CURF Introduction: Touching the Invisible

Hi everyone! My name is Richard and I am a freshman majoring in Biology, minoring in Computer Science, Sociology, and Chemistry, as well as pursuing a certificate in Global Health. A fun fact about me is that I’m an avid tennis player and have even worked as a private tennis coach for two summers!

Right now, my professional goals are still up in the air, but I think I would like to go into both medicine and research by going to medical school and possibly pursuing an MD-PhD, specializing in oncology and cancer research. As a matter of fact, in addition to my CURF project, I am researching mechanisms of cell cycle regulation as it relates to cancer in the Aird Lab at Hillman Cancer Center!

For the Spring 2022 semester, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with Dr. Zuzana Swigonova for my Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship. My project involves modeling biological macromolecular structures, mostly proteins, and 3D printing the digital models. From there, the models are then used in university classrooms for educational purposes.

What is especially cool about my involvement in this project is that I actually started from the side of a student interacting with 3D models in Dr. Swigonova’s Foundations of Biology class. After talking to her after class one day, I was invited to join her project and I am now on the other side of the models, building and printing the structures that are used in a class that I am currently still taking. Because of this, I know firsthand how beneficial these models can be toward a student’s education in the biological sciences.

In addition to researching, building, and printing the models, I will also be conducting further research to develop supplementary materials to aid in understanding macromolecular structures. Since the physical 3D models are typically only available in the classroom, there is a limited scope where they can be used. A lot of learning takes place outside the classroom, so the supplementary models are digital versions of the printed models that can be used and viewed from any computer. For example, these supplementary materials include picture sheets with various representations of each model. Whereas each model is only 3D printed as one representation (the one that is most structurally stable as a 3D print), with the picture sheets I can depict the proteins with as many representations as I think will be useful for understanding protein structure.

Example of a picture sheet for an insulin monomer (PDB 5BTS)

Dr. Swigonova already has a library of models from her past work, but my CURF will be expanding the library with supplementary materials as well as new models. As an example, I have already worked on supplementary materials for molecules like DNA, insulin, zinc-finger motifs, etc. During the term of my CURF I plan to research and model new proteins such as phosphofructokinase, p53, and ATP synthase, just to name a few.

This project and the CURF have made me realize that research is more broad than I ever knew. I think a misconception many freshmen have is that research is simply laboratory work, but my CURF project is quite different! Since research means so much more than just lab work, I believe that research is for everyone. No matter your discipline and interests, there is always research to be done and the CURF is a great way to get you started on your journey!

One Comment Add yours

  1. shinwookim says:

    Congratulations on your fellowship, Richard! Looking forward to seeing how your research progress through this semester and beyond!

Leave a Reply