For the next two months, I am spending the summer in the beautiful city of Fort Collins, Colorado. As of now, I’ve been here for roughly four days and I’ve picked up on quite a few little cultural differences. To name a couple, people here use directional terms when explaining how to get from Point A to Point B. As a newbie to the region, the first thing anyone will tell you is that the mountains are always West. I find that this would be helpful information if I were just a little bit less directionally challenged; however, in these four days, I have gotten myself turned around more times than I have fingers. Luckily I’ll have the next 9 weeks to figure it out! Something else I found interesting is that the town as a unit, is wholly committed to protecting the planet through the reduction of waste. Trashcans are often smaller than recycling bins as an encouragement to get you to think about what it is you’re throwing away and the impact it will have on our planet. It’s pretty effective.
It’s fun for me to see all of the idiosyncrasies of the people here; however, I’m not just here to explore the culture. I’ve been accepted to participate in an REU (research experiences for undergraduates) Program at Colorado State University. REUs are competitive programs funded by the National Science Foundation and aim to provide students of various backgrounds with opportunities for research that they might not have had at their home institutions. The nine other members of my peer group are from various places such as New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, Puerto Rico and a few from other parts of Colorado. One is a high school senior, two others are nontraditional students, and the rest of us are junior or senior level students. We’re a diverse group of people who have sat around a table geeking-out about science. Some of us, like myself, have research experience from our home institutions but a few have never been in a lab before.
The program is 10 weeks long and fully funded. Housing on campus is provided as well as both a general and food stipend. Each student is paired with a mentor of their choice and is tasked with answering some kind of scientific question relevant to their mentor’s area of study. My project involves using various peptides to penetrate the cell and ultimately have a function in the regulation of the cofilin protein. Cofilin is an actin regulating molecule that is important in cell motility. Varying levels of cofilin in neurons have been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and other forms of dementia. Some studies have shown that reversing the overproduction of cofilin has led to the reversal of learning deficits found in some AD rodent models. The challenge now is to find a safe method of getting these cofilin regulating peptides into the cell and monitoring their activity without causing any kind of structural damage.
Hopefully, I can get this done in the next nine weeks as well as find my nearest pizza joint before walking a mile in the wrong direction!
Wish me luck!