This past month, I was very fortunate to attend an international conference to present on my research that I conduct with the Michael Brown lab in the UA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Over February 15th-19th, I traveled with my research group to San Diego, California, for the 64th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society. At this five-day meeting, attended by over 6,000 biophysicists from around the world, I presented two posters about my work investigating soft matter influences on the activation of the G-protein-coupled receptor rhodopsin, which is the visual receptor found in the retina. One of these posters, entitled G-Protein-Coupled Receptors are Solvent-Swollen in the Functionally Active State, was about my primary undergraduate research project that I had also presented at the UBRP conference. I presented this poster at an undergraduate poster competition on Saturday (at which I was one of the winning presenters!) as well as at a conference-wide poster session on Wednesday morning. My second poster, entitled Membrane Curvature Effects on Rhodopsin Activation Investigated by Time-Resolved Electronic Spectroscopy, described a collaborative project I had been working on with Professor David Kliger’s lab at UC Santa Cruz, where the Kliger lab provided most of the experimentation and I conducted the majority of the data analysis. I presented this poster at a conference-wide poster session on Monday afternoon.
Throughout my time at the meeting, I learned a lot by attending platform talks on cutting-edge methods and discoveries related to the physical transformations and interactions of biomolecules such as proteins, nucleic acids, and membrane lipids. I especially found the meeting to be a useful opportunity to network with students and faculty from other universities, especially as I am in the process of choosing where to attend graduate school next year. While at the conference, I was able to meet with five different professors whom I have been interested in working with for my graduate studies, as well as talk to students from several other groups that I had also been interested in. Attending platform talks or poster presentations from these faculty and students gave me a better perspective of what graduate research could be like in their respective groups. In addition, it was fun to network with undergraduates from all over the world. These networking events helped me to see the diverse research fields that other students of my age could participate in, and also gave me some valuable ideas for growing a Student Chapter of the Biophysical Society at the University of Arizona.
Overall, my attendance at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting was both professionally productive and also personally enjoyable. My group stayed at an Airbnb near the historic Gaslamp District of San Diego, with plenty of interesting sights on the way to and from the conference center, located across the San Diego Bay from Coronado Island. Aside from the nearly nonstop scientific sessions during the day, my group was also able to find some time for activities, including going out to dinner with several other lab groups from the University of Arizona. One of the most fascinating events of the conference was the Monday evening biophysical society national lecture, given by ProfessorSunney Xie from Peking University on single molecule biophysics. Unfortunately, due to the recent coronavirus outbreak and travel ban on China, Dr. Xie was unable to attend the society meeting in person, but delivered the lecture remotely by video, during which he memorably demonstrated some new research he was conducting to fight back against the new coronavirus strain. The national lecture was followed by a reception with food, music, and dancing, where students and faculty alike temporarily dispelled with their scientific preoccupations for a lively night on the dance floor.
I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to attend this international conference, for the new scientific exposure and networking opportunities I received, as well as for personal memories made. I am hence indebted to UBRP for making my attendance at this event possible by granting me a travel award, and look forward for future opportunities to participate in conferences like these.