Biophysical Society Summer Research Program: A Novel Internship for the Science-Addicted

My name is Manuel Castro, I am a rising senior at Arizona State University, and my major is Biochemistry with a focus in medicinal chemistry. From a relatively young age, I knew that my love of science was considerably broad. I enjoy the fields of chemistry, biology, and physics; through undergraduate lab reseCastro,Manuel headshotarch opportunities, I became more familiar with the interdisciplinary concept of biophysics, and subsequently, the breadth and depth associated with this area of study. When my lab mentor told me about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program, I enthusiastically applied.

At Arizona State, I work in an NMR lab that focuses on characterizing the structure and function of membrane proteins. Under Dr. Wade Van Horn, my work in his lab has helped direct me towards achieving a career within the large realm of biophysics; namely, structural biology. Upon receiving my acceptance letter to the BPS Summer Program, I began looking into various professors at UNC Chapel Hill that complemented my interests. I quickly found Dr. Matt Redinbo, a professor whose lab also focuses in the structural and chemical biology of proteins involved in human disease, but with X-ray diffraction instead.

Coming from an NMR lab, I entered Dr. Redinbo’s crystallography lab with the intention of exploring the structural biology spectrum more broadly. I really wanted to learn X-ray crystallography first hand to help me decide this coming year where to focus my applications for graduate school programs. I expected my work in Dr. Redinbo’s lab would be very general, including making buffers, cleaning dishes, etc. To my pleasant surprise, the same day I met Dr. Redinbo in person, he already had me setting up crystal trays. Within a few more weeks into the BPS course, I was shadowing graduate students using the x-ray source, which I consider my favorite part of the summer course thus far. In addition to the research, I have learned a lot about scientific communication. We give presentations which help train us for graduate-level coursework by having us present on what their research is about and the direction it is headed.

The program also offers classes that introduce important topics of physical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics. For those who have taken those classes, the course serves as a wonderful review; for those that have not, it is a fantastic introduction to central themes of biophysical studies. These are formal courses with important feedback such graded assignments and quizzes; however, the courses are not for credit. This promotes a comfortable learning environment for students of all levels of education and disciplines.

Overall, I think that this summer has been one of the best of my life so far. The BPS Summer Program allowed me to travel across the country and make new friends from various fields and interests. I would strongly suggest this internship to anyone who is passionate about science, and I have no regrets when I reflect upon my stay at UNC Chapel Hill.

BPS Agrees, America Needs to Support Science Research and Development

The Biophysical Society today joined 252 other organizations as well as leaders of American business, industry, higher education, science, and engineering in an urgent call to action for stronger federal policies and investment to drive domestic research and development.  “Innovation: An American Imperative,” calls on federal decision makers and legislators to step up their support of policies that support science research and development.  The Call underscores the findings—and warnings—contained in The American Academy of Arts & Sciences report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream.

According to Restoring the Foundation, “There is a deficit between what America is investing and what it should be investing to remain competitive, not only in research but in innovation and job creation.” The United States is failing to keep pace with competitor nations with regard to investments in basic research and development. America’s ascendency in the 20th century was due in large part—if not primarily—to its investments in science and engineering research.  Basic research is behind every new product brought to market, every new medical device or drug, every new defense and space technology and many innovative business practices.

Over the last two decades, a steady decline in investment in research & development (R&D) in the United States has allowed our nation to fall to 10th place in R&D investment among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and development (OECD) nations as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP).

At this pace, China will surpass the United States in R&D intensity in about eight years.

These developments led a diverse coalition of those concerned with the future of research in America to join together in presenting the Innovation Imperative to federal policy makers and urging them to take action to:

  • End sequestration’s deep cuts to federal investments in R&D
  • Make permanent a strengthened federal R&D tax credit
  • Improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM)
  • Reform U.S. visa policy
  • Streamline or eliminate costly and inefficient regulations
  • Reaffirm merit-based peer review
  • Stimulate further improvements in advanced manufacturing

Details on these action items, as well as a full list of signatories, are included in the full document.

Biophysicists Finding Balance: Father’s Day

June 21 is Father’s Day in the US. In honor of the occasion, we spoke with Biophysical Society members Antoine van Oijen, Wollongong University, Australia, and Enrique De La Cruz, Yale University, about what it is like to be a biophysicist and a parent, and how the two roles impact each other.

Antoine van Oijen 

How many children do you have? What are their ages?

My wife and I have two wonderful daughters; Femke (9 years old) and Lotte (6 years old). I am considering having a male pet to achieve gender balance. Maybe a goldfish.


At what stage of your career did you have children? 

I had just started my research group at Harvard Medical School as a tenure-track assistant professor when we had our first child. My wife was finishing up her PhD research, so it was quite an intense time. My department was very supportive of their junior faculty members and made sure that they were given all the resources and help necessary to combine top-notch science with other aspects of life (such as starting a family).

Has your career been influenced or changed by your role as a parent? How?

Time management and perspective. Having kids has taught me how to be much more efficient with my time. It also made me realize that life is much more than just science. My wife (also a scientist) and I have made recent career decisions that were steered by our desire to find a nice balance between work and life. Having kids I think played a huge role in this process.

How has your career been influenced by your own father?

Yes, very much. I’m a first-generation student with nobody in my extended family having gone to college. My dad was the oldest child in a farmer’s family and was pulled out of school at the age of 12 to work on the farm. He’s a very bright guy and never has had the chance to enjoy a traditional education. His encouragement over the years for me to get the most out of my education has made a huge impact; it certainly makes me realize how fortunate I have been.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a biophysicist and a parent?

The most challenging aspect of being a scientist while being a dad is the traveling. While I enjoy going to conferences and interacting with my colleagues in the field, I do end up spending a fair bit of time away from home and missing my family.

Have there been any benefits to being both a father and a scientist?

One obvious practical advantage is the freedom in planning my work day and being able to be fairly flexible where it comes to school activities (and chauffeuring for play dates!).

Would you encourage your children to be scientists?

I don’t think I would actively encourage them becoming scientists more than any other career path. However, with mom and dad both being scientists I see a huge bias in our household! We both enjoy talking with our children about the world around them and how you can use science to understand that world. We have already had our oldest daughter request science kits as birthday presents…

How would your children describe your work?

They joke that I am working on poo… (we do quite a bit of E. coli work in the lab)

Any advice for other fathers or prospective fathers pursuing science careers?

Starting a science career can seem to be an intimidating process. Getting your PhD, publishing in top journals, landing a job as a lab head, getting tenure. And all that within a decade or so, just when you’re supposed to start a family! My advice: there’s never a perfect time to start a family, so you may as well just do it. It’s a wonderful experience to see your kids grow while you are growing with them.

Enrique De La Cruz

How many children do you have? What are their ages?FathersDayEnrique

I have two boys – Ezra (7) and Lucien (4).

At what stage of your career did you have children? 

I was an untenured professor when Ezra joined us; tenured when Lucien came along.

Has your career been influenced or changed by your role as a parent? How?

Undoubtedly so.  I am certainly able to detach myself from work more readily.  I also manage challenges and “crises” in the lab with a more level head.  In addition, my ability to prioritize and manage time at work has significantly improved, despite additional burdens and constraints.  Bottom line, quality time at home and work demands efficient time management, and being a parent forces you to strengthen this skill.

How has your career been influenced by your own father?

My father immigrated to the US from Cuba as a young man in his twenties.  He worked as a welder and in a factory in Newark, NJ.  Along with my mother, he imprinted in his children the importance of education.  All were encouraged, possibly expected, to study – anything.  Clearly, this had a major influence in my career, though not necessarily in science.  I owe that to my teachers and mentors.

What has been the most challenging aspect of being a biophysicist and a parent?

Trying to use logic and reasoning with small children.   It is only marginally more effective than with adults.

Have there been any benefits to being both a father and a scientist?

Science offers the opportunity to travel throughout the world.  Having the opportunity to share these experiences with my wife and children has been priceless.

Would you encourage your children to be scientists?

I hope that I will encourage my children to pursue their dreams and interests.  If one or both of my boys wanted to be a scientist, I would be delighted.  That said, I honestly do not have a preferred career path for either of them.  I only hope that they will be excited and happy with their choice.

How would your children describe your work?

I asked, and they said, “Daddy goes to work and sits on a computer.  Sometimes he plays with his friends from work.  They play science.”   Well… they are not that far off!

Any advice for other fathers or prospective fathers pursuing science careers?

Your children need you… and you need them. Raising children can be among the most exciting experiments you will ever perform.  The results are unanticipated, and offer far more insight than you could ever conceive beforehand.

Red Blood Cell Adhesion in Sickle Cell Disease

Originally posted on biophysicalsociety:

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Millions worldwide live with sickle cell disease, the most common inherited blood disorder. Sickle cell disease is due to a single-point mutation in the ÿ-globin gene resulting in the production of abnormal hemoglobin. In the deoxygenated state, hemoglobin polymerizes to form relatively stiff filaments forcing red blood cells to assume an irregular shape. It is these “sickled” red blood cells that are thought to significantly contribute to, if not initiate, occlusion of small blood vessels resulting in microvascular infarction, severe pain, widespread organ dysfunction, and early mortality.  The hallmark of the disease is the development of spontaneous, intermittent, disabling episodes of severe pain called vaso-occlusive episodes.

Our article discusses adhesion of normal and sickle cell disease human erythrocytes to endothelial laminin.  Erythrocyte adhesion to endothelium is thought to be a critical mediator of the complicated process of vaso-occlusion in sickle cell disease. This translational work is a collaboration between investigators…

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Expanding the Biophysics Network in Kentucky

Organized by Trevor Creamer, University of Kentucky, the 4th Bluegrass Molecular Biophysics Symposium, held on Monday, May 18, at the University of Kentucky, brought together nearly one hundred people. Registrants came from KentucKYky, Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana, and North Carolina.

The symposium covered the broad field of molecular biophysics with talks and posters on subjects ranging from lipids to proteins and describing work done with a wide variety of techniques. The breadth of subjects covered demonstrates that molecular biophysics is alive and well in this region of the country. Creamer notes that the quality of molecular biophysics-based research being done in the region is outstanding. This was apparent from both the talks and the more than 40 posters presented.

Creamer was surprised at the number of people who have attended this symposium more than once. He found it extremely gratifying because of the distance people are willing to travel for a one day event like this. Each year, symposium attracts new people from the surrounding areas; a pair of biophysicists traveled from Western Carolina University, over 280 miles away!
Creamer hopes to host another event next year.

Were you at the Kentucky Networking Event? Share some of you experiences in the comments below!

I Spy with my ASLM…











1) How did you compose this image?

The image of immortalized retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells migrating through a collagen matrix was prepared as a maximum intensity projection using Fiji (ImageJ).  To more clearly reveal the structure of the vimentin (magenta) and microtubule (green) networks, the image was inverted.

 2) How does this image reflect your scientific research?

We are interested in understanding how cells sense their environment and how this process influences cell architecture and signaling.    Axially Swept Light-Sheet Microscopy (ASLM) allows us to simultaneously image sub-cellular and large-scale (~200 m) environmental features with isotropic high-resolution (~390 nm).  As such, we can begin to address specific biological questions involving the multiple length scales present in this image. For example, what is the role of the vimentin network (a major marker of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition in cancer) in cell polarization and migration?  What leads to the disassembly of the vimentin network during mitosis, and can this process be pharmacologically targeted?  The cells featured in this image reveal many interesting phenotypes, each of which reflects scientific research opportunities moving forward.

3) Can you please provide a few real-world examples of your research?

Understanding physiological and pathophysiological processes in 3D microenvironments is fundamentally important in human development, health, and disease.  In particular, it has major implications in cancer metastasis, where cells must shed cell-cell junctions, polarize, migrate away from the primary tumor, evade the immune system, intravasate into the bloodstream, extravasate, colonize a secondary tissue, and proliferate.  By studying aspects of these processes with molecular precision in reconstituted tissue-like environments, we hope to make a lasting impact that directly leads to improved patient outcomes.

4) How does your research apply to those who are not working in your specific field?

ASLM is an enabling imaging technology that may be applied to diverse scientific disciplines.  Most immediately, we see significant opportunities in cellular and developmental biology, where ASLM allows researchers to visualize subcellular structures in large, mechanically unperturbed 3D samples without spatial bias. This capability is invaluable because of the effects that the extracellular microenvironment plays on cell architecture, cell signaling, and cell fate.  Alternatively, ASLM could be used by neuroscientists measuring the ‘connectome,’ where near-diffraction-limited synaptic features must be resolved throughout large expanses of brain tissue.

5) Do you have a website where our readers can view your recent research?


– Kevin Dean, Erik Welf, Gaudenz Danuser, and Reto Fiolka

Summertime Science: Biophysical Course in Chapel Hill Is Underway

2015 Biophysical Society Summer Course Class

It is summer time, and in the southern part of heaven that means one thing: a new group of young, bright, and talented undergraduates have arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill to participate in the Biophysical Society’s Summer Program in Biophysics. I am Mike Jarstfer, Director of the Summer Program, and it is my pleasure to introduce this years participants. This year we welcome an excellent cohort of students from as far away as California and as near as Durham, NC. The 13 students participating in the program will face new challenges in the lab and classroom, develop professional skills associated with post graduate education, and have fun!  The students have matched with labs in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering,  Physics, Biology, Pharmacy, and Pharmacology!  So the breadth of their geographic origins is matched by the scientific interests of this excellent group. In addition to hard work in the laboratory, classroom, professional development exercises, and seminar series, the students will also have some fun.

The group will attend a baseball game at the famous Durham Bull’s stadium (the same one in the movie Bull Durham!) and take a weekend to visit a beautiful North Carolina beach. Midway through the summer, the students are also looking forward to meeting summer course alumni during our reunion weekend and developing long-lasting networks critical for success. These relationships will be further nurtured at the annual Biophysical Society Annual Meeting where we always host a dinner for the program alumni in attendance.

Everyone at UNC is excited to be working with this great group and I personally am looking forward to developing lifelong connections with each of them.

-Mike Jarstfer, Biophysical Society Summer Course Director