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Postdoc Profiles: Katrina Leaptrot

Posted by on Friday, January 17, 2020 in Highlights, Postdocs.

Katrina Leaptrot

Katrina Leaptrot is a postdoctoral researcher in the Chemistry Department in the McLean Research Group where she analyzes lipids and related biomolecules via ion mobility-mass spectrometry. She is also developing analysis methods with liquid chromatography-ion mobility-mass spectrometry for quantification of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in aqueous samples exposed to non-aqueous phase liquid waste.

A native of West Virginia, Katrina’s undergraduate work was done at the University of Charleston. Katrina did her graduate work with mentor John A. McLean, Chair and Stevenson Professor of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University and continued here as a postdoc. “Vanderbilt provides significant opportunities to advance and excel in a research-focused career,” says Katrina, “and Professor McLean has shown unwavering support and tireless dedication to the success of his mentees, including myself.”

As a graduate student, Katrina recognized that the primary costs associated with mass spectrometry instrumentation are the electronics and vacuum system. To leverage this, she designed and constructed the first 8-channel ion mobility-mass spectrometer. She completed her PhD in spring of 2018 with one of the longest dissertations in Vanderbilt history, “Development of a spatially multiplexed ion mobility spectrometer and utilization of ion mobility-mass spectrometry for conformational analyses of lipids and other biomolecules” (May 2018, 462 pages). Katrina’s instrument was featured on the cover of Analytical Chemistry in February 2015 and her novel ideas for mass spectrometry instrumentation have led to two patents. Katrina’s work with lipids and other biomolecules has resulted in multiple publications, including “Ion mobility conformational lipid atlas for high confidence lipidomics,” which was published in Nature Communications, highlighted in The Analytical Scientist, and featured in a Nature Communications themed collection on biomolecular mass spectrometry in 2019.

She has disseminated her research through talks at local, national, and international conferences and has presented numerous posters – two of which received awards for top presentation. She also contributes to the scientific community by serving as a reviewer for Trends in Analytical Chemistry. “Katrina has already demonstrated the capacity to become a star scientist,” said McLean. “She easily ranks among the very top of the postdoctoral scholars with whom I have worked.”

For the past 4 years, Katrina has also worked as a Scientific Advisor with the SyBBURE Searle Undergraduate Research Program at Vanderbilt. Directed by Christina Marasco, Associate Professor of the Practice of Biomedical Engineering, SyBBURE aims to immerse, incubate, and inspire the next generation of innovators through research, design, and community.

Katrina Leaptrot, Jody May and Professor John McLean in lab at Stevenson. Photos by: Susan Urmy

Through the program, Katrina has closely mentored over 40 undergraduates across multiple disciplines. “I have found value in encouraging each student as an individual with their own unique background and fulfilling our motto – do cool stuff. I thoroughly enjoy working with these undergraduates to bring together diverse sets of personalities and skillsets towards critically solving shared challenges,” said Katrina. In the future, Katrina would like to lead her own research program as a professor in the university setting.