I am a 2nd year MSc. student in physics, at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Sudbury Ontario on January 28th, 1992. My mother (in the same hospital) was born on January 27th, '64, and my grandmother on January 26th! I am living in the city of Coquitlam in the beautiful province of British Columbia. Some of my favourite past time activities are hiking, camping and mountain biking. Recently, I started taking running seriously and just completed my first 10km race in May.
What is your research about?
Imagine you’re standing in an empty room against a wall facing a door. You’re holding a ball (‘resources’), and in order to continue living you must get the resources through the door. Now, if you walked around the room completely randomly, it would take a long time to transport those resources (analogous to random thermal motion in liquid). Life has developed specialized machines called molecular motors that transport resources directionally on a track, taking the ‘ball’ exactly where it needs to go. In our lab we design and implement man-made artificial molecular motors, and compare them to biological ones.
What have you enjoyed the most about your research?
Our research involves a close collaboration with scientists from Lund, University in Sweden. I was able to travel to Lund, all expenses paid, and take part in designing experiments and learned how to use some of their advanced solid state facilities. Of course, I also explored the beautiful country of Sweden and spent some time in Copenhagen, Denmark. My favourite ‘research experience’ is every time I get a new result in the lab, I love new data!
What have you found most challenging about your research?
During my Bachelor’s at McMaster I focused on taking physics and math oriented classes (a few philosophy classes as well). I found summer employment in solid-state physics, and did my thesis in polymer physics. The most challenging aspect of my current research is that I am required to do a lot of chemistry, for which I have no background in. This means I spend a lot of time looking things up.
How has your research experience influenced your career path?
I love physics and I love research, it is what I want to do with my life. I have done research in multiple different fields: solid-state (working with crystals), theoretical polymer physics, and now in biophysics working with molecular motors. I believe all of my past experiences will help shape my decisions for my future. After my current project is finished I could see myself enjoying research in any number of physics related areas.
How has your research impacted the world?
Molecular motors are the work horses of the cellular world. They play a large part in keeping cells healthy through transportation of resources and mediating the construction of ‘cellular pathways’ like microtubules and actin filaments. When these motors malfunction, usually due to a bad mutation that changes their structure, the results manifest themselves in various diseases such as arthritis, metastasis, and have also been found to play a roll in alzheimer’s disease.
What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?
My particular field is concerned with the design and implementation of artificial molecular motors. These artificial motors are constructed by us scientists and then tested in assays. If we were able to understand exactly how biological molecular motors behave so incredibly efficiently, and maintain uni-directional movement, then we would have a huge advantage when it comes to intelligently designing motors for advanced cellular applications. Such applications could involve efficient and directed prescription drug delivery.
What motivates you to do research?
When I was in high school I had no idea what it meant to be a ‘scientist’. I was blessed to be taught grade 12 physics by an amazing teacher, Mr. Gillespie. After class I asked him all about black holes, light, space, time, the quantum world, and a slew of other topics that I had heard about but did not yet understand. He had the patience to sit down and field my questions, until one day he started handing me books. My curiosity led me to pursue physics in my bachelors, which opened up the whole world of research.
Tell us about your 'Eureka' moment
I have had two eureka moments. The first was when my simulation code for my bachelor’s thesis finally compiled and ran properly, I was extremely excited and went on to explore a lot of interesting polymer physics. The second was more recent, when we finally got our artificial molecular motor, ‘The Lawnmower’, working on an artificially designed track. It was extremely satisfying to know we had properly designed everything to work together!