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Koret Fellowship Program

Catrina Nguyen
Catrina Nguyen

Undeclared Engineering major, Class of 2020

This past summer, I had an opportunity to conduct research with Dr. Michelle E McCully in the biology department. My motivation for conducting this research project is to find the reason behind UVF’s thermostability. UVF is a man-made protein engineered from a naturally occuring found in fruit flies called EnHD.

In our research, we tested whether UVF’s core is actually the reason for the protein’s heightened resistance to high temperatures, using computer models of the protein constructed with the surface of EnHD, and the core of UVF. However, before our lab could begin testing our hypothesis, I first needed to set up our controls for a stable protein and a protein unfolding. At first, my colleague and I began our NAMD simulations with the same simulation parameters as Dr. McCully had used previously from her research on EnHD and UVF. However, we soon found that those parameters did not work with NAMD. So, we tried different parameters, and looked at other researchers’ papers to find new parameters. Several times we had to restart after a few weeks of work! Finally, near the end of the summer, we were able to find the correct parameters that worked with NAMD and collect data. Now that my colleague and I have finished analyzing UVF and EnHD with NAMD, we will begin to conduct simulations with computer models of the hybrid proteins we have constructed from EnHD and UVF. My goal is to finish analyzing the data collected from the NAMD simulations of the hybrid proteins by the end of this year.   

In addition, I plan to present our research at several conferences in 2018; specifically the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting and the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference, and other future conferences as well. The research will also be included in a scientific publication in a peer reviewed journal in the future. So, after the research is concluded, I will plan and organize data to be included in the paper.    

I do not yet have a specific “dream job” in mind, but I know that I wanted a career in computer engineering. The world is quickly transforming into a highly advanced technological world, and the technology of computer science and engineering undoubtedly made numerous advances possible in many different fields. Dr. McCully’s research project allowed me to gain hands-on experience with coding and working with various computer programs that I would not have gain from my classes. After completing this summer’s research project, I am more confident with using the command line of a computer, which will be very useful in my future career as computer engineers often use the command line in their line of work.

I also have an interest in biology, and I am considering a minor in biology or bioengineering. Dr. McCully’s research project was a perfect opportunity to see how biology and computer engineering can be combined to make new advances. In addition, since this was my first time working in a research lab, I was able to experience having a career in research is really like. By working with a diverse team, I was able to practice and refine soft skills such as communication and providing effective feedback.