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Livin’ Like a Protein

Livin’ Like a Protein

Joshua Senior

Would you believe me if I told you that during Career Day in fourth grade, I told my homeroom teacher I wanted to be a protein when I grow up?

 

Neither would I. That is why I’m saying it now.

 

Don’t worry, you read that correctly. As a seventeen-year-old, I currently dream of becoming a protein when I grow up (even though I’m ‘grown’ in my sister’s eyes). Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “This kid’s absolutely insane.” My answer? Maybe. See, this isn’t the typical profession you would fill out a job application for, yet this hasn’t inhibited my imagination from chasing the impossible.

 

Sadly, my career aspirations of becoming a fully-functional protein don’t involve physically interacting with DNA histones or translocating across numerous cellular membranes. In fact, my fascination with becoming this macromolecular complex rests not in the specific operations of the protein molecule, but simply in its multifaceted nature.

 

Similar to proteins, my intellectual building blocks significantly contribute to my profound attachment to science. Since the age of eight, I’ve always been captivated by science. It wasn’t the vibrant school science fairs or the endless Bill Nye episodes in science class that caught my interest. No, my love for science came in the form of storytelling. Equipped with her daily experiences in the OR, my mother’s “bedtime tales” were engaging recounts of hospital cases she handled. Her medical sagas not only intrigued my sprouting scientific imagination, but her soothing voice always put me fast asleep.

 

As I grew older, this budding curiosity for science soon flourished, folding like proteins into an extensive love for Biology. During high school, I have found my personal active site in the major of Biological Sciences, and I plan to never unbind from this substrate of knowledge. Although I am one of few African-American students in the world of STEM, science has provided a channel of comfort. No matter if I am learning about the denaturing of enzymatic proteins under various pH environments in the classroom, or implementing mutations to Phosphotriesterase Enzymes sequence for computational research from the comfort of my home, my passion for STEM continues to break down the obstacles I confront being the an underrepresented minority student. There’s something therapeutic in studying science, and in doing so, I’ve discovered a very important theory: I already embody a protein.

To test this conjecture, I’ve decided to create an experimental design comparing me to two of the main types of proteins (Membrane proteins already have enough going on). Since I am a “scientist”, I thought I would provide to you with a detailed representation of the rigorous complexity of my testing.

 

 

Experimental Test 1: Globular Protein- Phosphotriesterase Enzymes

 

Like the Phosphotriesterase Enzymes I work with in the lab, which are globular proteins crucial in the enzymatic activities of the metabolic reactions all throughout eukaryotic organisms, I’m motivated to be a catalyst for change. Whether I’m volunteering at the soup kitchen during school holidays, or simply helping my sister with her biology homework every night, I relish in helping to activate positive change throughout my community. My pursuit to catalyze these outcomes has also propelled me to actively advocate against the detrimental impacts of climate change and environmental racism on underrepresented minority communities. Pushed by my power of service over self, I plan to use my “protein-like” functions to effectuate beneficial transformations greater than myself.

 

Experimental Test 2: Fibrous Proteins – COMPcc and Elastin Proteins

Cartilage oligomeric matrix (COMPcc) proteins and elastin proteins are fibrous proteins that play a key biological role in structural support in the body. In ways alike, I parallel their important responsibilities on the basketball court. As a point guard, I consistently provide foundational support to my teammates through signaling defensive play-calls and pointing out directions to initiate our offensive strategy, all while making sure our team-chemistry stays optimal. With my voice, I am able to bring the important directives of my coach to my teammates in quick fashion, carrying out our key plays in order to beat our opponents. The significant functions of these fibrous proteins is exemplified by my basketball identity, and I plan to add more qualities to this identity to create better victories not just for me, but my teammates.

 

 

While interning in the Montclare Lab, I have found that my “protein” aspiration extends far beyond myself and these three proteins. Through my protein computational design work, I’ve developed quite a remarkable hypothesis: we should all be proteins! With the twenty-one essential amino acids there exists hundreds of thousands of diverse protein structures, and I’ve theorized that there is a protein molecule to symbolize every one of our diverse characters. Through these protein identities, we will find new connections among each other stemming from the unique backbones we hold. We all hold a piece to a puzzle, a substrate to an enzyme, an important responsibility to another person, so let’s link our diversified personalities together like amino acids on a peptide chain to synthesize ravishing multi-dimensional complexes that will never denature. After, we can all share my dream of becoming a protein, and I can make my fourth grade teacher proud.

Using Science as a Foundation

Lizbet Rodriguez

If I had been asked to categorize myself before this summer, I would have responded, “student” or potentially “intern”. I wouldn’t have dared to define myself as a scientist. During my summer internship with the Montclare Lab, my mentor often referred to my lab partner and me as scientists. I was uncomfortably aware of my feeling as an imposter. However, being labeled as a scientist did get me thinking about who can be a scientist; I was reminded of an experience I had years ago.

When I was seven, I remember my dental hygienist asking my dentist, “What made you want to become a dentist?” Contrary to what I had imagined he would say, the doctor responded, “Actually, I chose to become a scientist first”. As many do, I overlooked doctors as scientists. Doctors might have a different specialization, but they are first trained in the field of science. Some doctors even dedicate their time solely to scientific research! I had defined too narrow a scope for scientists, both excluding my doctor and myself.

 

            

                  ARISE participant Lizbet Rodriguez presenting her virtual poster

 I never imagined I could possess the knowledge it takes to become a scientist. However, as I explored deeper into my lab assignments, I came to the beautiful realization that being a scientist does not necessarily mean being the most brilliant. Being a scientist means having the patience to conduct thorough research and experiments. It means having the ability to persevere despite setbacks or flaws. It means being an inquirer about the unknown. Although my biggest dream is to one day become an Optometrist, I am happily realizing that just like my dentist, I too have chosen to become a scientist first. Slowly, yet proudly, I am beginning to identify myself as a real scientist.

My Journey Into Science

 

My Journey Into Science

Jakub Legocki
Editor Eliza Neidhart

 

“Hey!  What are you doing in there?!?!”

        my mom yelled, muffled outside the bathroom door

“One second Mom, I’ll be right out!”

         I belted in my six-year-old soprano

I was racing to mix every possible soap, cleaner, cream, perfume, you name it, into a plastic cup. Why, you might ask? Well, I had to see whether I’d be able to get some bubbles, smoke, or even an explosion! Of course, nothing happened with the exception of a bubble or two, but my experimenting wasn’t done there. I placed the cup into the freezer to see whether freezing would have any effect. Again, nothing particularly exciting occured. As one last roll of the dice, I left the cup out in my sunny backyard. Maybe now something would happen! Again, nothing. Though these “failures” might set back many young scientists, not me!

My test-everything phase would continue; eventually, my parents became sufficiently frustrated to encounter emptied cleaning bottles that they got me a science kit from Toys R’ Us to use instead. Unfortunately, I don’t have too many memories with that kit, though I know I did end up using it. Meanwhile, my hunger for experimentation and discovery continued unabated. I explored perfume-making kits, gemstone and fossil discovery kits, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. My long-term dream was to have my own lab coat, and having my very own lab would be pretty cool too.

Science kit

One of my first science kits

While my own lab will still have to wait, I eventually got that lab coat in my high school AP Chemistry class. In high school, I took any science class available to me and focused on doing as well as possible. Anything less than an A was a failure in my eyes, even though my parents were always proud of me for trying my best. I knew that if I wanted to have a career as a scientist, I would need to push myself. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult to find motivation. Learning more about the world was exciting!

 

Though my goals have changed over time, I still find myself wanting to do scientific work in any capacity. My current goals are to get a bachelor’s degree (or further) in chemical and biomolecular engineering. Ideally, I’d like to specialize in protein engineering. While I’m not taking part in hands-on experiments right now, I’m working towards my goals by doing computational protein design as a part of the Montclare Lab. It has been amazing! While my journey is nowhere near finished, I never could have imagined that I’d be so well poised to achieve my goals. From mixing soaps and perfumes to working on proteins which can be used to help others, I’ve made big steps towards reaching my childhood dream. However, I’m not going to stop here. Who knows, maybe that six-year-old experimenting with everything will end up with his very own lab after all!

Finding Meaning in Science

By Yifei Wang

 

A few years ago, my best friend was diagnosed with medullary sponge kidney, a condition which currently has no effective treatment. Medullary sponge kidney is a rare disease causing frequent kidney stones and urinary tract infections. In rare cases, like my friend’s, the patient gradually loses kidney function, ultimately resulting in kidney failure.

At the time of my friend’s diagnosis, I was an undergraduate student majoring in biochemistry. I struggled with my major because it was not what I expected. I had imagined I would only need to understand biology for my major. Instead, multiple subjects including chemistry, math, and physics, were needed to build up appropriate knowledge to fully understand biology. Some subjects were boring, or even frustrating to learn. I wasn’t enjoying my courses and considered changing my major. But, once my friend was diagnosed, I suddenly had motivation to continue studying biochemistry. I set a goal to one day find a cure for him.

I continued to push through my unexciting courses and began working in the lab where I started to enjoy science. Hands-on research made the conceptual knowledge of textbooks tangible and easier to understand. In the lab, I could solve problems incrementally, though many small jumps in understanding.

I loved science even more upon designing a prototype system in my Anatomy class to help patients such as my friend improve their quality of life. After completing the project and presenting it to the class, I felt for the first time that my science could truly help people. This gave me the courage to continue with my coursework.

Hopefully in the future I can complete my goal of finding a cure for patients like my friend. I feel great studying science because I am applying my studies to help people. While I have not yet made a direct impact on patient health, I can appreciate that I’m reaching my goal step by step. With science, my life is meaningful.

Connect with me on Twitter @Laplata1021

Getting Comfortable

By Michael Meleties

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When I was first applying to graduate school, I initially wanted to remain at the institution where I completed my undergraduate degree. It was a good school, close to home, and I was comfortable there. When my professor suggested that it would be difficult to do that, I was stunned. It just didn’t make sense to me. After my professor explained that the conventional thought in the engineering field is that students shouldn’t do their graduate work at the same place they do their undergraduate degree in order to “learn a different way of thinking”, I relented in my pursuit to stay where I was comfortable.

Fast forward a couple of months and I was starting my graduate studies at NYU. I was excited as I was joining a growing department that looked poised to become a powerhouse in engineering and I was able to stay in New York. Of course, along with my excitement came an air of nervousness, natural when starting somewhere new. Eventually, with time I became more comfortable and everything was going smoothly.

At the end of my second year at NYU, I was given the opportunity to do research at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Dayton, Ohio for one month. I knew this opportunity was too good to pass up and that I would have to be well-prepared to make the most of my time there. I spent the weeks leading up to the summer testing different conditions and trying to find the ideal parameters for my experiments, eventually arriving to what I thought were ideal conditions. I had all the work I would completed at the AFRL planned out, and assumed everything would go according to plan (spoiler alert: never assume this in science).

I arrived in Ohio, and on the second day there I found out that some of the materials I needed for my protein purification weren’t available. I knew there were multiple methods of protein purification, but I had grown accustomed to the protocol I perform in my lab at NYU, and because of the limited time I had, I wanted to stick to what I was used to. After a period of anxiety and not knowing what to do, I contacted my lab mates back in New York on how I should proceed. The general consensus of the advice I received was to just get on with it. I was able to rework the protocol based on the available materials and instrumentation and still got the same results.

I consider my experience at NYU to have given me my first way of thinking, as it was my first exposure to research. It wasn’t until my third week in Dayton that I finally understood what my undergraduate professor meant when they said I needed to learn different ways of thinking. It seems like the perfect example that one of my purposes in spending time at the AFRL was to get trained in differential dynamic microscopy. I already had knowledge of multiparticle tracking, from my work at NYU. These methods are both microrheological techniques where tracer particles are introduced into a solution with the aim of getting information on the mechanical properties of the solution. While both methods have the same raw data (videos/image stacks of tracer particle movement in the sample) and the same results should be obtained, the methods of analysis to arrive at the results are what’s different. Each method has advantages and disadvantages relative to others (including ones I’m not as familiar with), so it is important to consider which would be more suitable for the experiment at hand.

(Left to Right) Dr. Zach Reinert, Me, Dr. Rhett Martineau, Dr. Maneesh Gupta

 

The experience I obtained in Dayton was beneficial for me in two ways. On a small scale, I was trained in the implementation of differential dynamic microscopy, a technique that I will be using throughout my studies. On a larger scale, the words of my undergraduate professor were validated and I see the value in experiencing new things and seeing how things are done in different labs. My advice to the reader would be to not be afraid to seek out opportunities that push you out of your comfort zone; eventually you’ll find that it’s the best way to make your comfort zone bigger!

 

They told me I haven’t been to Dayton unless I go to the Air Force Museum, so here I am!