Princeton graduate student Jessica Bongiovanni dies

Dec. 6, 2012 11:30 a.m.

Jessica Bongiovanni

Photo courtesy of the Bongiovanni family

Princeton University doctoral student Jessica Bongiovanni died Dec. 2 at the Kimball Medical Center in Lakewood, N.J., of complications from cancer. She was 25.

A native of Manchester, N.J., Bongiovanni had begun her second year in the laboratory of Princeton professor and Hugh Stott Taylor Chair of Chemistry John Groves when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Her research focused on designing artificial enzymes by embedding synthesized chemical catalysts within natural proteins, Groves said.

Bongiovanni had successfully developed two new biocatalysts, Groves said: One that produced the disinfectant chlorine dioxide used in water treatment and bleaching, and another that allowed her to detect a long-sought, highly reactive molecule for use in protein reactions. Bongiovanni is a co-author of a paper to be submitted on the latter discovery, Groves said.

"Jess was a fearless, optimistic and imaginative experimental scientist who always asked 'How can I make this experiment work?'" Groves said.

Bongiovanni came to Princeton after receiving her master's degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in 2011. Her desire for a career in chemistry research and teaching began during her undergraduate study at Drexel University, where she earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry in 2009.

Bongiovanni is survived by her parents Kevin and Kathleen; fiancé Kristopher Swanson; her sisters Katie and Kelsey; and her maternal grandparents, as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at St. John’s Church in Lakehurst, N.J. In addition, students, staff and faculty in the Department of Chemistry will make a combined donation to Bongiovanni's charity, Ronald McDonald House.

The University flag over East Pyne Hall will be lowered to half-mast from Dec. 4 through Dec. 7 in Bongiovanni's memory.