Posner Fellowship: Decoding energy use

Metabolic research becomes the foundation for enduring mentorship

Jennah Thompson-Vasquez ‘19, came to Northwestern thinking she would declare herself pre-med. Her lifelong interest in biological anthropology, cultivated in childhood by the TV show "Bones," led her to apply to Posner, and she’s glad she followed that instinct.

Thompson-Vasquez was matched with anthropology professor William Leonard, and she quickly took an interest in his nutritional health research. During summer 2016, Thompson worked with Leonard, his graduate assistant, Stephanie Levy, and two other undergraduates to measure variation in brown fat — a type of fat that actually uses energy — and the potential impact of brown fat on energy expenditure. Thompson-Vasquez helped recruit local participants and gather data, and the team showed that people with more brown fat show a greater rise in their metabolic rate when they are exposed to cold.