Derek Pyland: A Biophysics Conference Retrospective

Derek Pyland answers questions about his research presentation at the 57th Annual Biophysics Society Meeting in Philadephia.

Derek Pyland answers questions about his research presentation at the 57th Annual Biophysics Society Meeting in Philadephia.

Honors biochemistry major Derek Pyland was invited to present his work with proteins through hydrogen deuterium exchange mass spectrometry at the 57th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting in Philadelphia this semester. The trip gave Derek a peek into the world of professional scientific research and with it a new appreciation for the long hours he spent in the lab as an undergraduate student.

As I caught up on studying for my biochemistry exam on the flight back from Fayetteville, I realized just what a romanticized view of science I had before I started my own research. The orderly, factual diction of textbooks does not give justice to the complexity and hard work scientists performed to arrive at our current understanding of nature. I used to imagine the cell as this organized sphere with all its components labeled and diagrams showing movement of molecules so that a researcher just had to peer inside and copy what he saw. If only it was that easy…

I have been working with Dr. Stites and Dr. Liyanage in the Chemistry Department for the past four years studying proteins through hydrogen deuterium exchange mass spectrometry. My work focuses on applying a method developed here at the University of Arkansas that provides structural and stability data on the folding pathway of model protein staphylococcal nuclease and its mutant. Ideally, other scientists can use this method in evaluating their own proteins.

After years of long hours in the lab, I was invited to display my work at the 57th Annual Biophysical Society in Philadelphia. I felt proud and humbled as I hung up my poster next to people from some of the top research institutions in the world. The poster session was a great way to talk to people about my work and learn more about similar projects.

The conference had a great line up of speakers from which I could choose. I have a broad interest in biophysics and was able to attend talks ranging from protein evolution to the interface between brains and machines. I was concerned about the classes I was missing to attend the conference, but I managed to find several lectures on the material my teachers were covering. We had just started discussing ion channels in my neuroscience course, and it was interesting to go listen to people whose research influenced my textbook. I’m keeping my program –some of these scientists I heard speak at the conference could be Nobel laureates in the coming years!

Now that I am back on campus, I have a couple more weeks to wrap up my experiments and then prepare for my honors thesis defense in April. I hope to have a complete draft soon, so my mentor can use it for an article he is writing based on our new data. Our previous work was published in the International Journal of Mass Spectrometry last December.

Though I will not continue my research in this fashion next year, I hope to stay involved in some way during medical school. I feel my time at the conference has given me a greater appreciation for the world of academic research. It has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate education and it would not have been possible without the support of the Dean’s Travel Grant and the Honors College!

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