The 2017 Biophysical Society Summer Research Program in Biophysics is currently underway at UNC Chapel Hill. We caught up with one of the program’s teaching assistants, Mike Pablo, to learn about his current research, how he became interested in biophysics, and what he’s looking forward to this summer.
How did you get started in science in general and biophysics in particular?
For a time, I thought I would want to pursue medicine, but a stint volunteering with an ambulance corps in high school showed me otherwise. After that, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. When I eventually applied to colleges for my undergraduate degree, I recklessly submitted a different major for each application. I wound up studying Chemistry at Northeastern University thanks to a wonderful scholarship. While there, I was lucky to get involved with PRISM (“Proactive Recruitment In Science and Mathematics”), a program aimed at freshmen to get them interested in research problems. Both chemistry and research were interesting, so I stuck with it! Over the years, I found myself really enjoying both quantitative, mathematically-grounded work as well as biochemistry. This led me towards bioanalytical and analytical chemistry, and I didn’t break into any biophysical studies until I came to graduate school and got involved with the Training Program in Biophysics and Molecular Cell Biology, which was a fantastic experience.
Are other members of your family involved in science? If not, what sort of work were your parents or guardians involved in while you were growing up?
Nope! My mother is a nurse, and my father works in life insurance.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Queens, New York. Between living in New York and attending college in Boston, I’m used to big cities. Moving to Chapel Hill was a little challenging, but the place has grown on me a lot.
What schools have you attended/are you attending? What degrees do you hold?
I went to the Bronx High School of Science, then to Northeastern University, where I got a BS in Chemistry.
What is your current position? Please describe any current projects or research.
I’m now a PhD candidate in the Chemistry department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, more specifically within the Biological division. My current research uses computational approaches to understand how biochemical signaling is coordinated during phagocytosis, a process very fundamental to our immune systems. We know that many key molecules in phagocytosis need to be distributed within the cell in precisely shaped and timed ways: disrupting this coordination can lead to impaired or failed phagocytosis. So how do cells consistently manage it? I’m building both simulations of the biochemistry within the cell to get an understanding of how it works, and tools to analyze experimentally-acquired data.
Why did you want to be a TA for the BPS Summer Research Program?
It sounded like a fun program to be a TA for, and I’m looking forward to helping our students become more proficient as researchers. I think it’s a great opportunity for students to experience research, and I know how valuable that opportunity can be from my PRISM experience and work I did during my undergraduate degree. The course has just barely started, but I look forward to seeing them grow over the next couple of months.
Name someone you admire and explain why.
I’m going to cheat a little and name several: Randall Munroe, Zach Weinersmith, and Kate Beaton. All of them use a fun medium (comics) to communicate information that people might normally find boring, ranging from science and engineering to philosophy and history. I think it’s an amazing way to spark interest, and believe they have a great positive impact on a wide range of people.
What are your future plans for your career/research?
I think I still want to pursue computational approaches to study complex biochemical and biological systems. It’s a little hard for me to nail down something more specific – I feel that there’s still so much more for me to explore in terms of what I could apply my training to.