Author: Rachel Crowley

Rachel enjoys using her medicinal chemistry training to create accessible public health content and engaging science education resources.

Posts by Rachel Crowley

Got Calcium?

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Someone’s hand moving to scroll through this blog post is possible because of a mineral that both gives bones their strength and allows muscles to move: calcium. As the most abundant mineral in our bodies, it’s essential for lots of important functions. It’s found in many foods, medicines, and dietary supplements.

A graphic showing calcium’s symbol “Ca”, atomic number, and atomic weight connected by lines to illustrations of teeth and bones, cheese, and a cement-mixing truck (calcium carbonate is used in construction). Calcium keeps your bones strong, allows your muscles to move, and is important for many other bodily functions. The element is found in foods, medicines, and the world around us. Credit: Compound Interest CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Click to enlarge.
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A Career Launched Through “Transformative” NIGMS-Funded Training Programs 

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Headshot of Dr. Andrade.
Dr. Brenda Andrade. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Brenda Andrade.

Brenda Andrade, Ph.D., assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she first started community college. Through a program at her high school, she’d participated in Saturday morning science labs on the CSULA campus, and that introduction to science led her to think about pursuing some sort of scientific degree. She recalls flipping through the course catalog to the list of science classes needed to transfer to a 4-year university, and “naively going down the list and taking them.”

When a professor asked her if she’d thought about doing research, she responded, “What’s research?” That professor introduced her to the transfer program between the community college and nearby CSULA, and he encouraged her to apply to the NIGMS-funded Bridges to the Baccalaureate Research Training Program. When she did, she was accepted and began a summer research internship working in the lab of Linda Tunstad, Ph.D., a successful chemist with a similar background to Dr. Andrade’s. “That experience set my career trajectory,” she says. “I saw people like me, other Latinx people and people from underrepresented groups, doing research and thriving, like Dr. Tunstad. It really motivated me.”

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Mentoring: It’s In Our Genes

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Anyone who’s spent time in an academic science lab has probably heard about lab culture. Many labs boast long, rigorous working hours, while others require graduate students and postdoctoral trainees (postdocs) to meet often-unattainable experiment quotas each week. But is sheer quantity really the gold standard we want to hold ourselves to when it comes to training the next generation of scientists?

A gold double helix representing DNA with silhouettes of three people helping one another up to the top of the helix’s backbone.
The #MentorFirst logo. Credit: www.MentorFirst.org.

Neil Garg, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and Jen Heemstra, Ph.D., Charles Allen Thomas Professor and chair of the department of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, think not. In fact, they both felt so strongly that this mindset of training is so outdated and detrimental to academic excellence and integrity that they joined together to create
#MentorFirst, an initiative encouraging academics to embrace mentorship in conjunction with research. “As faculty, both research and mentorship are important,” says Dr. Heemstra. “But it makes a huge difference which one we put first.”

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Mentoring Month: NIGMS-Funded Researchers Make Mentoring Meaningful

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Mentoring is a vital part of training the next generation of scientists. Through a variety of programs ranging from the undergraduate to faculty levels, NIGMS fosters the training and the development of a strong and diverse biomedical research workforce.

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, we’re highlighting a few of the many NIGMS-funded researchers who emphasize being great mentors. Check out the snapshots of our interviews with these mentors to see what they think about mentoring and to access and read their full stories.


A headshot of Dr. Bohannon wearing a lab coat.
Dr. Julia Bohannon. Credit: Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Scientist Studies Burn Therapies After Being Severely Burned as a Child
Julia Bohannon, Ph.D., inspired by her own experience of being severely burned as a child, researches therapies that could prevent patients with burns from developing infections. Dr. Bohannon also mentors students, particularly those who hope to be both parents and scientists. “I’ve had a lot of women ask me for advice on how to be a mom and pursue a career in academia, and it’s been a really cool experience to be able to share that with students and trainees,” she says.

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So Much to Do, So Little Selenium Needed

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You may know that antioxidants can help protect your cells from oxidative damage, but do you know about selenium—an element often found in special proteins called antioxidant enzymes? Selenium is essential to your body, which means you must get it from the food you eat. But it’s a trace element so you only need a small amount to benefit from its effects. In addition to its antioxidant properties, it’s also important for reproduction, DNA synthesis, and hormone metabolism.

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Quiz: Antibiotic Resistance and Researchers Studying It

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Antibiotics are a class of drugs that treat bacterial infections. They may seem common now, but they were discovered less than a century ago. In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a scientist studying bacteria, found that mold from his bread kept bacteria from growing. He determined that “mold juice” was able to kill different types of harmful bacteria, and he and his assistants worked to figure out what natural product in the mold was actually causing the killing. It turned out to be penicillin!

Thanks to Fleming’s discovery, doctors have been successfully treating bacterial infections with penicillin and other newer antibiotics. But in recent years, some infections that were once treatable with antibiotics no longer respond to them. Some of these infections can be treated with multiple rounds of different antibiotic treatments, but others aren’t treatable at all—even leading to death in some cases.

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National Chemistry Week: Recent Interviews With NIGMS-Funded Chemists

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Logo that says, “National Chemistry Week,” with a test tube in place of the letter i in the word “chemistry. Credit: ACS Website.

It’s almost National Chemistry Week (NCW)! Each year, the American Chemical Society (ACS) unites scientists, undergraduate students, high school chemistry clubs, and other groups through this community-based program to reach the public—especially elementary and middle school
students—with positive chemistry messages.

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San Diego Postdoctoral Scholars Program Enhances Diversity in Biomedical Research

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“I’m most proud of how this program is truly impacting the diversity of academia by including individuals from backgrounds historically underrepresented in STEM and the biomedical research workforce,” says JoAnn Trejo, Ph.D., professor at University of California San Diego (UCSD) and director of San Diego’s Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA). The program, now in its 20th year of NIGMS funding, aims to train a diverse group of postdoctoral fellows (postdocs) for both the teaching and independent research aspects of a career as a professor in the biomedical sciences.

A group of 19 people standing together and smiling.
San Diego IRACDA program participants from 2018 (left) and 2022 (right). Credit: Courtesy of Dr. JoAnn Trejo.

The San Diego IRACDA focuses on preparing its fellows for tenure-track positions at different types of institutions, including research-intensive universities. Fellows typically go through a 3-year program where they work in a research lab at UCSD, teach at one of the two “partner” schools (both of which are minority-serving institutions), and take career development courses in skillsets like effectively mentoring, running a cutting-edge research lab, and innovatively redesigning undergraduate science courses. Fellows also mentor students at the partner schools, helping them prepare graduate school applications, putting them through mock interviews, educating them in research, and teaching them how to read and understand scientific literature.

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Career Conversations: Q&A with Bioengineer César de la Fuente

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Headshot of Dr. de la Fuente.
Dr. César de la Fuente. Credit: Martí E. Berenguer.

“Science provides adventure and excitement every single day. When you’re pushing boundaries, you get to jump into the abyss of new areas. It can be scary, but it’s an incredible opportunity to try to improve our world and people’s lives,” says César de la Fuente, Ph.D., a Presidential Assistant Professor in the Perelman School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Our interview with Dr. de la Fuente highlights his journey of becoming a scientist and his research using artificial intelligence to discover new drugs.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: I’ve always been fascinated by the world around me. I grew up in a town in northwest Spain, right on the Atlantic Ocean. As a kid, I would go to the beach to investigate marine organisms and bring home all sorts of different fish to study. My mom wasn’t too happy about that! We’re all born scientists, but we tend to lose that curiosity as we enter adulthood. The key is to not lose our ability to learn every day.

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In Other Words: Insult—A “Sick Burn” or a Burn That Makes You Sick?

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You probably think of a rude or offensive remark when you think of the word insult, but to biomedical researchers, an insult is the cause of some kind of injury to the body. Insults can come in a variety of forms, such as an infection or a physical trauma.

Below the title “Insult: In Other Words,” two images are separated by a jagged line. On the left is a woman covering her face with both hands as an eye looks at her and a mouth shouts at her. On the right are spherical bacteria on a rough surface. Under the images, text reads: “Did you know? In biomedical science, an insult is the cause of some kind of injury to the body.”
Credit: NIGMS.
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