Grace Higgins '24

Reaching new heights, both academically and personally
UNH student Grace Wiggins

Grace Higgins is a double major in biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology and music. She is one of 17 COLSA students to receive a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in 2022. The topic of her research is “Detection of Adiponectin, a Biomarker for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, with Gold-Modified Surfaces,” and her mentor is Jeffrey Halpern, professor of chemical engineering.

The Windham, N.H. native loves to spend her free time hiking and has completed 43 of the 48 4,000-foot peaks in the state.

COLSA: Why did you choose UNH?

Grace Higgins: I chose UNH because they allowed me to pursue both of my majors by accepting my transfer credit from high school and giving me the flexibility I needed in my schedule. With my majors being in two different colleges, this was an important factor in my decision because I do a lot of class requirements between the majors. Additionally, I was able to participate in the UNH Honor's program and Outing Club, which were two major draws for me. Through being at UNH, I have been blessed with so many opportunities both in and out of the classroom that have made my experience all the more incredible!

COLSA: What's your major and what makes it so interesting to you?

Grace: I am a double major in biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology and music. Though very different disciplines, I have been able to find an incredible learning dynamic where I can experience the different departments and types of classes. Sometimes, I am going straight from a three- or four-hour chemistry lab to a music history or piano studio class or go straight from my research job to my job teaching piano lessons. It is a super stimulating and fast-paced environment, which I love because it keeps me engaged and interested throughout my week.

However, I think my biochemistry and chemistry courses are specifically exciting to me because I know that the work in these fields has the potential to be so impactful to the bettering of our communities through disease research, prevention, and treatment, and that I get to be a part of this movement.

COLSA: During your time at UNH, what are you most proud of?

Grace: This past spring semester and summer, I had the opportunity to join the lab of Dr. Jeffrey Halpern, doing surface chemistry research focused on attaching different proteins to gold and carbon surfaces for the eventual application of developing biosensors for rapid diagnostic testing. In just one semester of this research, I have been able to conduct and lead experiments on my own, present my data and had the opportunity to apply for  and receive  a SURF grant through the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research.

I am currently working on my SURF looking at a biomarker protein for PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and how it could be attached to gold surfaces. I am extremely proud of this research and all the potential it has in both the medical and engineering fields.

COLSA: What are you planning to do after graduation? 

Grace: I am currently setting myself up for a few options after graduation. I have completed all my medical school prerequisites if that is the path I choose to go but I am also interested in going into industry or further research after graduation. Additionally, I may apply for a graduate scholarship doing research.

COLSA: How is UNH preparing you to achieve your goals?

Grace: UNH is preparing me to achieve my goals by encouraging my interdisciplinary studies and supporting me with the balanced work to play environment Durham and the campus provides. There are endless resources within the university to support my academic journey, and I can get multiple perspectives on the decisions I am making in my time here at UNH.

COLSA: What do you love most about UNH?

Grace: The genuine and lasting relationships that I know will continue long past graduation. I am grateful for the community here and the opportunities to create your own path, with support along the way.