Three Harker alumni were featured speakers at the April 10 research symposium, “Technology for Life,” in Nichols Hall. Jennifer Ong ‘07, a junior at the University of California, San Diego, is pursuing biology and communications majors. She also volunteers with The Triple Helix. Richard Kwant ’07 is studying chemistry and physics at Harvard University. Brian Ma ’08 is a bioengineering major at the California Institute of Technology.
Ong spoke about her new role as chief operations officer for The Triple Helix (TTH). Founded by Harker graduate Kevin Hwang ’03, The Triple Helix is a nonprofit, student-run organization that publishes undergraduate articles in print and electronically. “Our mission,” said Ong, “is to allow students the opportunity to voice ideas about the interdisciplinary nature of science, society and law.”
TTH currently has 27 chapters and 800 student writers at colleges across the globe. Chapters publish more than 30,000 printed journals annually and the website gets hits from 16 countries. During her visit, Ong announced that Harker will be the founding school for the establishment of TTH in high schools, and encouraged students to become involved. “Writing for TTH teaches skills like research, writing and critical thinking that you can apply in real life,” she said. “Our style of writing is not an academic style. It is ultimately to open up a forum that the general public can become interested in.”
TTH also partners with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and sometimes can open doors for its writers. “Our outgoing CEO, Julia Piper, got an internship at UC Davis through an article in TTH,” said Ong. “That has been happening more frequently, and we want to institutionalize it.”
Speaking via teleconference, Richard Kwant presented his work at the Harvard Whitesides Lab, on protein structures and interactions. Using the effective but difficult process of crystallization, he was able to create crystalline structures of the protein human carbonic anhydrase II. These structures provide researchers with an atomic level view of what is happening in the protein. “This research will be helpful for biology and medicine in understanding how proteins work and how human biology works,” Kwant said.
He also told the students, “When I came to college I can’t say I really liked proteins. As a freshman I wanted some experience working in a lab. Do as many things as you possibly can. Get exposure to many subjects, and if you see something you are interested in, go with it.”
Begun as a summer research project at CalTech, Ma’s work seeks to unravel the mystery of how plants, unlike animals, can regenerate. Specifically, Ma screened epigenetic-related genes – those that do not change the basic DNA sequence – to determine if they are involved in the regeneration process.
Working with 48 mutant lines of seeds, he found at least six epigenetic-related genes that are likely to be involved in the process. Further research will be required to determine the exact pathways of interactions.
With a bit of serendipity, Ma has combined his experience in engineering and producing radio-controlled cars with a long-held interest in biology. “I find that I enjoy the theoretical and practical challenges of biological engineering,” he said. Ma thinks his lab research has given him a rewarding taste of life after college.
“You just want results, and that I was able to get results from my project was very rewarding, because it actually is new knowledge, and you get to be the one to find out first,” he said. “That’s definitely one allure of going into the research field, whether as an undergraduate or afterward.”