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Honing problem-solving skills in the lab

Chemistry major Andrew Vu ’09 has already identified a talent that will serve him well in his future work: He’s a problem solver.

A recipient of an Alza science scholarship for his academic achievements, Vu stands out in the lab, too. He’s helped identify two procedural glitches with experiments running in the lab of Assistant Chemistry Professor Ram Subramaniam:

In an experiment for diabetes research involving how cells process sugar, the expected chemical by-product wasn’t appearing. Vu pinpointed the problem: Though the team was freezing and thawing the cells, they weren’t breaking open, so the chemical interactions weren’t measurable. “The cells were too tough,” Vu says. The team found a better way to crack open the cells.

For a second project, involving glycolysis, Vu helped identify another low-tech problem: Bubbles from pipetting were interfering with the experiment. “That was a simple thing,” says Vu. “But something that’s easy to overlook. We made a big step forward when we found out what it was.”

Vu says the lab work has taught him a lot: “I’m learning how to think like a scientist, how to solve problems. Often times, experiments in labs don’t go how you think they should.”.

He applies what he’s learned in the lab to real world situations, as well. A volunteer at a free health clinic in San Jose, Vu assists elderly patients with diabetes. “Having done this research helps me picture what’s going on inside their bodies,” he says. “It’s really interesting to take what I’ve learned in the lab and go outside and see how it really works. The research experience helps when I’m talking to doctors, too; I understand them better.”

Andrew Vu '09, chemistry major




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