Author: Kimberly Smith

Kim is a biomedical researcher turned science writer who loves creating accessible science content that encourages enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and math in kids and adults.

Posts by Kimberly Smith

Advancing Endometriosis Research With Caroline Appleyard

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A headshot of Dr. Appleyard.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Caroline B. Appleyard.

The job opening at Ponce Health Sciences University (PHSU) in Ponce, Puerto Rico—home to great coral reefs—seemed like a perfect fit for Caroline B. Appleyard, Ph.D., given that scuba diving was one of her favorite hobbies. She only intended to stay for a short time, but now, more than 25 years later, Dr. Appleyard is a professor of physiology and pharmacology and program director of the NIGMS-funded Graduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (G-RISE) at PHSU.

An Interest in Inflammation

Growing up in Scotland, Dr. Appleyard was captivated by a children’s show with science demonstrations that helped kids and teens understand the world around them. She enjoyed studying biology and chemistry, and in high school, joined a lab at a local university that studied pharmacology. Her lab project studying the medicine aspirin ultimately solidified her interest in a career in research.

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Analyzing Aggression in Female Fruit Flies: Q&A With Caroline Palavicino-Maggio

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A headshot of Dr. Palavicino-Maggio.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Caroline Palavicino-Maggio.

“Turning personal grief into a relentless drive for answers and action has been a big part of my life,” says Caroline Palavicino-Maggio, Ph.D., the director of the Neurobiological Mechanisms of Aggression Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Her sister’s death played a large role in her decision to study the biological mechanisms of behavior and do advocacy work in mental wellness. We spoke with Dr. Palavicino-Maggio about what her path was to becoming a researcher, what she’s learning about the cellular basis of aggression, and why she believes a career in science is exciting.

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Martin Burke: Replacing Lost Proteins to Treat Disease

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As a medical student, Martin Burke, M.D., Ph.D., helped care for a young college student with cystic fibrosis (CF), an inherited disease that affects the body’s ability to make sweat and mucus. Dr. Burke had just studied CF in class, so he relayed what he had learned to her. He had a lot of information to give—doctors and researchers know the exact amino acid changes in an ion channel protein called cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) that cause CF.

A portrait shot of Dr. Martin Burke standing in front of complex machinery.
Credit: UIUC News Bureau, Fred Zwicky.

“At one point in the conversation, she stopped me and said, ‘It sounds like you know exactly what’s wrong with me, so why can’t you fix it?’” Dr. Burke, now the May and Ving Lee Professor for Chemical Innovation at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), never forgot this question. In fact, it’s inspired his career-long search for new ways to develop therapies for diseases without effective treatment options.

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What Is the Microbiome?

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Have you ever noticed a skin care product advertised as “microbiome friendly” and wondered what that meant? The microbiome is the collection of all the microbes—including bacteria, viruses, and fungi—that live in a specific environment, such as on the skin or in the digestive tract.

Escherichia coli bacteria shown as several brown, oblong ovals.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacterial species commonly found in the human intestine. While some strains of E. coli cause foodborne illness, others are helpful members of the gut microbiome.
Credit: Mark Ellisman and Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, University of California, San Diego.

It’s a common misconception that all microbes are harmful—in truth, much of the human microbiome is made up of microbes that form beneficial symbiotic relationships with us. Microbiome-friendly skin care products don’t have antimicrobial properties that could harm the beneficial bacteria that live on our skin.

Your Microbiome and You

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Science Snippet: Examining Enzymes

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An enzyme shown as a connected complex of colored ribbons and flat sheets.
Structure of a pyruvate kinase, an enzyme that adds a phosphate group to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Credit: PDB 7UEH.

Every day, our cells must produce all the various molecules they need to stay alive. But the chemical reactions to create these molecules can’t occur without help—which is where enzymes come in. Enzymes are biological catalysts, meaning they speed up the rate of specific chemical reactions by reducing the amount of energy needed for the reaction to occur. Most enzymes are proteins, but some RNA molecules can also act as enzymes.

Thousands of different enzymes catalyze the vast range of reactions that take place within cells, but each enzyme typically supports one of the following types of tasks:

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Quiz: Do You Know Your Immune System?

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This post is part of a miniseries on the immune system. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.
Cartoon microbes with smiley faces forming the shape of a question mark.
Credit: NIGMS.

Throughout our immunology miniseries, we introduced the immune system and its many functions and components. Additionally, we highlighted how vaccines train your immune system, how the system can go awry, and how NIGMS-supported researchers are studying immunology and infectious diseases. Put your knowledge about the immune system to the test by taking the quiz below.

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Amie Fornah Sankoh Achieves a Scientific Dream

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A headshot of Dr. Amie Fornah Sankoh.
Credit: LinkedIn.

“I wanted to give up so many times. Although I tried to remain positive, I never thought I’d be able to finish my Ph.D. But I made it, and I’m extremely proud of myself,” says Amie Fornah Sankoh, Ph.D., a research scientist with Dow Chemical Company who received NIGMS support as a graduate student.

Human and Plant Communication

Dr. Sankoh has loved science and mathematics since she was just a child growing up in Sierra Leone. When she was 3 years old, Dr. Sankoh became deaf from a childhood disease. Math, unlike other subjects, is very visual, which played a part in her interest in it. “Before I learned American Sign Language when I was 15 years old, I could only understand one language: mathematics,” Dr. Sankoh says.

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Developing Low-Cost Lab Techniques: Q&A With Abraham Badu-Tawiah

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A headshot of Dr. Abraham Badu-Tawiah.
Credit: Ohio State University.

“I never thought I could make an impact on chemistry and students’ lives. But now, I’m the head of a lab with several Ph.D. and undergraduate students and a postdoctoral researcher; and we’re developing simple, low-cost lab techniques that can be adopted by labs across the world,” says Abraham Badu-Tawiah, Ph.D., the Robert K. Fox Professor of Chemistry at Ohio State University in Columbus. We talked with Dr. Badu-Tawiah about his career progression, research, and advice for students hoping to launch a career in science.

Q: How did you get started on the path to a career in science?

A: In Ghana, where I grew up, education works differently than in the United States. High school students are assigned subjects to study primarily based on their grades, and once assigned a subject, it’s difficult to switch. I was assigned to math, physics, and chemistry, which put me on a path toward being an engineer. I was happy to be studying science, but after the death of my brother, I wanted to study medicine more than engineering.

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What Does an Immunologist Do?

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This post is part of a miniseries on the immune system. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series that you may have missed.

Immunology is the study of the immune system, including all the cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect you from germs. A person who studies immunology is called an immunologist, and there are three types:

  • Researchers, who study the immune system in the laboratory to understand how it works or how it can go awry and find new treatments for immune system-related diseases
  • Doctors, who diagnose and care for patients with diseases related to the immune system, such as food allergies or immunodeficiency
  • Physician-scientists, who are both researchers and doctors and divide their time between the clinic and the laboratory
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