Blog Posts

My Stem Story By Lianna Friedman

I began my science career at the age of eight when I discovered a circuit kit in the basement of my grandparent’s house. I took the circuit kit home and would play with it for hours trying to put together transistor radios to play music. Since then, I found myself taking special interest in my science classes such as chemistry and biology.  I have also been one to question my surroundings and then take the initiative to find the answers and explore those questions. My curious nature ultimately brought me into science research.

I began carrying out research when I signed up for my school’s research program freshman year of high school. I had an amazing teacher who taught me what science research was all about and how any curiosity can be developed into a project. Each year in the class I worked on a different project and continued to learn more and improve upon my research techniques.. My research in school has been incredibly varied with projects about the effect of swearing in politics to the effect of the pH of food on the survival rate and fitness of fruit flies through many generations.

I was looking for a lab to work in to expand my scientific knowledge, obtain experience working with a mentor, learn new lab techniques, and gain exposure to a field I have not yet explored. My passion for research brought me to the Montclare lab where I am researching hydrogels. Hydrogels are linked polymer networks that can absorb water. [...]

October 7th, 2019|

My Typical Day as a Scientist By Kamia Punia

My day begins with a quick look at my calendar, responding to emails, getting my 6-year-old daughter ready for her school, and family breakfast. My commute to the lab consists of a half hour Staten Island ferry ride to Manhattan that includes beautiful views of the Statue of Liberty and the East river. This also gives me time to reflect on my ongoing research work, and catch up with news..

My lab activity begins with planning the experimental studies of the day with my collaborators and mentees, and following up on the ongoing lab studies after putting on my favorite safety goggles and “fancy bioengineer” lab coat to kick-start the activities of the day.

My major research focus is creating protein engineered materials or “biomaterials” to serve as carrier for drugs to be delivered to treat diseases.  In one of the morning lab sessions, one of my team members and I were imaging the biomaterials using a microscope to explore its ability to bind drugs. We surprisingly observed a dramatic release of drug while illuminating the protein with white light. While we initially found this observation confusing, we later concluded that visible light can be used to trigger the release of our drug from the biomaterial. It has opened up a new avenue in our research biomaterials with the ability to respond to light.


I also like to read recent publications in a couple of leading bioengineering journals, preferably during morning hours to stimulate the thought process and bring in ideas for my own research. As science can be exhilarating and [...]

October 1st, 2019|

Brick Wall of Science By Bonnie Lin

If you are coming here to look for answers on why to enter the world of science, then I am afraid this will disappoint you.

The truth is, as a rising junior pursuing a bachelor degree in biomolecular science, I don’t have a definite answer for you either.

As if being a first-generation college student is not hard enough, I am a woman in an engineering school. Now, I am not talking about the struggle of how women are being outnumbered by men in the field of STEM because I can see this slowly changing around me. I am talking about being a woman pursuing a STEM degree in my family. My sister, who is 10 years older than me and the first one to attend college, pursued a business degree like many of my other female cousins. Growing up, I have always looked up to my sister, and often followed her examples. Entering high school, I had my future all planned out. I decided to major in accounting when I applied to college. Why? The answer is quite simple: It is easy to find a job and make decent money; it was a common major for women to pursue; and I had always been pretty good at math (at least in high school). Having planned everything out, I shocked not only my parents but myself as well when I told them I wanted to pursue biomolecular science. When they asked me why, I couldn’t come up with an answer. Their doubt and uncertainty in my decision added on to my uncertainty of whether or not I chose the right path.

September 16th, 2019|

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|