Bringing Together Biophysicists in the Hoosier State

The Biophysical Society recently sponsored a networking event for biophysicists in Indiana. The event, titled “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Protein Galaxy: A Mini-symposium on Integrating Structure, Function, and Interactions of the Protein Universe,” was held at Purdue University on May 13-14, 2015, and was organized by Satchal K. Erramilli, Duy P. Hua, Adriano Mendes, Phillip Rushton, Brendan Sullivan, Sakshi Tomar, all of Purdue University. Satchal Erramilli reports on the event – and explains its interesting title.

poster

Attendees mingle during the poster session.

You many wonder why we chose the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” as the theme for a symposium on protein science and biophysical research. The classic novel by Douglas Adams, which we often wax nostalgic about, is an excellent work of fiction, but is also filled with concepts that can readily be applied to scientific inquiry. The book contains a long tangent on the validity of mice models, includes an excellent digression on “Somebody Else’s Problems”, and is peppered with discussions on evolution. Most significantly, the book’s most famous story – the meaning of life – is an allegory for asking the right questions, as important an exercise as any for a scientist.

And so we drew on themes from the book for our symposium, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Protein Galaxy”. We were charmed to find many attendees and sponsors shared our enthusiasm for the novel, and some of the credit for the event’s success has to be ascribed to the theme. Indeed, we found many attendees were as excited to discuss the book as they were to discuss science.

The symposium was held at Purdue University on May 13th and 14th, 2015, with the goal of bringing together protein scientists and biophysical researchers from all across campus. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, we were able to expand the scope of the event to include attendees and presenters from nearby institutions and, in some cases, beyond. We had over 130 attendees, with nearly two dozen coming from nearby institutions in Indiana and Illinois, and some even as far off as Cornell, the N.I.H., and Texas Tech. This can only be described as apropos for a Hitchhiker-themed symposium.

We felt the event should reflect the depth and breadth of structural biology research here at Purdue, and thus it included aspects of protein science ranging from basic to applied, from individual proteins to whole cell studies. The presenters had backgrounds as diverse as their topics, and included several young faculty members, postdoctoral scholars, and senior graduate students. Topics ranged from protein structure and function to biophysical methods and high-resolution electron microscopy, and much more. Attendees clearly enjoyed being able to hitchhike around the Protein Galaxy during the two days of the symposium.

organizers

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Protein Galaxy organizers pose for a photo.

The presence and participation of our external attendees enriched the experience for all at this event, and their interactions with local researchers offered the potential for fruitful collaborations. In particular, we recognize our keynote speaker, Dr. Tony Kossiakoff, who was an excellent guest of honor for the event and drew an audience exceeding the venue’s capacity. As an unexpected addition, and entirely a product of the enthusiasm of several of our visitors, we were able to organize an impromptu career workshop, which our graduate students found tremendously useful. We hope to have even more external presenters next time.

We definitely plan to have this event again next year. We can only hope to again receive such tremendous support from our sponsors, who far exceeded our expectations with their willingness to sponsor the symposium, the awards, and contribute in many other ways. We were thrilled to get this networking grant from the Biophysical Society, which, besides providing us with money, also provided visibility for the event beyond what we could have hoped for. A big shout out goes to April Murphy, who made time not just to assist us and help market the symposium but also to visit us and take part in our event. It was a pleasure to work with her and everyone else who helped make this a success, and we hope to see her and many others at the next iteration of this symposium. See you again next year, fellow hitchhikers!

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