This summer Karson Chrispens, senior bioengineering major, began his research journey with Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). His training started in North Carolina where he learned a programming software they would be using for the research. A week later, he flew to Colorado where he spent the next eight weeks.
REU is a program supported by the National Science Foundation that allows universities throughout the U.S. and Europe to host undergraduates in their research laboratories. “I got set up at the University of Colorado Boulder, working with ‘Rosetta,’ which is a software suite designed for protein modeling and design,” Chrispens said.
Much of Chrispens’ research used Rosetta to develop and test different protocols for predicting antibody binding affinity. This is essentially using programming to figure out if an antibody can effectively bind well to a virus. This research has the potential to save a lot of money experimentally and predict when a new virus might appear.
Chrispens' main goal in signing up for REU was to make professional connections and learn what research is like on a day-to-day basis in order to make an informed decision on the direction of his career. His daily routine as a bioengineering researcher included reading papers, gathering data, and putting together a data set to test and improve protocols. From this, he was able to learn a variety of computational tools and better understand proteins.
Looking back, Chrispens enjoyed being exposed to an environment where everyone is constantly discussing scientific topics and truly understanding them. He also noticed he had overcome being intimidated to approach researchers he looked up to. Conquering this fear gave him the ability to make professional connections and discuss other’s research more freely.
During the final week of his REU, he got to attend a three-day research presentation conference called RosettaCON. “The conference was the whole accumulation of everything we talked about of our work there. You are very much embedded in the work and learning from everyone who's there and they learn from you. It’s all a very rich environment,” Chrispens said.
This conference was the overall highlight of the summer for Chrispens who now has the opportunity to continue his research remotely as he finishes his senior year at WWU. Chrispens described how he is helping with projects that will “hopefully enable members of the lab to be more effective in their experimental procedures” and “essentially verify assumptions the field is making are correct.” Chrispens felt he learned a lot during his time researching and described it as an excellent experience.
Posted on August 31, 2022.