Category: Tools and Techniques

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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Research Organism Superheroes: Fruit Flies

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A fruit fly on a yellow fruit.
Credit: iStock.

Those pesky little bugs flying around the overripe bananas in your kitchen may hold the key to understanding something new about how our bodies work. That’s right, the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) is a widely used research organism in genetics because of its superpower of reproducing quickly with similar genes to people.

Researchers have been studying fruit flies for over a century for many reasons. First, they’re easy to please—just keep them at room temperature and feed them corn meal, sugar, and yeast (or those bananas on your counter!). Second, they reproduce more quickly and have shorter life cycles than larger organisms. A female can lay up to a hundred eggs in a day, and those eggs develop into mature adult flies within 10 to 12 days. A third reason is the simplicity of the fruit fly’s genome, which only has four pairs of chromosomes compared to the 23 in humans. And on a logistical note, the male and female flies are easy to tell apart (genetic studies often require separating males and females, which isn’t an easy feat in all organisms).

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Science Snippet: Zooming In on Nanoparticles

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A circle divided into six different, brightly colored slices, each with a different style of nanoparticle. In the center is a gray circle with the word nanoparticles.
Nanoparticles come in many different shapes and configurations. Credit: Adapted from Stevens, et. al., under Creative Commons License 4.0.

Nanoparticles may sound like gadgets from a science fiction movie, but they exist in real life. They’re particles of any material that are less than 100 nanometers (one-billionth of a meter) in all dimensions. Nanoparticles appear in nature, and humans have, mostly unknowingly, used them since ancient times. For example, hair dyeing in ancient Egypt involved lead sulfite nanoparticles, and artisans in the Middle Ages added gold and silver nanoparticles to stained-glass windows. Over the past several decades, researchers have studied nanoparticles for their potential uses in many fields, from computer engineering to biology.

A nanoparticle’s properties can differ significantly from those of larger pieces of the same material. Properties that may change include:

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Curiosity-Driven Science: Q&A With Saad Bhamla

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What do worm blobs and insect pee have to do with human health? We talked to Saad Bhamla, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, to find out.

Q: What did your path to becoming a scientist look like?

A portrait shot of Saad Bhamla.
Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech.

A: I grew up in Dubai and did my undergraduate work in India, which is where I was first introduced to science. The science faculty members seemed to be having so much fun and would say things like “for the love of science,” but I couldn’t figure out what joy they were getting until I got a taste of it myself—then I was hooked. I like the idea that you can create a legacy doing science because someone can come along 100 years later and build on your work.

After undergrad, I went to Stanford University and earned my Ph.D. in the lab of Gerald Fuller, Ph.D., and then stayed at Stanford for postdoctoral work (postdoc) in the lab of Manu Prakash, Ph.D. In 2017, I joined the faculty at Georgia Tech. On paper, I’m a chemical engineer, but I describe myself as more of a biophysicist.

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Research Organism Superheroes: Tardigrades

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A brown, barrel-shaped body with rolls, eight legs, pointy claws, and a round mouth against a green background.
A 3D rendering of a tardigrade. Credit: iStock.

“Water bear” or “moss piglet”? No matter what you call them, tardigrades have secured the title of cutest invertebrate—at least in our book. They’re tiny creatures, averaging about the size of a grain of salt, so while you can spot them with the naked eye, using a microscope is the best way to see them. They earned their nickname of water bear and their official name (which comes from tardigradus, Latin for “slow walker”) because of the way they lumber slowly and deliberately on short, stubby legs.

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Building a Digital Immune System

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A headshot of Dr. Helikar.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Tomas Helikar.

The power of computer code has been a longtime fascination for Tomas Helikar, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). In college, when he learned he could use that power to help researchers better understand biology and improve human health, Dr. Helikar knew he’d found his ideal career. Since then, he’s built a successful team of scientists studying the ways we can use mathematical models in biomedical research, such as creating a digital replica of the immune system that could predict how a patient will react to infectious microorganisms and other pathogenic insults.

A Career in Computational Biology

Dr. Helikar first became involved in computer science by learning how to build a website as a high school student. He was amazed to learn that simple lines of computer code could be converted into a functional website, and he felt empowered knowing that he had created a real product from his computer.

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Using Robots and Artificial Intelligence to Search for New Medicines

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A portrait image of Dr. Gormley, wearing a white lab coat in the laboratory.
Courtesy of Dr. Adam Gormley.

Adam Gormley, Ph.D., describes himself as a creative and adventurous person—albeit, not creative in the traditional sense. “Science allows me to be creative; to me, it’s a form of art. I love being outdoors, going on sailing trips, and spending time adventuring with my family. Research is the same—it’s an adventure. My creative and adventurous sides have combined into a real love for science,” he says. Dr. Gormley currently channels his passion for science into his position as an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Learning How the World Works

Both of Dr. Gormley’s parents worked in science and medicine—his mother as a medical doctor and his father as a physician-scientist—and they instilled in him a curiosity for how the world worked. When he was young, Dr. Gormley and his parents would tinker with cars or boats and fix broken household items together, all the while talking about the individual parts and how they functioned as a whole. “I always had that technical, hands-on side of me,” he says.

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Career Conversations: Q&A With Biochemist Prabodhika Mallikaratchy

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A headshot of Dr. Mallikaratchy.
Credit: CUNY School of Medicine.

“One of the biggest things I hope for in my career is that in 20 years, I still feel the same joy and enthusiasm for research and training that I feel now,” says Prabodhika Mallikaratchy, Ph.D., a professor in the department of molecular, cellular, and biomedical sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Medicine. Dr. Mallikaratchy talks with us about her career path, research on developing new immunotherapies and molecular tools using nucleic acids, and her belief in the importance of being passionate about your career.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: Growing up in Sri Lanka, I was always a curious child. I remember being drawn to science and math, but there was no particular incident that sparked my interest. By the time I reached high school, though, I had become especially interested in chemistry.

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Career Conversations: Q&A With Polymer Chemist Frank Leibfarth

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A headshot of Dr. Leibfarth.
Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Frank Leibfarth.

“I love that you can change the molecular-level structure of a material, then pull it, bend it, or twist it and see firsthand how the molecular changes you introduced influence its stretchiness or bendiness,” says Frank Leibfarth Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. In an interview, Dr. Leibfarth shares with us his scientific journey, his use of chemistry to tackle challenges in human health and sustainability, and his beliefs on what makes a career in science exciting.

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