Heaton's MSPIRE research used the free electron laser for infrared experiments (FELIX) facility at FOM "Rijnhuizen" to measure infrared multiple photon dissociation (IRMPD) action spectra of metallated asparagine. Amy studied M+(Asn) complexes where M+ = H+, Li+, Na+, K, Rb+, Cs+., and Ba2+. Accurate quantum chemical calculations on these systems allow the conformations involved to be identified. The results demonstrate that the heavier alkali metals exhibit multiple conformers, whereas the lighter alkali metals and hydrogen have only a tridentate configuration. For the barium complex, in contrast to all other amino acids which have zwitterionic structures when complexed to Ba2+, Ba2+(Asn) exhibits only a charge-solvated tridentate conformation.
In her Ph.D. studies, Heaton examined the interactions of alkali metal cations with a range of small biologically relevant molecules. Notably she used threshold collision induced dissociation (TCID) in a guided ion beam tandem mass spectrometer to measure the binding energies of Na and K+ with aspartic acid (Asp), asparagine (Asn), glutamic acid (Glu), and glutamine (Gln), determining several interesting trends in this thermochemistry. In addition, she has characterized both experimentally and theoretically the deamidation of Asn upon collisional activation of Na+(Asn) and H+(Asn). Additional studies include the binding of Na+ to simple sugars as measured using TCID as well as Rb+ to several amino acids.
Heaton received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Utah in 2009. She is currently working at Bydexbasic Research, Salt Lake City, UT.