Untangling Lion’s Mane

Meet chemistry major Zesean Moiz Ali ’20.

September 3, 2020

Major: Chemistry

Hometown: Happy Valley, Oregon

Thesis advisers: Profs. Danielle Cass and Rebecca LaLonde

Thesis: Attempts to Identify, Extract, and Purify Biologically Active Compounds in Lion’s Mane

What it’s about: Lion’s mane, a mushroom prevalent in East Asia, has been shown to have amazing health benefits relating to the brain, including the ability to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke. We’re growing mushrooms and trying to extract the active compounds.

What it’s really about: Curing diseases by growing mushrooms. Plants have medicinal qualities, and it’s our job to explore them.

In high school: I was loud, intense, and competitive.

Influential professor: Prof. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri [religion] showed me that I love the study of religion, a field I was not particularly interested in before. Exploring political and racial issues that relate to religion and through the lens of religion is fascinating. Kambiz always asked the right questions and guided us toward extremely deep and rich conclusions regarding the material at hand.

Influential book: The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

Concept that blew my mind: An orthodox view in quantum mechanics is that phenomena do not exist before they’re observed. Prof. Dan Gerrity [chemistry] taught me that one.

Cool stuff: I wrote an academic paper for a journal about infusing social justice into chemistry classes, was an admission office tour guide, did internships in New York City and Washington, D.C., was a tutor and a member of Honor Council, was captain of the basketball team, was president of the American Chemical Society chapter, and a member of RELAY.

Awards, fellowships, grants: Fulbright semifinalist, commendation for excellence each year, summer internship award.

Challenges I faced: Juggling a full course load while helping out my family here in Portland.

How Reed changed me: Reed taught me that I love intellectual discourse. I love ideas, I love reading and writing, but I hate debating. It’s just not constructive.

Financial aid: I would not have been able to attend without it. It means the world to me. I’m graduating debt-free. Not a lot of people can say that.

What’s next: A master’s at Harvard Divinity School. Over the course of my Reed career, I did a summer in nonprofit political advocacy, a summer in organic chemistry research, and a summer in finance. None of those were quite my passion. During what was a very classic Reed-style paper conference, Prof. Kristin Scheible [religion] told me that she saw a genuine interest and talent within me and that I should apply to Harvard Divinity School because it could be a creative way to combine all my interests. And, I found a concentration that really clicked for me. Religion, Ethics, and Politics explores the role that religious beliefs and practices play in instructing dispositions and choices. I can explore the questions I’m passionate about through the lens of religious study: how people’s religious beliefs shape their political identities and inform their policy preferences.