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Researcher of the Month
Class of 2015
DAAD-RISE award recipient, AMGEN Scholar, MARC Fellow, URECA Summer Participant
Research Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Boon, Chemistry
An early start in research proved to be a boon for Pharmacology major, Abigail Hintermeister, class of 2015. Reflecting on the transformation that’s taken place since she started doing research, Abby notes: “It just changes your mind and how you think a lot. You start to understand at a deeper level. Definitely the person that I am now is a huge product of doing research.”
Abby joined the Boon laboratory in the Chemistry Department as a freshman (January 2012), with little background
knowledge or research experience. She soon learned to do protein purification and
extraction, and PCR, while investigating the potential interaction between heme nitric
oxide/oxygen binding (H-NOX) and histidine kinase proteins in Shewanella woodyi—research supported in summer 2012 with a URECA summer award. The following summer,
Abby took the opportunity to go west, as an AMGEN Scholar at UC San Francisco where
she studied the regulation of HIV transcriptional transactivator (Tat) protein using
luciferase activity assays and basic molecular biology techniques while working in
the laboratory of Dr. Melanie Ott.
This past summer, research drew Abby eastwards – upon being selected for the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program administered through the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst /DAAD), the largest funding organization in the world supporting the international exchange of students and scholars. Amidst the beautiful surroundings of the Philipps-Universität Marburg, Abby had the opportunity to investigate the interaction between host factor and NSs proteins in Sandfly Fever Sicilian Virus as a member of Dr. Friedemann Weber's lab in the Institute of Virology.
Abby has presented her research at the URECA symposium and Chemistry Research day (2013) events; and will soon be presenting a poster at the upcoming ABRCMS meeting in November in San Antonio TX with the support of a URECA Travel grant. In addition to her laboratory research experiences, Abby conducted independent research in Africana Studies in Fall 2012, working on an ethnographic study of the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean under the direction of Prof. Georges Fouron (Africana Studies).
At SB, Abby participates in CSTEP – and has served as a CSTEP anatomy Teaching Assistant (Spring 2013, 2014). She also has received support for her research as a Fellow in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, administered through CESAME. Abby is a member of the Undergraduate Pharmacology Society and plays trombone (& baritone) in the Stony Brook pep band; she also enjoys cooking, drawing cartoons, and writing. Abby grew up in the Hudson Valley area, and is a graduate of Warwick Valley HS. Following graduation from Stony Brook in May, she plans to pursue post-baccalaureate opportunities in the medical field, with a possible emphasis on HIV epidemiology. Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECADirector.
Karen: Tell me about your research.
Abby. I’m a member of the Boon group (Chemistry) which studies NO sensing in bacteria. My research focuses on characterizing two proteins, H-NOX heme protein, and histidine kinase(HK) – and studying the potential interaction between the proteins in their method of sensing. I’ve actually been working on the same organism, Shewanella woodyi (S. woodyi), since I started freshman year– although my project has changed over time, and I also was involved in a second project that involved biofilms and the nitric oxide sensing mechanism. Now I’ve come full circle and am actually working on the first project again; I'm currently purifying the proteins for an in vitro assay.
How did you first get into the lab?
I was taking Chemistry 141/143 and I realized that I wanted to work in a lab. In the Chem building, there is a list of names in the elevator of all the research groups. I picked a few and looked them up and became interested in quorum sensing and biofilms. It seemed really interesting. So I sent Dr. Boon an email and went to her office and asked her if she would explain more about it. Even though I didn’t understand everything as she was explaining it on the chalkboard at the time, I thought it was a really interesting story, and I mentioned that I’d be interested in learning more about how to do research and work in a lab. She set me up with a graduate student, Yueming Xu, who became my mentor for my URECA summer project. She had a very sunny personality – and was great to work with.
What is Professor Boon like as a mentor?
She’s absolutely supportive in so many ways. When she talks to you, she is always thinking, and considering you and what is best for you. She’s a wonderful mentor in terms of getting things done and in terms of helping students graduate and she’s really good at providing ideas and creating projects.
Was it useful having a getting started in research early on, in your freshman year?
The thing that’s difficult about majoring in science is that a lot of things don’t make a lot of sense until your junior year or so. A lot of people I know really like taking Biochemistry, because by then it feels like there’s a point to what you’re being taught. Earlier on, when you take Organic Chemistry, and have to draw structures…it can be confusing. But it all comes together eventually. But when you do research, all that happens so much earlier.
Tell me about the summer experience you had in California, through AMGEN.
Yes, that was a lot of fun. It was a really different environment. I really liked the post doc and other people that I got to work with. The research that I was involved with there was seeing if histone modifiers have an effect on the TAT protein- that upregulates the activity of the HIV promoter. The techniques I learned were new for me. I learned how to split cells, use cell culture differently, and western blot – things that I hadn’t been working on in my lab at home. HIV is something that I am really interested in and so I liked seeing how this basic science research could be used in such a far reaching disease.
This past summer, I understand you had the opportunity to go to Germany through the DAAD RISE program. Congratulations!
Thanks, it was a great experience – I was in Marburg Germany, working with a phlebovirus called Sandfly Fever Sicilian Virus. I was trying to figure if this NSS protein that’s conserved across a lot of phelboviruses interacts with this other protein (which we called “host factor x.”). In a way, the lab work was somewhat similar to what I was doing in San Francisco. We did western blots and cell culture and I also learned about co-immunoprecipation and using immunofluorescence. We got some cool looking pictures. The first image was absolutely beautiful – this huge block of protein in the western blot. And the whole experience of being in Germany was great. Germany is so beautiful. And it was wonderful to get to travel to different places and just be somewhere where the people themselves are so different.
What advice do you have for other students?
There is no such thing as taking too many opportunities. That’s something that was emphasized to me in some of the CSTEP workshops I went to early on. They talked about research and succeeding in school. And how you have to really put yourself out there – that it’s important to do something more than just school.
The caveat is: Don’t over apply for things. It’s better to do 6 really effective applications than to poorly on 20 applications. But the main thing is that you have to really show that you have a passion for what you’re applying for. There are really lots of opportunities out there, and people who will work with you but you have to make it a priority to pursue these opportunities. If you’re unsuccessful, just continue pursuing. Because it is easy to give up. Or to feel frustrated. I’ve been very lucky and met some great people – people who see young people who have a dream in their lives and they say, I’m going to help you do that. I’ve definitely met people like that.
What are your future plans?
I’m looking into post baccalaureate opportunities. I want to do a little more research, and get some clinical experience before applying for medical school. I’m also still interested in doing more on HIV and the epidemiology of HIV. I’m thinking about MD/PhD programs, or MD/MPH programs.
Have you had opportunities to present your research?
I’ve presented at Chemistry Research Day, and the URECA symposium. And this summer, I presented at DAAD. By now, I’m a little bit used to it – and even with the presentation I did this summer, it’s very satisfying to see all the work that you’ve done come together and to have a chance to present it in a logical order. I actually can’t wait to do the senior pharmacology presentation. I’m looking forward to putting that all together!
What qualities help you succeed in the research environment?
Curiosity-that’s definitely important. Also that you don’t get discouraged. A lot of the time, things don’t work. Especially early on, there are days when you run a PCR and you do something and it just doesn’t work. That can be heart breaking but you have to just keep going. Ask anybody who has done research – sometimes you feel like you don’t even know where to start but you just find a way. You talk to people and discuss projects. I’ve had some great support too from the graduate student mentors I’ve worked with. And my parents have been very supportive.
How has research enhanced your education?
You really don’t know what science actually is until you do research, until you work in it. The application of the education that you have is so important… Until you actually have done the work and understood what it’s like to be practitioner in that field, you just don’t know what the purpose is. I would say that research is the best thing that you can do as a student.
I really can’t stress enough what research is to me. It’s really opened up so many opportunities. It teaches you how to navigate professionally. And it’s all because of being in that sort of environment to do this ….When I started doing research in freshman year, there were so many questions and scientific thinking that I had exposure to with the research. It just changes your mind and how you think a lot. You start to understand at a deeper level. Definitely the person that I am now is a huge product of doing research.