While on a research co-​​op in London, senior Brendon Kellner inves­ti­gated the inner work­ings of cer­tain pro­teins through state-​​of-​​the-​​art ultra­fast lasers. These lasers gen­erate light pulses for only a tiny frac­tion of a second, but the impact of his expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity will last far longer.

Kellner, a dual major in physics and phi­los­ophy, worked in the Divi­sion of Mol­e­c­ular Biology at Impe­rial Col­lege London, in a new lab designed to ana­lyze the mol­e­c­ular dynamics of light-​​activated pro­teins and processes such as photosynthesis.

One pro­tein Kellner has studied is phy­tochrome, which senses light in plants and some bac­teria. He mea­sured the excited-​​state elec­tronic path­ways in hopes of under­standing how the pro­tein changes shape once it has absorbed light. Kellner also spent a month growing E. coli that had been genet­i­cally trans­formed to express a green flu­o­res­cent pro­tein from jellyfish—a pro­tein often used as a marker in bio­log­ical studies—and puri­fying it for sim­ilar spec­troscopy experiments.

It’s great to work with state-​​of-​​the-​​art equip­ment, and push against fun­da­mental phys­ical limits,” Kellner said.

He not only learned high-​​end sci­ence, but he also absorbed the intri­ca­cies of the tech­nology that yield such dis­cov­eries. Devel­oping the laser appa­ratus and char­ac­ter­izing its vibra­tional noise, for instance, has exposed him to 3D drafting soft­ware, signal pro­cessing, and gen­eral applied optical prin­ci­ples. He also was able to build on his lab work from a pre­vious co-​​op at the Leibniz Uni­ver­sität in Han­nover, Ger­many, where he researched pea plant genetic trans­for­ma­tion systems.

It was a nice broad­ening of my abil­i­ties and con­nec­tion of mul­tiple inter­ests,” he said.

Kellner credits Pro­fessor Paul Cham­pion, interim chair of the physics depart­ment, with helping him get the oppor­tu­nity at Impe­rial Col­lege. Kellner has done research work in Champion’s lab, and Cham­pion, in turn, has col­lab­o­rated with Impe­rial Col­lege researcher Jasper van Thor.

He is really indus­trious, and he’s done very well,” Cham­pion said of Kellner.

Since arriving at North­eastern, Kellner has con­sid­ered majoring in polit­ical sci­ence and engi­neering. But upon reflec­tion, he said his deci­sion to ulti­mately dual major in physics and phi­los­ophy stems from his “drive to gain a fun­da­mental under­standing of our world.”

Upon grad­u­a­tion in the spring, he plans to pursue his PhD in sys­tems engi­neering. “Physics is an excel­lent back­ground and has given me a pow­erful ana­lyt­ical method­ology, but I want to work on larger– scale prob­lems,” he said.

Kellner’s research co-​​op was funded by a host of awards, including Champion’s National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) Inter­na­tional Col­lab­o­ra­tion in Chem­istry award and a NSF Research Expe­ri­ence for Under­grad­u­ates grant spon­sored by Cham­pion. In addi­tion, Kellner earned the 2009 Lawrence Award for excel­lence in under­grad­uate physics research, as well as a Pres­i­den­tial Global Schol­ar­ship and an Under­grad­uate Stu­dent Research grant from the provost’s office.