Following the people and events that make up the research community at Duke

Author: Pranali Dalvi

High School Project Lands Freshman in Top Journal

GriffinBy Pranali Dalvi

Hayes Griffin is no ordinary freshman at Duke. He hasn’t even been in college for one semester and he’s already published in the top-tier science journal Evolution. During his junior year in high school, Griffin worked alongside his classmate Dalton Chaffee and used mathematical models to forecast what happens when sexual imprinting is introduced. Sexual imprinting is when individuals prefer mates with traits similar to those of their mother, father, or another adult member of their population.

While most research in this area examines how imprinting changes the population, Griffin focused on how imprinting itself evolves.

“Our model suggests that paternal imprinting is superior to other types. In other words, it is more advantageous for animals to mate with individuals similar to their fathers,” Griffin explained. On the same note, other types of imprinting, including maternal and oblique – the latter one meaning imprinting on a non-parental adult – are more favorable than random mating.

Even though sexual imprinting is common in nature, it is not well understood and there is much variation from one species to the next. What is known is that females are choosier mating partners than males are. If females require a complex mechanism to select mates, then sexual imprinting will not evolve. However, if imprinting does evolve, a female is more likely to choose a mate similar to her father.

Griffin admits that doing research was very strenuous and time consuming. He spent about 25 hours a week on the project under the guidance of R. Tucker Gilman, a post-doc working with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee.

“Reading the background information was also extremely difficult, because neither of us had any experience with scientific papers or evolutionary theory,” Griffin said.

Hayes Griffin (left) with Dalton Chaffee (right) at the Siemens Competition for Math, Science, and Technology.

Hayes Griffin (left) with Dalton Chaffee (right) at the Siemens Competition for Math, Science, and Technology.

His hard work did not go unnoticed though. Griffin and Chaffee were declared Regional Finalists in the Siemens Competition for Math, Science, and Technology. They also were invited to present their findings at the annual conference of the Society for Mathematical Biology.

“Overall, it was a good experience that pushed my limits, and I would definitely do it again,” said Griffin.

Griffin hopes his model will further the scientific community’s understanding of imprinting and selection in general.

For now, though, Griffin is excited about his time at Duke and is considering a major in mechanical engineering.

Visible Thinking 2013!

By Pranali Dalvi

Visible Thinking 2013

Students explain their research to peers and faculty at Visible Thinking 2013 in the French Family Science Center. Photo credit: Pranali Dalvi


On April 19, Duke undergrads gathered in the French Family Science Center for Visible Thinking 2013.

The event showcases the exciting research undergraduates are doing in every discipline from the biological sciences to the humanities. For many students, it was also a celebration of several semesters and summers of hard work. Like seasoned scientists, students explained their research to their mentors, peers and prospective Dukies during the annual poster session.

Renata Dinamarco, a Trinity senior, studied the entrepreneurial preparedness of small businesses in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

renata

Renata Dinamarco, Trinity’13. Photo credit: Pranali Dalvi

People are moving to the newer, western front of the city, so the eastern portion of Pembroke Pines is being redeveloped. Many people believed business owners in the east were underprepared as compared to the west when it came to opening small businesses.

When Renata interviewed 55 small business owners, she found that there was no statistical difference between entrepreneurs in the east versus the west. But, she did find that business owners in the east were more likely to view the city government negatively. Renata’s study of the demographics of small business populations is important for making informed policy decisions.

christine

Christine Tsai, Trinity’14. Photo credit: Pranali Dalvi

Junior Christine Tsai studied the expression of gut-specific genes three days after fertilization in zebrafish. In a healthy developing embryo, epithelial cells line the internal organs.

To explore what genes are turned on and off during the development of the cells, Tsai compared gene expression from the gut cells to gene expression of cells from the entire body. Zebrafish have clear embryos that develop quickly, making them easy to study and use as a system to study genetics.

“I plan to continue conducting undergraduate research and know that the techniques and skills I have acquired and continue to develop through my research will further my understanding of processes in cell and molecular biology,” she said.

ben

Ben Finkel, Trinity’13. Photo credit: Pranali Dalvi

For his honors thesis in evolutionary anthropology, Ben Finkel worked in Dr. Brian Hare’s lab combining his interest in education outreach with his passion for conservation. Finkel’s project examines how portrayals of chimpanzees as either aggressive or affiliative can affect our conservation perception. Through his research, Finkel wanted to understand how media steers conservation beliefs. He found that people were less likely to promote conservation of chimanzees if they showed aggressive behaviors rather than affiliative behaviors.

For more from Visible Thinking, check out my video about senior Emily Ngan who studies the brain’s immune system cells and their role in addiction.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waqFuqbukG0?rel=0]

Everyone Makes Mistakes

By Pranali Dalvi

Dr. Brian Goldman, Credit: nsb.com

“Every important thing that I have ever learned since the day I was born has come from a mistake,” said Dr. Brian Goldman on April 17 during the Duke Colloquium.

Goldman is a renowned thinker and leader on issues of medical ethics and medical error. He has had great success in two high-adrenaline fields: broadcasting and medicine.

Not only is he a practicing emergency physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto but he also hosts an award-winning radio show White Coat, Black Art  where he discusses the Canadian healthcare system. His bold TED Talk ‘Doctors Make Mistakes: Can We Talk about That?’ has over 700,000 hits.

Goldman’s life-altering mistake happened during a 2-month elective in neurology at Johns Hopkins. By medical school, he was a veteran insomniac, often waking up early — except for the one morning he was supposed to deliver grand rounds. That morning, he woke up at 10 AM, the exact moment when he was supposed to be presenting rounds in the neurology conference room at the hospital across the street.

“This mistake was a dramatic enough gesture to make me pay attention. I don’t wish a medical error on anybody, and I don’t wish the misfortune that happens to patients and families that are directly involved. But sometimes it’s a moment like that which redirects you and gets you into thinking about what you need to do with the rest of your life,” Goldman said.

The mistake made him reconsider neurology.

Credit: thestudentceo.com

Too often people have one of two worldviews of failure. The first inspires you to do better – if you fall down seven times, get up eight. The other shows success and failure as completely different paths.

“What we need is for health professionals and the public to realize that mistakes are inevitable with humans,” Goldman said.

What does error look like in medicine?

Radiology mistakes including X-ray and CT misinterpretations, miscalculating medication dosages, and hospital-acquired infections due to poor hand washing practices are human errors in medicine. All potentially catastrophic yet hard to detect.

Why do these errors happen?

The vast majority of health professionals are some of the most caring and compassionate individuals. Why do they mess up? Emphasis on quantity over quality, stress, miscommunication and messy handwriting are just a few of the many reasons.

“I spoke to a pharmacist who said that if you simply add 30 seconds of look-up time to every medicine dispensed at the hospital pharmacy, he’d have to hire 2 more full-time pharmacists. If you don’t have that kind of money, this is the sort of institutional cutting of corners that we have to go through to make ends meet,” Goldman said.

Credit: The Adventures of Pam & Frank Blog

Errors also result from the organization of the system. Residents often don’t go home despite 80-hour week regulations. They fear that no one else knows their patient as well as they do. Patient safety is also compromised as you increase the number of handovers due to duty hour regulations.

Goldman insists on the development of technologies to prevent mistakes, reducing responsibilities to allow increased productivity and fostering a loving and respectful environment for doctors to discuss their errors.

How can we aim for success in a field where failure is so effortless?

The Duke Colloquium, the brainchild of Dr. Andrew Hwang, is a university-wide initiative to pull the humanities into the professions. The event bring forward-thinking visiting scholars to Duke’s campus to inspire students, faculty, and the broader Duke community to become more socially conscious professionals.

Designing Microbial "Factories" Rationally

By Pranali Dalvi

Using microbes to manufacture chemicals is starting to be cheaper and greener than traditional chemistry. And their feedstock is sugar, not oil.

Source: 2010 Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference

On Friday, Dr. Michael Lynch spoke to an engaged audience about how microbes have ushered in a new era in metabolic and genetic engineering. Lynch is the co-founder and CSO of OPX Biotechnologies, a Colorado-based company that makes bio-based chemicals and fuels from microbes. OPXBIO microbes produce fatty acids from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. In turn, the fatty acids are used to make cleaners, detergents, jet fuel, and diesel.

Lynch said it’s easier to understand the genetic circuits and enzymatic pathways of microbes, thanks to  much cheaper DNA sequencing. What we still lack though, is an understanding of how to rationally design complex biological systems – likely because we fail to recognize the interplay among an organism’s genotype, phenotype, and environment.

It’s a complex set of factors that go into making phenotypic traits such as color, size, or shape.

“In an industrial setting [phenotypes] are equivalent to metabolism or higher production of the product of interest,” Lynch said. “In a clinical setting, [phenotypes] could be virulence or pathogenesis.”

One approach to understanding how phenotypes are controlled has been through functional genomics.

Let’s say we take a population of wildtype microorganisms and introduce genetic modifications in a controlled way. Next, we selectively screen for the phenotype of interest and compare the sequence of this phenotype to the wildtype to pinpoint the genetic mutations that made the difference.

Comparing phenotypes one at a time is inefficient, though. Lynch wanted to find a way to speed up this process.

“We wanted a process or technology or toolkit that evaluates all of your genes in parallel in a single experiment for the phenotype of interest,” Lynch explained.

Lynch found his inspiration in microbial biofilms, extracellular polysaccharide matrices that grow quickly.

OPXBIO’s Efficiency Directed Genome Engineering (EDGE) technology platform, Source: opxbio.com

Lynch’s studies revealed that microbial cultures grown in enriched media made biofilms, while those in minimal media did not. In a process known as destructional mutagenesis, Lynch and his colleagues then knocked out biofilm-making genes to identify what genes cause the biofilm phenotype in enriched medium but prevent it in minimal medium.

Lynch saw the individual microbial systems as factories that he can genetically modify to produce chemical compounds in biofilms – specifically, 3-hydroxypropionic acid – that can be chemically converted to commercially relevant compounds such as acrylic.

Scientists at OPXBIO have cracked the code for making acrylic from sugar.  They give sugar feedstocks to genetically modified bacteria, whose enzymes convert the sugar into acrylic molecules. Acrylic has broad commercial applications in paints, adhesives, diapers, detergents, and even fuel – a $10 billion global market.

What makes humans so unique?

By Pranali Dalvi
Human and chimpanzees are very similar genetically despite the stark differences in their outward appearances. So it must be just a very small portion of human genes that are responsible for everything from our upright posture to our ability to sing. What makes humans so unique?

On Jan. 14, Duke Professor of Biology Greg Wray spoke about his group’s work on the genetic and molecular processes that contribute to our uniquely human physiology and brains as a part of the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics Seminar Series.

“Humans are not the best model organisms since there is a limit to what you can do genetically and mentally. You can’t really make a human knockout (but sometimes, nature makes it for you),” Wray said.

Still, humans are immensely important to study for practical reasons. We have uniquely human courses of disease in part due to our physiological, cognitive, and mechanical properties. Also, we’re just intrinsically curious about our own bodies.

According to Wray, the answer to human uniqueness is our regulome, the genes, mRNAs, proteins, and metabolites that regulate which genes are turned on when.

This graph shows the two major shifts in diet (meat-rich diet and grain-based diet) that likely contributed to our divergence from chimpanzees and thus differential gene expression. Source: Greg Wray

One prevailing hypothesis is that human forerunners likely began diverging from chimps about 2 million years ago when we took on a meat-rich diet in the savannah. The ancestors of chimpanzees retreated to the rainforest to eat a diet consisting mostly of fruits. Our meat-rich diet seems to coincide with an increase in brain size. And today we metabolize fats much differently than chimpanzees.

Wray’s lab studied the effects of dietary changes on five tissue samples – the cerebral cortex and cerebellum of the brain, liver, fat, and skeletal muscle. What seems to have changed in chimps versus humans are genes related to neural functioning, development, and metabolism. For instance, 31 of 61 genes involved in insulin signaling are operated differently in chimps and humans. These differences in gene expression may also explain why humans are uniquely susceptible to diet-related illnesses like type II diabetes.

On the other hand, genes involved in the transcription, translation and replication of DNA, RNA processing and protein localization haven’t changed in chimps versus humans.

Fat cells also behave differently in humans versus chimps. Wray’s lab took adult stem cells from adipose tissue in both chimps and humans and challenged them with either more oleic acid (the main fatty acid in a meat-heavy diet) or more linoleic acid (the dominant fatty acid in a grain-based diet). The enzymes involved in fatty acid synthesis were more common in human adipose tissues. Wray believes that the increased fatty acid synthesis is probably responsible for building and fueling a larger human brain.

Another major shift in diet occurred during the agricultural revolution, which introduced omega-6 fatty acids into our diet along with pro-inflammatory compounds. Wray explains that the increase in grains from the shift in diet likely contributes to chronic pro-inflammatory diseases in humans, such as atherosclerosis.

“Understanding our metabolic history from an evolutionary context can potentially give us insight into some pretty prominent health concerns,” says Wray.

An Evening with Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee

By Pranali Dalvi
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. We take this idea for granted today, but the definition of cancer evaded us for many years.

In a talk on on Dec. 6, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, physician, and cancer researcher Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, took his audience on a journey through the archives of medicine to build a bird’s eye view of cancer and how we define the disease today. The presentation was part of the Weaver Memorial Lecture, hosted every other year in memory of William B. Weaver, a 1972 Duke graduate.

“The entire history of our encounter with cancer really consists of four major discoveries, of which we’re experiencing and living the fourth,” Mukherjee said.

Phase I: A Disease of Cells

The first discovery was that cancer is a disease of cells. In the late 1800s, the idea that cancer is a dysregulated growth of our own cells was a deeply radical idea. Scientists at the time and earlier insisted that all diseases in the human body could be explained by either an excess or a deficit in one of four fluids – black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. Making no exception, Roman physician Galen posited that cancer, too, resulted from an excess of black bile in the body.

Andreas Vesalius, the founder of modern human anatomy, overthrew Galenic tradition by disproving the existence of black bile, which forced surgeons and early cancer scientists to seek a different explanation for cancer. That explanation came from Rudolf Virchow, who examined cancerous tissue microscopically and realized that all cancers had a commonality – the overabundance of cells. This conception of cancer drew in surgeons: if cancer originated from a single cell, it could be eliminated by surgically removing the cancerous cluster.

Scientists also developed radiation therapy to destroy cancer. Unfortunately, many who received radiation therapy for cancer ended up contracting cancer. Biologists were perplexed: how could X-rays which killed cells also be responsible for the abnormal growth of cells in cancer? Was there an interaction via the environment that was inducing cancer in cells? This question remained a mystery for over 70 years.

Another way to kill cells was chemotherapy, which emerged when mustard gas, a war gas, was found. Scientists added it to their arsenal of surgical and radiation treatment for cancer.

Phase II: A Disease of Genes

Still, these cancer treatments were all empirical; scientists had no biological understanding of the mechanism of the disease. They hypothesized that the empirical strategy in conjunction with chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery would bring a cure to all cancers by the summer of 1979. However, that summer came and went, forcing scientists to explore the mechanism of cancer before planning their next attack.

“The number of cancers diagnosed increased at the same time the number of deaths [due to emerging treatments] decreased, creating a cancer society – a society in which cancer became more visible in our public consciousness,” Mukherjee said.

The increased presence of cancer pressed for a mechanistic understanding of cancer at the gene level. The idea, first proposed in 1976, that cancer was a disease of genes was revolutionary yet disappointing. People had hoped that cancer was a virus or something foreign but the idea that cancer was in our own cells was terrifying – the enemy was our own body.

Phase III: A Disease of Genomes

The tall peaks in this map of human prostate cancer represent genes commonly mutated in cancer. The smaller peaks are rarely mutated genes, and the small dots are genes mutated in a single cancer patient. Credit: Johns Hopkins University.

In 1990, the definition of cancer changed once again as it was discovered to be a disease of genomes. Not just one gene but many genes are mutated in cancer, a depiction of the disease painted by the work of Bert Vogelstein among others. As multiple genes in our genome regulate normal cells, multiple genes must be mutated to cause cancerous cells.

While some genes are mutated in cancer patients across the board, there are mutations unique to each individual, too. The problem is that the tumors look identical under the microscope. Mukherjee compares this phenomenon to the fact that every single human face has a common anatomy but is still quite different.

“The challenge as you sequence cancer genomes is that there is great diversity and therefore you reach the frightening corollary that every breast cancer is unique in the same way that every woman who has breast cancer is unique,” Mukherjee said.

With such variation, how do we remain optimistic about a cure?

Mukherjee offered acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) as an example. Once known as the most threatening variant of acute leukemias, APL is now the most curable variant. One gene was identified that was common to all APL variants and one medicine – retinoic acid – was successful in treating this disease.

Phase IV: An Organismal Disease

As of 2010, cancer has been reconceived as an organismal disease: the human is simultaneously the site of the cancer, its prevention, and cure.

“Our next step is to understand the physiology of cancer – not just the cell biology, not the gene biology, nor the genome biology – but the physiology of cancer,” Mukherjee reminded us.

Despite the disease’s high level of complexity, scientists have new tools of computation to process data they previously could not, leading to the belief that cancer is a pathway disease. It’s not just genes and genomes that are mutated in cancer, it’s the cells’ language that drives those pathways and the resulting abnormalities. That language is the focus of scientists new cancer investigations and another piece of the devastating disease’s biography.

Science Under the Stars!

By Pranali Dalvi

The 8th annual Science under the Stars, held in the lower lobby of the French Family Science Center, brought together several Duke departments, research groups, and organizations. Kids of all ages were busy participating in hands-on science activities.

Bioluminescence demo by Dr. Hendricks

 

 

 

Lab administrator Dr. Diane Hendricks had a station to illuminate the bioluminescent properties of Pyrocystis fusiformis, a marine dinoflagellate. Dinoflagellates bioluminesce when their cell wall is exposed to sheer stress, which triggers the light response. When asked why dinoflagellates glow, some kids hypothesized that dinoflagellates glow to look larger and more threatening so they can ward off predators. Scientists mistakenly thought so for a while, too. However, scientists now favor the burglar alarm hypothesis, based on the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

“Rather than trying to scare away the predators, they are actually attracting the predators of their predators,” Dr. Hendricks explained. Because the color blue is most easily seen in the ocean, many sea creatures bioluminesce blue. As a memento of Dr. Hendricks’s demo, kids were able to take home glowsticks of various colors!

The physics department showed students how to make Oobleck. Oobleck is a mixture of 2 parts corn starch and 1 part water. It displays shear thickening behavior, meaning that its viscosity – or resistance to flow – increases with shear rate. When the shear rate is low, the corn starch grains can easily move past one another and oobleck flows easily. However, under high shear stress, the corn starch grains pack tightly together and prevent the flow of grains past one another.

The process of preparing oobleck

Oobleck is an example of a non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluids are those whose resistance to flow changes according to the force that is applied to the fluid. One application of non-Newtonian fluids is in the soles of running shoes. The sheer thickening fluid hardens in response to the forces exerted during running or walking.

A favorite stop for the kids was CSI Durham presented by the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and Anatomy. Students were required to perform cranial, pelvic, and femoral assessments to identify who the “missing victim” was. The skull and pelvis have distinct features in males versus females, and the femoral head and length diameter predict stature pretty accurately.

The event was sponsored by the Chemistry Department and organized by Dr. Kenneth Lyle.

Brainnaroo!

By Pranali Dalvi

Human brain scan, in X-rays. Credit: Funderstanding.com

The complexity of the brain can be mind-boggling. After all, how can a jelly-like, three-pound mass of fatty tissue and protein give us the capacity for language, imagination and problem solving, while simultaneously coordinating movement and controlling vital processes such as breathing and digestion?

Duke’s neuroscience community came together on Thursday, Jan. 19 to marvel at the brain during the inaugural event of the Duke Consortium of Neuroscience Graduate Programs: Brainnaroo!

Held in the LSRC Hall of Science, the event included everything from a student poster session to a forum on the “Neuroscience of Self.”

The goal of the forum was to have one topic and approach it with many different ideas, incorporating different departments and techniques,” said Hrishikesh Rao, a graduate student in biomedical engineering and a member of the Brainnaroo Planning Committee.

The unifying theme of the forum was “the self,” and graduate students tackled this concept from a biomedical engineering perspective all the way to a behavioral medicine perspective. Graduate student Rolando Estrada delineated ‘the self’ in computer science. “Computers can do tasks that previously only biological entities could do. For instance, a robot can recognize itself in a mirror,” he said.

Kurtis Gruters, a graduate student specializing in Systems and Integrative Neuroscience, posed the question “Is ‘the self’ a sensory illusion?” in his neural circuitry analysis, and Kristen Batich explained a pathologist’s view of losing ‘the self’ in a spectrum of dementia disorders.

In the true spirit of science, awards followed the presentations and were given for best talk and best layman’s title. Best in Show went to Tina Tognoni for the project, “Sex Differences in Hippocampal Neuronal Responses to Changes in Environmental Stimuli, or “Do male rats pay attention to detail?”

The 'Pre-research' Path

By Pranali Dalvi

Senior Arun Sharma may be studying biology, chemistry, and genome sciences and policy at Duke, but don’t expect to see him trading in his lab coat for a white coat anytime soon. Sharma says he is ‘pre-research’ rather than ‘pre-med’.

His interest in research was piqued by his father, a physicist. Growing up in that lab-coat environment showed Sharma that he could one day make his own discoveries. After coming to Duke, Sharma realized he could start on this path early and immersed himself into research as a first-semester freshman.

“I thought it was cool that as just an undergraduate, an eighteen year-old, I was able to make new discoveries and participate in long-term research projects,” Sharma says.

Through the Howard Hughes Research Fellows Program, Sharma was matched up with his current mentor, Dr. Gerard Blobe in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, where he has been investigating the molecular mechanisms behind angiogenesis, or blood vessel formation, in tumors. The concept behind his research is simple: if you can cut off the blood supply to the tumor, you can essentially kill the tumor.

Specifically, Sharma’s work revolves around the endoglin protein, a cell surface receptor in endothelial cells, which line the interior of blood vessels. Endoglin has a unique interaction with two other proteins (SMAD2 and BMP), which had not been previously characterized. When a specific member of the Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) family binds to endoglin, SMAD2 is involved in a signaling cascade: SMAD2 is driven to the nucleus, where it prevents cell proliferation, or cell growth, and thus prevents angiogenesis. The long-term application of Sharma’s research would be drug discovery to initiate this signaling cascade and prevent angiogenesis, subsequently killing the tumor by cutting off blood supply.

Sharma wanted to share his passion for research with other undergraduates so he co-founded the Duke Undergraduate Research Society (DURS) along with classmates Peter Dong, Nick Schwartz, and Vivek Subramanian to show students that research is a realistic goal and that it is highly accessible to undergraduates.

“People think that in research you have to have a lot of training, a lot of background to get anything done productively,” Sharma says.

To encourage students to experiment with research (no pun intended!), DURS hosts renowned faculty speakers such as Dean Nancy Andrews from the School of Medicine and Steve Nowicki at lunch and dinner events. DURS– along with the Undergraduate Research Support Office – has also established Visible Thinking, an undergraduate research symposium – the largest of its kind – that gives students the opportunity to discuss their research with peers and faculty members during a poster session.

“I like to think that [this organization] is going to be my legacy at Duke after I graduate,” says Sharma.

After graduation, Sharma plans to attend graduate school to explore cardiovascular disease development and to eventually become a principal investigator (PI), leading his own lab.

“One thing I’m definitely going to do as a PI is something my own PI, Dr. Blobe, did: provide undergraduates with the opportunity to work in a lab,” he says.

Hey there, fellow Dukies!

My name is Pranali Dalvi, and this is my first post as one of the voices for Duke’s Research Blog!

I am a sophomore from Lakeland, Florida in Trinity (just like my twin sister Prachiti) looking at studying some combination of biology, chemistry, and global health – at least, for now.

When I’m not blogging, you can probably find me eating Loopwiches (a chocolate-chip-cookie-and-ice-cream sandwich) at the Loop, going to cardio dance, reading the New York Times, shopping online at Banana Republic, or doing cancer biology research. I am a huge Cameron Crazie, and I love cheering on the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor! In fact, lately I’ve been brainstorming ideas for poster slogans for Duke basketball games, so I can get my claim to fame on ESPN.

Although I’ve tried out cheerleading, ballet, gymnastics, ice skating, horseback riding, Indian classical dance, swimming, tennis, and golf, I like playing the piano most and have been playing for 12 years now.

I’ve been fascinated by the power of language ever since the eighth grade when I went to the National Spelling Bee. Upon entering high school, I outgrew spelling bees, and science fairs became my new competitive outlet.

Science fairs introduced me to the world of discovery-driven research. This is a world in which you never have to lose your childlike curiosity and you can ask questions until you find answers. What brings researchers together, however, is not the experimentation that happens in lab but rather the lab meetings, conferences and conversations that follow.

Fortunately, we are on prime real estate at the heart of the Research Triangle! We have access to these meetings, conferences and conversations and can glean from them the wisdom and knowledge of these renowned researchers. Through this blog, I look forward to sharing my experiences with you!

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