Red Dog on the Gridiron, Corndog in the Lab

Oct. 3, 2002

Bill Brucker '04: The Brown Biochemist By Meaghann Schulte, Brown Sports Information

Alkanes, mycobacteriophages, molecules and blitzes. That's what is in Bill Brucker's head on a daily basis.

Brucker, a junior from Bethel Park, PA, is a three-year member of the Brown University Football team, who is as comfortable in the chemistry laboratory as he is on the football gridiron. Brucker's scientific work has made him a leader in the field of molecular biology, but he says that he would not have been able to do his work in the lab without his dedication on the field.

"The winning tradition!' That is what Bill Brucker exclaimed when asked about his decision to choose Brown University over MIT, Penn and Carnegie Melon, three other schools who had recruited Bill to play football. Once he visited the Brown campus there was no question where he was going to attend school.

"The students were more unique and had done interesting things; the faculty and student body were much more personable and some of the professors actually met with my family," said Brucker of his visit to Brown as a high school student. For Brucker to speak of interesting things that students have done is almost unreal, especially because of his achievements in the laboratory.

Brucker's most profound work since coming to College Hill has come in biochemistry. After his freshman year at Brown, Bill earned the 2001 CRC Freshman Chemistry Achievement Award for attaining the highest GPA(4.0) in his class.

Brucker was a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh, where he worked in the Dr. Graham F. Hatfull Lab under the noted Dr. Graham Hatfull himself. During his research at Pittsburgh, Brucker discovered three molecules, two of which are being submitted for publication.

One of the molecules, Corndog, named after its unusual shape, is featured on the University of Pittsburgh's biological website. The study of Corndog and other new mycobacteriophages will fuel the development of new strategies for controlling mycobacterial diseases. Brucker said that the other molecule being submitted, Omega, that deals with genetics, "was like opening a walnut and finding a truck."

Another academic achievement that Brucker has added onto his resume is the prestigious Royce Fellowship in Chemistry, presented to him following his sophomore year. The Royce Fellowship Program was established by a generous gift from Charles M. Royce '61, recognizing outstanding scholarship, leadership, creativity and service. The Program encourages and supports excellence and innovation in research and service throughout college and recognizes life-long accomplishments after graduation. Fellows receive up to $4,000 to fund proposed research, curricular development or public service projects.

Bill received the Royce Fellowship because of his work with alkanes titled "The Synthesis and Reactivity of Perfluorinated Iron Pthalocyanine." Alkanes are a class of components that are extremely unreactive, making them almost useless in industry and chemical synthesis. Bill is working to find a way to make alkanes more useful by observing the oxidative effects of the first perflourinated iron pthalocyanine compound on various alkanes.

Brucker earned the Royce Fellowship while working under associate professor Dr. Sergiu M. Gorun in the Brown Department of Chemistry. This project is now the topic of his "Honors Thesis."

So how does Bill find time for football? "At first the commitment was hard, but football made me stronger in the classroom, said Brucker. "I could not have done my research without football. I would rather have it harder than easier in the classroom - it means you have been through the mill and it makes me want to work more."

Bill believes that the best part of Brown football is his teammates. He says that they are like a second family. He has also encountered "very understanding coaches" when it comes to his research. During Spring football when Brucker had to leave practices for a few days to attend a scientific conference in Florida, his coaches were extremely supportive of his work.

"Bill Brucker is an extraordinary type of person, who brings academics to a whole other level, not to mention his passion for football," said Head Coach Phil Estes. "His juggling act between academics and football is super-human."

Estes spoke of all of his athletes having a primary goal at Brown as students, but somehow they work football into their busy schedules as well. To accommodate his student-athletes, football practices are not held on Mondays, to avoid conflicting with lab times. Also, leaving late for away games and having morning practices are some of the sacrifices that the coaches have made in order to avoid overlapping class and study time with football time.

With an Ivy League Championship on his mind (and the entire team's mind), Bill has also set personal goals. Suffering from a torn muscle in his chest, Brucker would like to recover in time to play for the Bears and contribute to the success of the team.

If Brucker's determination on the playing field reflects his work in the lab, there is no doubt he will return to the gridiron to help the Bears in their quest for an Ivy League title.