Students step up summer research, with increased support, amid pandemic’s challenges

Monday, Oct 12, 2020
by Scott Lyon

Somewhere in mile three, Angela Yang got a stitch in her side. Curious what caused the nagging pain, the seventh-grade cross-country star went home and began wading precociously into the medical literature. She didn’t know it at the time, but these would be her first steps down the path to what is now a prospective career in scientific research.

During the summer, Yang, a senior in chemical and biological engineering, embarked on a project with far deeper impacts. Through the Reiner G. Stoll Undergraduate Summer Fellowship in Chemical Engineering, she studied squid brain proteins to understand the mechanics at play in neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.

Working in Professor Cliff Brangwynne’s Soft Living Matter Group, she developed a computer simulation of protein reactions used to edit RNA, and she co-wrote a literature review on the subject. This combination of summer work — the model and the review — provided the foundation for her senior thesis, an experimental project.

“In an experiment, there are so many different directions that you can take. What I was doing with the simulation is seeing what was feasible for me to understand,” Yang said. “And it helped me design my senior thesis as I developed the model.”

In response to increased need, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering boosted their support for faculty-advised summer research projects. Yang was one of 10 CBE students who pursued research in a Princeton lab during the summer, including seven Stoll Fellows and three student researchers supported by the ReMatch+ Summer Program. Students explored topics including biomolecules that could help fight drug resistant pathogens, machine learning approaches to treating breast cancer, strategies to create biofuels from yeast, and computational models that explore the deep structure of water.

This relatively large number of student researchers (in the summer of 2019 there were three in CBE) came at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic foreclosed many internship and research opportunities. To increase support during the crisis, and to meet the rise in demand, the department awarded a record number of fellowships for 2020.

Many of those projects have grown into thesis research. And the department, like other departments across engineering, has continued to find innovative ways to support student research despite the remote-learning conditions.

2020 Stoll Fellows

Jane Brown, advised by A. James Link
Enterobacter-derived lasso peptides

Sophia Martinez, advised by Celeste Nelson
A Machine-Learning Approach to Characterize Plasticity of Invasion in Breast Cancer Progression

Jae Won Oh, advised by José Avalos
Characterization of halotolerant yeast strains for biofuel production

Derek Poletti, advised by A. Z. Panagiotopoulos
Monte Carlo Modeling of Liquid-Liquid Equilibrium

Saira Reyes, advised by Mark Brynildsen
Quantifying DNA Breaks in Fluoroquinolone Persisters Using Computational and Experimental Methods

Cristian Ruano-Arens, advised by Sujit Datta
Modeling and Exploration of Fluid Flow Through Porous Media

Angela Yang, advised by Clifford Brangwynne
Investigating the Effect of Temperature and Protein Clustering on ADAR Enzymatic Activity

2020 ReMatch+ participants

Richard Huang, advised by Sujit Datta

Christine Nguyen, advised by Celeste Nelson
Analysis of RNA-Seq Data for Genes and Pathways Related to Ion Transport Processes in the Mammary Gland

Kevin Yeung, advised by Sujit Datta
Implementing Bead Size into a 3D Pore-Scale Elastic Turbulence Model