Blog Posts

Are GMOs that scary? by Jacob Kronenberg

Jacob Kronenberg kayaking with his mom, Heidi.

           Working with genetic engineering means I have to field a lot of questions when I’m home for the holidays. My health-conscious mother always makes sure to buy organic, free-range, “chemical-free” products, so when food labeled GMO-free started popping up, she made sure to get that too. In the produce section at Whole Foods I’d hear, “Jake, can you believe what those scientists do, with all this unnatural, genetically-modified Frankenstein crap they’re trying to feed us? When I was little, we just had regular strawberries and regular corn, none of these humongous GMO plants. Not to mention how Big Pharma is making mutant drugs to put in people’s bodies… C’mon, you’re a scientist now, what do you think of it?”

           This is a loaded question. All scientists are ambassadors to the community, and it’s important to dispel myths about our fields, especially when it comes to widely misunderstood topics. From zombie movies to GATTACA, genetic engineering has always been painted in a dystopic light. It also doesn’t help that agricultural use of GMOs doesn’t exactly have a clean record. Chemical-resistant crops have encouraged the use of harmful pesticides, most famously Roundup, and many large ag-tech companies have aggressive policies gatekeeping access to their designer crops. With information and misinformation obscuring knowledge of science, it can be tough to know what to say.

           I tell people who ask my thoughts on genetic engineering not to write off a whole discipline because of a few groups. GMO crops like golden rice can improve access to nutrition in developing countries and don’t pose much [...]

September 9th, 2019|

My First Weeks of Summer Research By Matthew Moulton

Matthew M

My name is Matthew Moulton and I am a rising senior attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science Art. After I graduate I plan to work as a chemical engineer. I applied to the NYU MRSEC REU program to gain experience and to explore a different scientific field. As part of the program, I am working as a research assistant in the Montclare Lab located in New York University Tandon School of Engineering.

This laboratory focuses on protein engineering. Essentially, the researchers create proteins with a desired outcome. For the summer, I am working with the protein Q. Q’s structure is best described as a bundle of coils. Previous research has shown that at high enough concentrations Q forms fibers that cross-link to form a hydrogel. A hydrogel is a network of polymer chains that are hydrophilic. Hydrogels are used for drug delivery and tissue engineering but most hydrogels are made from synthetic polymers. Hydrogels made from proteins like Q are more bio compatible. My job is to determine the range of conditions that this gel can form under.

q Protein

Q Protein

In order to produce Q ,researchers use bacteria as the factories to produce protein. Here are the steps:

  • The first step in this process is transformation. In this step a DNA (also known as plasmid, shown below in red) that encodes the Q protein is inserted into the bacteria host or factory. For our project we use a heat shock protocol. When the bacteria are exposed to [...]
August 30th, 2019|

The rationale behind the dual MD/PhD degree By Andrew Wang

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(Image source)

One of the first questions I get asked by many people when I tell them that I am an MD/PhD candidate is “Why?” Usually I reply with some flippant answer about stacking degrees next to my name or avoiding a job, which gets some chuckles. However, for anyone considering whether to pursue the degree, this is just part of the story.

Many authors more eloquent than me have written about the increasing need for physician-scientists. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has put together a helpful graphic showing the pathway of a physician-scientist, whether through a dual MD/PhD degree or a solo MD. While you do not necessarily need a PhD degree in order to conduct research as a physician, you do need an MD to see patients, and the dual degree offers a number of benefits beyond either individual degree. For me the MD/PhD degree is a marriage of the humanistic and technical parts of medicine and allows me to help patients both in the future and in the present. I’m hoping it will allow me to explore topics at the intersection of medicine and technology where historically there has been a disconnect in expertise.

The sheer complexity of the human body, and its variability between individuals, makes a medical and clinical perspective very useful when designing new therapies or diagnostics. In my field of biomedical engineering, in tackling these challenges it is often easy to reduce patients to “subjects” or “users”. We are sometimes guilty of fitting a patient to a solution rather [...]

August 15th, 2019|

My Unexpected Venture into Science by Julia Monkovic

My Unexpected Venture into Science
By: Julia Monkovic

julia 1

Every time I visited my grandparents’ house as a kid, I was always a little scared to go into my grandpa’s office because of a giant picture of what I thought was a bug hanging on the wall. Closely followed by my dad, I grew up thinking my grandpa was the smartest person in the world. What I didn’t know about them was their common passion for STEM – both of them are chemists. Years later, this childhood vision still holds true. As it turns out, that big picture of a bug is actually the structure of an organic molecule my grandpa synthesized that’s now being used as a nausea treatment for chemotherapy patients. Starting with him and passing through my dad, science has crawled through my family and somehow made its way to me – something I never would’ve guessed just a couple of years ago.

julia 2

Despite the amount of science present in my family, as I grew older I became more and more resistant toward the field. In high school, my interests circled around reading and playing the flute – I didn’t enjoy the science classes I took, finding them boring, intimidating, and not for me. So in my senior year of high school when it came time to deciding what to study in college, my [...]

August 5th, 2019|

Succeeding at Failing By Michael Meleties

Michael Graphic 2
Succeeding at Failing
By Michael Meleties

I’ve never had a failed experiment; is that because I’m the smartest person who’s never made a wrong move and deserves all the awards?

I’d love to believe that, but I think it actually comes down to how you respond to perceived failures. Failed experiments can be defined as experiments that do not meet the proposed objective. I’d postulate that the broader objective of each experiment is to continue gaining knowledge, so as long as something has been learned, the experiment is by definition a success.

This even holds true in something as mundane as setting up a dialysis bag. Dialysis is used to separate molecules in solution, using a membrane which is clipped at both ends, forming the dialysis bag. I’ve dropped dialysis bags (they’re slippery!) and even lost samples multiple times in my work. While I was frustrated with myself for not being able to accomplish something so simple and thought I was failing at doing this, what I eventually realized is that with each “failed” attempt I was actually learning what works for me in setting up dialysis. It started with setting up a boat to catch any dropped sample, and towards the latter stages I felt out more efficient ways of holding the bag to prevent slippage. Over time my entire set-up was optimized so that everything was where it needed to be when I made dialysis bags.

Dialysis is a small task that is common in protein engineering labs, so how does that make me a successful researcher? It doesn’t. The success [...]

July 29th, 2019|

The GRC Magic by Priya Katyal

The GRC Magic

Recently, I had the privilege to attend the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) at Waterville Valley, NH. For those who are unfamiliar with GRCs, GRC is considered very prestigious with admissions contingent upon acceptance of an application. These meetings are typically attended by world renowned experts from leading institutions and industries. The conference has a ‘unique format’ where you can interact freely with the experts.

When I came across the GRC on Preclinical Form and Formulation for Drug Discovery in late March, I realized that I had missed the deadline to submit the abstract for an oral presentation. Fortunately, the poster abstract submissions were still open. In filling out the application form, one has to justify conference attendance and contribution to the meeting. My advisor mentioned that many people apply to these conferences but not all are accepted and asked me to come up with a thoughtful answer. I still remember I struggled in formulating the best answer, with my inner critic dragging me down at each response. I was turning down my own application as I was afraid of not getting selected. After wrestling with my thoughts, I finally put together my reasons for attending the conference. However, I was still not satisfied; I had become a prisoner of my own mind, striving for perfection. After receiving feedback and reassurance from my mentor, I was finally set free from my own self-doubt. Besides discussing the aspects of my work and its impact on human health, I also included how attending GRC would expand and improve my future experimental/scientific approaches, and most importantly the value of gaining feedback from experts in the field that together make such work possible. I finalized [...]

July 15th, 2019|

Professor Montclare- Opening Post

Open advice to new PhD students

Recently, a former high school student researcher I have worked with emailed me for advice on pursuing her Ph.D. and an academic career. In the email, she noted how in attending scientific meetings, she noticed the lack of women investigators and expressed how it bothered her that women are treated “differently.”

“Differently”…as soon as I saw that word, it immediately struck a chord with me. As much as I wanted to shield her, I knew I could not. With the NASEM report on sexual harassment etched in the back of my mind, I had many layers of concerns, especially for women. Fortunately, I had a supportive PhD advisor, Alanna Schepartz, who at the time was the only tenured female faculty in the department. She was my biggest cheerleader and when she once overheard me doubt my ability in the lab, she encouraged me to continue on my path and simply assured me I was more than capable. And while it was wonderful to be supported, there were unfortunately others (faculty/ students) who were not. So I thought hard about my experience and the things I have done in light of being treated “differently.”

As I thought, the words just fell into place. Below is an excerpt of my reply.

“My advice for what you should do in your Ph.D. is to first work for someone who is supportive. This is crucial. No matter how exciting science may be, if your advisor is not supportive, it will be an uphill battle…science is tough enough, so adding an unsupportive advisor is not worth it and can derail many young scientists.

Focus on doing good science and make sure [...]

July 1st, 2019|