New Interdisciplinary Connections at the Mechanobiology Meeting-An Undergraduate Perspective

Following a topical link with previous Gordon Conferences targeted at mechanosensitive ion channels, this fall’s Biophysical Society thematic meeting focused on the “Mechanobiology of Proteins and Cells.”  It was held at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) in Salisbury Cove, ME, and drew a wide range of international investigators interested in a physical understanding of cellular function.  The scientific program maintained an excellent balance between focus and breadth; indeed our research group (consisting of a majority of undergraduate research students) found it to be highly informative, clearly presented, motivational, and inspiring. 

The Burden Research Group at the Mechanobiology Meeting

The Burden Research Group at the Mechanobiology Meeting

Example session topics included biophysical tools for studying the mechanics of proteins and cells, cellular osmoregulation, mechanosensing, ion channel structural biology, cytoplasmic networks, and the cytoskeleton.  Throughout the week, the science was a visual feast, particularly for those with a bend towards imaging technologies that augment and pioneer new discoveries.  An intriguing combination of both in-depth presentations and shorter “poster advertisement” talks were thoughtfully sequenced by the meeting organizers.

Because our youngest team members are studying in the traditional tracks of chemistry, biology, physics, and computer science, this venue provided a particularly poignant opportunity to experience interdisciplinary science at its best.  Even more exhilarating, the general youthfulness of our team made little difference to our interactions with other investigators at the poster sessions, around the dinner table, and at other social functions.  Example testimonials included:

 “Though the most inexperienced of the scientists attending the conference, we were warmly received. The scientists entertained our questions on their research, and many of them had helpful critiques and praises for our research that we presented at the poster sessions.”

 “I was surprised by the ability to connect with any speaker throughout the week.”

 “Poster session discussions with other scientists pursuing similar courses of research to mine gave me the opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate with others to advance our research.”

“I certainly did not expect the degree of camaraderie that I witnessed at the conference. It was so encouraging to see top-notch scientists not only question and imagine together but also affirm each other. The congenial sharing of ideas that I experienced at the conference was both exciting and refreshing.”

Overall, the conference showcased a vibrant and growing field.  With many decades of expansion to come in mechanobiology, our group left with a sense of historical privilege and gratitude that we should have the opportunity to participate at this particular juncture, as the field continues to unfold.

-The Burden Research Group
Wheaton College Chemistry and Biology Departments
Special contributions from Dan Burden, Elese Lau, Olivia Coury, and Hannah Phelps

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