Northeastern University

A stroll through the labs

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I’ve only been gone for a few months, but it feels like eons since I donned a pair of goggles and got my gloves dirty in a chem lab.

Today I tagged along with a couple of fellow science communications ladies to peek around some of the labs on campus.

First we stopped in to see what physics professor Paul Champion was up to. Unfortunately, we missed him but we did say hello to a post-doc who showed us the laser equipment they use to study protein dynamics. A series of mirrors and lenses are carefully arranged to direct a laser beam onto a protein molecule. The energy from the laser is transferred to the protein and resulting vibrational changes in the molecular bonds are detected by another laser beam. Many of Champion’s studies investigate heme containing proteins (think hemoglobin), which have roles in oxygen storage, electron transport, signaling and catalysis

After this, we went upstairs to chemistry professor Mike Pollastri’s lab. As soon as we walked in, a wave of nostalgia swept over me. The faint smell of organic solvents, the hum of rotovaps happily spinning away, the organized chaos of in-process experiments filling ventilation hoods….I almost got teary eyed just being there!

Pollastri’s mission is a noble one: He and his team sift through thousands of FDA approved drugs trying to find ones that can be adapted to treat diseases like African Sleeping Sickness and cystic fibrosis, which are often overlooked by major pharmaceutical companies.

It was fun to drop in unexpectedly on these guys. While science writing is much better suited to my short attention span, hopping around from one topic to another, it’s nice to know that some of you are out there plugging away at all nitty gritty experiments needed to answer our planet’s biggest questions and tackle its most important challenges. Thanks!

Photo by Lori Lennon


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