• Contagious Enthusiasm
Biochemistry student Matt Broulidakis tracks the mating pore protein of the 'Bacillus subtilis' bacterium (highlighted in green) using the department's new fluorescence microscope.

8/14/2012

The students in Melanie Berkmen’s lab this summer share many things: bright eyes, eager young minds and lots and lots of bacteria.

Learning life lessons in the lab

The three Suffolk biochemistry students are hoping to be the first to test a theory of how the bacteria Bacillus subtilis “mates,” or moves its genetic material. Their work is part of Berkmen’s three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) funded study, which aims to answer this scientific question while providing promising young students with a hands-on research opportunity.

“One of the most important things students learn in the real-world lab environment is that things go wrong! Experiments fail. Results can be surprising. They need to learn how to adapt,” explains Berkmen.

All scientists, including junior Matt Broulidakis, have learned this lesson the hard way at some point.

“It’s so easy to contaminate something and ruin an entire experiment,” says Broulidakis. “Working more independently in the lab has really opened my eyes to the small things that can either cause failures or lead to success.”

Becoming full members of the scientific community

Broulidakis wants to parlay this summer’s research experience into an internship at one of Boston’s many biotech companies next year to further prepare for graduate school. His fellow students and lab members also plan to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Boston’s uniquely vibrant scientific and medical communities.

Senior Georgeanna Morton has always been fascinated by forensic science. Recently she has focused on toxicology, marveling at the intricacies of poisons and their antidotes. With this summer’s lab work under her belt – and a class in Toxicology coming up this year – Morton hopes to transition into a lab position in one of the many top-notch local hospitals when she graduates.

Kyle Swerdlow also wants to springboard from Berkmen’s lab to a career in medicine. An aspiring surgeon, the junior knows the importance of practical research experience in increasing both his knowledge base and his qualifications for medical school.

“I’ve learned so much about working with scientific publications this summer, which is a crucial skill for a physician. We might even have the chance to publish this work,” says Swerdlow.

Swerdlow had the opportunity to present research in front of an audience at the American Chemistry Society’s national conference this year in San Diego. They all hope to attend similar events in the future, networking with peers and industry professionals.

Swerdlow relishes the fact that “being in an atmosphere with so many dedicated scientists facilitates [their] learning.”

Berkmen agrees:

“The goal of this project really goes beyond the science. In the end, the skills these students hone this summer will help them get into top-tier graduate programs and careers in the biosciences.”

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