbest stuff. Or having an incredible, philosophical discussion. Those moments that melt together into one.

How has BC made a difference in your life?
BC has encouraged me to take on more—to look at the whole picture. It has encouraged me to look at the world not just through my own little part of the world, but on a global scale. I think the friendships and relationships I've made here have made me into a better person and a more well-rounded human who can hopefully go out and help people. I think that is made possible through the BC community. It is a really tight community that BC has fostered over the years.

What will you miss the most about BC?

The community, definitely. Between friendships I've made with peers and relationships with professors and people in the lab, it has been an incredible four years. This is a special place. I really felt like I belonged on campus here.

—Ed Hayward | University Communications | May 2018

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