Natalie Burgos interned in the organic chemistry lab at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in South Africa.
Natalie in the university organic chemistry lab

New Lab Mates

The internship at WITS was Natalie Burgos’s first opportunity to work in a lab outside the US. While she found that she sometimes isolated herself on campus, Natalie looked at her internship as an opportunity to bond with new lab mates. “I think it’s important for someone to break out of their shell and try something new,” she explains. “I applied to MIT-South Africa to force myself to see and interact with the world around me.”

Organic Chemistry

Natalie interned at the university’s organic chemistry lab which had previously worked on the synthesis of a series of imidazopyridines (drugs defined by their chemical structure) that showed activity against a range of cancer cells but did not show toxicity against white blood cells. “My work involved further development of these compounds through the synthesis of metal complexes containing these imidazopyridines,” Natalie says. “The goal was to combine two small molecules that show activity against cancer with a linker (in this case, the metal) to see if the result is increased anti-cancer activity.”

New Compounds

Natalie’s work also covered the synthesis of a series of imidazopyrazines as potential anti-malarial compounds. She expanded on the synthesis of the imidazopyrazines by synthesizing a few new compounds, which the lab can potentially use in future work.

Adapting to New Environments

Natalie also says she succeeded in her personal goals of adapting to the work and social environments. She was very pleased with the lab space and equipment available. “I was very focused on only work the first two weeks,” she reflects. “So, one of my lab mates made the observation that I was always on the go and wouldn’t stop to talk to people often. That’s when I decided to take more time to chat with people around the lab.”



Natalie explains that this was sometimes difficult, but she was able to concur her habit of self-isolation. “I was really glad to have such great lab mates and supervisors, because I don’t think I would have enjoyed my time in SA so much if I hadn’t taken their advice and gotten to know them better.”

  • Africa
  • Internship
  • Bio/Chem